Here's five takeaways from the Washington Redskins' Week 13 game against the Arizona Cardinals that took place at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
1. The defense struggled to get the Cardinals off the field on third down situations.
For the most part, the Redskins were able to hold the Cardinals on first and second down in Sunday's game in Arizona.
But once Washington got the opposition into third down situations, sometimes with double-digit yardage needed to move the chains, the defensive unit struggled to keep the opposition off the field.
In total, the Cardinals converted 10-of-16 third down attempts. Three times – including twice on Arizona's opening drive of the game – the Cardinals converted on 3rd-and-11 or longer.
Instead of getting a talented and veteran offense off the field, the Cardinals scored on both of those drives when they were back up into long yardage situations. Those eventually added up in the Redskins' 31-23 loss.
"We had so many opportunities to get off the field, to get our offense in better field position and we just weren't able to get off the field," linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "That was really, I think, the story of the game, just couldn't get off the field on third down."
"We were playing well against first and second, we just couldn't get off really ever on third down," added linebacker Will Compton. "That's what we're going to have to watch as a defense. Just be critical, that was the issue today."
After the Cardinals marched down the field on 15 plays to open the game, the defense made adjustments to combat Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson and Co., as Arizona had just 12 plays on their next three possessions, all resulting in punts.
But the issues on third down were persistent. As the Redskins look to make it back into the playoffs, defensive end Chris Baker knows that the defensive unit needs to be better on third downs.
"We've got to find a way to get off the field," Baker said. "Our offense is doing an incredible job each and every week, but we just keep letting them down on defense. It's very frustrating."
2. Kirk Cousins would have ultimately changed the protection on his interception.With the Redskins trailing by eight with less than two minutes left in the game, Cousins looked to engineer a potential game-tying touchdown drive.
Check out the top images from the Washington Redskins' 2016 Week 13 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals Dec. 4, 2016, at University of Phoenix Stadium.
It looked like that could potentially be reached, as the offense quickly got to the Arizona 28-yard line with less than a minute left and two timeouts still in the back pocket.
Cousins had completed four different passes including an 18-yard gainer to Vernon Davis. The offense also benefitted from a roughing the passer call on Calais Campbell.
But on 3rd-and-4 from the Cardinals' 28-yard line, Cousins threw his first interception in 187 attempts, as he was off on a throw to Jamison Crowder. Cardinals star cornerback Patrick Peterson would grab the ball right before it hit the turf, officially eliminating any comeback bid for the Redskins.
Reflecting on the play during his press conference, Cousins said he should have called for a protection alteration with Arizona playing cover zero.
"In hindsight, I would have changed the protection but I had thrown the scout route versus the same coverage on the previous play," Cousins said. "I didn't feel like that was going to give me a great choice, so I drifted to my choice route and I thought if I drifted to it that it would give Crowder time to break off his route. I wasn't really sure which way he was going to break, and when he did break in, I felt the rush and kind of forced it in earlier than I wanted to. The result was what it was."
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden admitted that the offense struggled whenever the Cardinals called cover zero, but thought Cousins made some good throws throughout the day.
"They brought some cover zeroes on us and we didn't really have an answer," Gruden admitted. "We should have, but we didn't get it off. So, it's frustrating. The most frustrating sack was when we had a three-point lead and the ball, and we had second down-and-six and took a sack-fumble and let them back in the game. Credit their pass rush. Credit their scheme. The defensive coordinator did a nice job and they made the plays, like I said."
The quarterback finished the game 21-of-37 for 271 yards along with a passing and a rushing touchdown.
3. John Sullivan didn't miss a beat coming in at center.In the second quarter, third-year center Spencer Long was removed from the game with what was later diagnosed with a concussion.
The Washington Redskins signed veteran center John Sullivan on Tuesday. Take a look at his career in photos.
With the Nebraska product sidelined, the Redskins called on Sullivan to fill in at center against a front seven that was sending tons of pressure towards Cousins.
While Sullivan had been a backup previously in the NFL, he had never come into a game in relief of another player. Through his first eight games with the Redskins, Sullivan – who was signed after Kory Lichtensteiger was placed on Injured Reserve – had only appeared on special teams.
Then he was needed Sunday in a big way and he responded.
"You know it's funny, in the lead up, knowing I was going to be in this backup role, I thought it would be really tough to come in cold, midstream, but the second you know you are going in there, your adrenaline kicks up and you're good to go," Sullivan said. "You don't really have a chance to think about the grand scheme of things, you just react and go in there and do what you're coach to do."
While Sullivan was understandably frustrated after the game, the Notre Dame product remained thankful that the Redskins gave him a chance after he missed all of the 2015 season with injury.
"I'm happy to have the opportunity, I'm happy to be here, but I'm trying to help this team win," Sullivan said. "The organization has been amazing, teammates [are] great, it's a great locker room, awesome coaching staff, wish I could help deliver a win for everybody, but it felt good to get back out there and play in a regular season game. There was one point in time I wasn't sure I'd ever do that again, I'm pretty thankful."
While it was the first time Cousins had worked with Sullivan in a game setting, the quarterback said it was a "seamless transition."
"He was right on it, and that has been John's reputation around the league for a long time; he is a very intelligent player, he can jump right in and make it happen," Cousins said. "Again, a great addition to the team for if we needed to have a guy like that to step in and keep the thing going at the same pace."
4. Jamison Crowder continues to make big and timely plays for the Redskins.
It's rare these days to see Crowder not collect catches on nearly every drive for the offense, but the second-year Duke product was held without a catch in the first half Sunday.
Then the third quarter came and Crowder proved once again that he can be a big-time asset to the offense.
With the Redskins trailing 17-13, Cousins would find one of his most consistent targets two different times on a drive that would result in the wide receiver scoring his team-high seventh touchdown of the season.
"What kept me motivated was to tell myself to keep playing," Crowder said. "The Green Bay game, I only had one pass in the first half, but the second half they were able to find [me]. Just got to keep playing, it's a long game, so second half they were able to find me a little bit today."
On the drive that resulted in Crowder's touchdown, the young wideout go into the receptions column with a two-yard gain. While he received a good pop from the Cardinals defense, he got right back up and into the huddle.
Five plays later, on 2nd-and-10 from the 26-yard line, Crowder would line up in the slot and completely disconnect from the Cardinals' coverage for a 26-yard touchdown.
"It was the right call at the time against their defense," Crowder said. "We had ran that earlier in the game, and I came back to the sideline and told them I was open on the play. We came back to it, Kirk was able to get some time, and able to find me."
Crowder finished the game with three receptions for 42 yards.
5. The Redskins must put this game in the rearview mirror and focus on the final four games of the season, starting with the Eagles.
While the loss sets Washington back to a 6-5-1 through three quarters of the season, the Redskins still remain very much in contention for a playoff appearance.
Yes, the players are upset about their loss against the Cardinals as they had an opportunity to distance themselves from a tight NFC right now. But they also know that they can only control what's ahead of them now.
Up first the second matchup this season with a reeling Eagles squad.
"We have to come back and get it corrected and correct it fast," cornerback Josh Norman said. "We start on Monday, Tuesday, get back out there and see what we did wrong. Go to work on Wednesday and prepare for the Philadelphia Eagles and looking forward to that matchup."
While Washington currently sits on the outside in the playoff standings through Week 13 action, they know a lot can change over the final four games, as they found out last season when a late-season winning streak catapulted them to an NFC East title at 9-7 after sitting at 5-7.
"It's definitely a big blow, but we're right in the hunt," said cornerback Quinton Dunbar. "We've just got to come out next week – practice this week and get better – and win the next game."
Gruden added that while the team is focused on winning the next game on the schedule, he understands the playoff standings are fluid right now.
"A lot's going to happen these last four games, and if we get an opportunity to play in them, great," Gruden said of the playoffs.