Here's five takeaways from the Washington Redskins' 24-21 road victory over the Chicago Bears Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago.
1.) The Redskins had some good timing for their first road win of the season.
After losing five straight away from FedExField to open the 2015 season, the Washington Redskins on Sunday traveled to Soldier Field in Chicago well aware of the importance of earning road win No. 1 against the Bears.
Not only would a victory do wonders for the Redskins' overall morale, but the team knows it needs to keep on winning in order to stay in the driver's seat atop the NFC East.
Washington entered play on Sunday in a three-way tie for first place with the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants. The Eagles disposed of the Buffalo Bills at home on Sunday, while the Giants play the Miami Dolphins on Monday night at Sun Life Stadium.
So the Redskins got the road game monkey/elephant/bear off their backs when they exited a soggy Soldier Field with a 24-21, gritty victory over the Bears, keeping pace with the Eagles as the two teams, for now, move a half-game over the Giants.
"It was huge for a number of things," Redskins defensive back DeAngelo Hall said. "It was huge because it was the next game. It was huge because it was a road game. It was huge because it keeps us in contention. There are a number of things you can kind of call on for this game being so huge for us. It wasn't pretty, but the thing is that you don't get style points in the National Football League."
Hall's right – it wasn't pretty at times.
But the Redskins did make it look pretty good at other junctures during Sunday's game, including the play of tight end Jordan Reed and a defense that played solid in the first half and did just enough in the second half to get a win.
"Feels great just to have a shot for the playoffs still and being in the position that we're in," said Reed, who finished with 120 yards receiving and a touchdown. "It's an awesome feeling and we came together for this victory so that's a great feeling."
2. Speaking of Reed: Wow. What a game.
You can't help but be impressed with the season that Reed has pieced together.
Factoring in Sunday's game, the Florida product now has 67 receptions for 694 yards and seven touchdowns, all career highs.
It just goes to show that if Reed can stay healthy, he's one of the most dangerous targets and biggest mismatches in the league.
"Yeah, Jordan's special," Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "We got to find ways to get him the ball. DeSean's special, Pierre's special and Crowder's special. We got to find ways to get these guys the ball, and spread it around, let them go do stuff and it's my job to be a distributor and to keep trying to be a better distributor each week."
Cousins targeted Reed nine times on Sunday. He caught the ball each and every time.
He had a nice five-yard touchdown reception, but also had a key 32-yard catch late in the game.
Whenever Reed was needed, he came through.
It's probably a safe bet that the tight end will continue to be a huge piece of the Redskins' puzzle as they make their push for a playoff spot.
3. Washington once again struggled to take advantage of a key defensive takeaway.
The Redskins had jumped out to a 14-0 second quarter thanks to a Cousins rushing touchdown on Sunday when the Bears took over for their ensuing possession.
On a first-down play, second-year linebacker Trent Murphy busted through the line and earned not just a sack of Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, but a forced fumble and fumble recovery, as well.
The play gave Washington the ball near midfield, but they would be forced to punt.
This, unfortunately, has been a theme for the Redskins' offense the past three games. Washington picked off Eli Manning three times during their Week 12 victory against the Giants, but the Redskins could only turn that into three points. The Redskins' defense forced and recovered three Dallas Cowboys fumbles last Monday night, but the Washington offense was unable to score after any of those opportunities.
After Sunday's game against the Bears, the Redskins now have scored just three points off their opponents last seven turnovers.
Now, Washington has been able to overcome several other negative trends this season, including a lack of forced takeaways to start the year and some horrific play in the third quarter of games for a large chunk of the first half of the year.
On Sunday, the Redskins earned their first road victory of the season. So, perhaps next Sunday against the Buffalo Bills at FedExField, the team will overcome this particular issue, as well.
READ MORE:Redskins Set Sights On Buffalo Bills
4. Cousins had two questionable throws in the game, but was otherwise solid once again for Washington.
Questionable Throw No. 1: Cousins tried to loft a touch pass to wide receiver Pierre Garçon, but the ball went right into the waiting hands of cornerback Kyle Fuller at the 30. Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said after the game that Cousins simply didn't see Fuller. The Bears wouldn't take long to get a touchdown off the turnover and tie the game at 21.
Questionable Throw No. 2: Facing a 3rd and 6 from the Washington 37, Cousins dropped back and was flushed out of the pocket. He launched a pass Reed's way, but he was essentially double covered with running back Jones also in the area. Reed was able to bat the ball into the air, and it landed right into Jones' hands. While on the ground, Jones thought he was touched down and flipped the ball onto the grass. Fortunately, the football bounced back into his hands and the play did not take a tragic turn.
OK, now that we got that out of the way, we can talk about the otherwise solid decision making by Cousins, who completed 24-of-31 passes (77.4 percent) for 300 yards with the touchdown to Reed and a nifty rushing touchdown on a read-option play, faking the handoff to Jones to the right and taking off untouched to his left.
"He was great today," Gruden said of Cousins. "I like the way Kirk managed the game. Made some big throws on some third-downs – I think we were 58 or 60 percent on third down which kept our drives going and overall that was an efficient game for Kirk."
Cousins said he's really been fortunate to buy into a week-by-week approach this season, which allows him not to get too high or too low.
"I have had games where people want to run me out of town, the next week we win and I am the best thing since sliced bread," the Michigan State product said after Sunday's game. "So I don't know, I think it's week-to-week but I keep trying to grow and build on each experience that I have whether it is positive or negative and trust that if I do that, good things will happen."
For the season, Cousins has now completed 314-of-454 passes for 3,306 yards with 18 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, while also adding four rushing touchdowns.
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5. The Redskins' defense was able to dial up the pressure on Cutler.
Washington knows the key to beating Jay Cutler is to get him in his "gunslinger" mentality by rushing him out of the pocket and forcing him to make mistakes.
Check out images of the Washington Redskins celebrating their 2015 Week 14 victory over the Chicago Bears Dec. 13, 2015, at Soldier Field.
On Sunday, Cutler played a pretty solid overall game, completing 19-of-31 passes (61 percent) for 315 yards with two touchdowns. And, perhaps most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over all game.
But the Redskins were still able to have their way against the Bears' offensive line at times, as Terrance Knighton, Murphy and Ryan Kerrigan were all able to register sacks.
For Knighton, his sack of Cutler – the first full sack of his Redskins career – was extra sweet after John Fox, his former head coach with the Denver Broncos, didn't appear interested in his services as a free agent this offseason when Fox headed to the Bears.
"Coach Fox was my old coach and obviously in the free agency period I thought they were going to give me a little love and they didn't, and I made sure they regretted it," Knighton said. "It's a love-hate thing. I'm still blessed to have the opportunity to have played in a Super Bowl. Coach Fox is a great coach but ultimately you got to find something to light that fire underneath you."
Kerrigan earned sack No. 7.5 on the season, extending his team lead. But the fifth-year Purdue product said he was happiest to see Murphy come away with his big play, earning the pass rusher's trifecta with a sack/forced fumble/fumble recovery.
"It was awesome." Kerrigan said. "That's about hwo you draw it up as a pass rusher. I was really happy for him, and … it's good to get one of them, but he got all three of them on one play. So I was happy for Trent."
READ MORE:Redskins Hold On To Beat Bears, 24-21