Here's five takeaways from the Washington Redskins' 38-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. 1. Get ready, Redskins fans: January football is coming back to FedExField.
The Redskins had exorcised many a demon throughout the 2015 season, but had one last roadblock to overcome heading into Saturday's game against the Eagles: the ability to win a primetime game.
The team hadn't performed well in general during primetime the past few seasons, but this year, was 0-2 under the lights prior to Saturday's game, losing to the New York Giants Week 3 on Thursday Night Football, and then falling flat in a 19-16, last-second loss to the lowly Dallas Cowboys Week 13 on Monday Night Football.
But Saturday's game against the Eagles had more on the line than just primetime pride – a division title could be won for Washington, but only if the team came away with a victory. A loss to the Eagles, and Philadelphia was in the driver's seat heading into Week 17.
So the Redskins seized the moment, coming away with a decisive 38-24 victory over their division rivals to win their 15th division title in franchise history.
With the win, the Redskins checked yet another troublesome trend off their list for the season. They had already overcome severe third quarter struggles, earned a victory on the road after starting 0-5 away from FedExField and earned back-to-back wins for the first time all year the next week against the Buffalo Bills.
"I think it's awesome," outside linebacker Trent Murphy said. "It kind of shows the growth of this team and that we're just getting better the later the season gets, and to be able to accomplish those goals, or milestones, is huge."
Saturday's game means the Redskins have clinched the No. 4 seed in the NFC, and will host a first-round playoff game Jan. 9 or 10 at FedExField.
READ MORE: NFC Wild Card Game Ticket Information
2. The Redskins might have something going with this Kirk Cousins-Jordan Reed connection.
Both Cousins and Reed are putting together some of the best individual performances at their respective positions in team history, and neither would be having the seasons they've been having without each other.
That trend continued against the Eagles. Cousins targeted Reed 11 times on Saturday, and the third-year tight end caught nine of those passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
Cousins was especially dependent on Reed in the first quarter, as the two connected on all five of their targets for 87 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Redskins put a slow start both offensively and defensively behind them and move forward with plenty of momentum.
"It just goes to being healthy, being available," Reed told reporters after the game about his performance this season. "In years past, I have been getting hurt. But God blessed me to stay healthy this season and I took advantage of it."
Reed has established himself as one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league. Through 15 games, he has 83 catches for 907 yards and 11 touchdowns. Cousins, meanwhile, has completed 367-of-528 passes (a league-best 69.5 percent completion percentage) with 26 touchdowns to 11 interceptions for a 99.2 quarterback rating.
It's immediately unclear if Cousins or Reed will play Sunday against the Cowboys in the regular-season finale. If they do, they have a couple major single-season team records they could break (120 yards passing for Cousins would give him 4,110 yards on the year, breaking Jay Schroeder's 4,109 mark set in 1986; Reed is one reception away from setting the team single-season record for catches by a tight end), but even if they don't, it's impressive to step back and take a look at what they've accomplished this season.
"He's elite at his position and what we need him to do, he does it at a high, high level," Cousins said of Reed. "For me as a quarterback, I'm a distributor. I need those guys to get open. I need time to throw. Jordan makes my job easy because he gets open and he makes plays. … I think we've only scratched the surface as to what he's capable of being with another offseason of work and development."
3. Break out the balloons and kazoos: Preston Smith is ready for his breaking out party.
The rookie outside linebacker out of Mississippi State has gotten better and better with each week, and showed just where he is in his development against the Eagles, sacking quarterback Sam Bradford a career-best three times.
For Smith, the performance was prophetic.
"I kind of told the guys, I was in a joking manner, I wanted to do it, but I told them early this week I was going to get three," said Smith, who was emotional after the game, revealing his cousin had passed away Saturday morning. "This is the first time I got over that hump and got three."
Smith has received more and more playing time opposite of Ryan Kerrigan as the season has worn on. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry said that, like most rookies, it's taken time for Smith to grow accustomed to being a professional football player. The hard work begins away from the field.
"That's what being a great pro is – consistently showing up every single day, being great in meetings, being great in walkthroughs, being great in practice," Barry said Dec. 4 of Smith. "Because when you get to that point and you figure it out, when you're consistent in every aspect of your life then it shows up on Sundays. He's getting there."
For the year, Smith leads all NFL rookies with seven tacks. His three forced fumbles are tied with Mario Edwards Jr. for the second-most among rookies.
"I just came out there, rushed and kept rushing and they was falling in my lap," Smith said. "I just kept on playing hard and I keep on progressing each week seeing what I need to fix each week and go off that."
4. DeSean Jackson had plenty of reasons to be ecstatic Saturday evening.
Jackson, of course, was unceremoniously released by the Eagles and head coach Chip Kelly in March of 2014. The Redskins, knowing first-hand how Jackson can be one of the top playmakers in the league, signed him a couple days later, giving the wide receiver two opportunities a year to terrorize his former team.
But Jackson, who suffered a hamstring injury Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins that kept him out seven weeks, missed the two teams' Week 4 matchup, a 23-20 Redskins victory at FedExField.
So with everything on the line – and with the always-loving Philadelphia fans letting him know where he stands before and during the game – Jackson did everything he needed to on Saturday, catching four passes for 40 yards, including a 22-yard reception.
Perhaps more importantly, he served as a huge distraction for the Eagles' defense, allowing Reed, Pierre Garçon (seven catches, 80 yards, one touchdown) and running back Pierre Thomas (seven receptions, 67 yards) to get into open space all night.
Ahh: sweet, sweet revenge – not to mention, the Redskins' win over the Eagles Week 16 last season knocked Philadelphia out of contention, too.
"Sorry for him," Jackson said when asked if he had a message for Kelly. "We're in the playoffs and we're winning. Second year in a row for them not to be, so hopefully we can do something good, you know, carry off with this hot streak we're in right now take it to the playoffs."
READ MORE: DeSean Jackson Helps Eliminate Former Team
5. DeAngelo Hall made NFL history. Again.
In the third quarter of Saturday's game, with the Redskins up just one score at 23-17 and the Eagles facing a 3rd and 2 from their own 29-yard line, Hall was, yet again, Johnny On The Spot for the Redskins' defense.
Bradford took the snap and tried to pitch it to running back DeMarco Murray. The ball bounced off Murray and hit the grass, and Hall was right there to scoop it up and run it all the way to the end zone for the touchdown, putting his team up two touchdowns. The Eagles wouldn't really threaten again.
The play earned Hall the distinction of being the only player in NFL history to collect five pick-sixes and five fumble recoveries for touchdowns in a career.
"You know, just looking back at it, it's hard to believe nobody's ever done it," Hall said Tuesday in a conference call with D.C.-area reporters. "It's just, I try to be around the ball and I try to get the ball as much as I can and I always feel like when I have the ball in my hands I have a chance to do something with it."
Hall, a 12-year veteran, also attributed the record simply to "time," but skill and film study surely has something to do with it, too.
"You know with time you tend to do some things that you never set out to do," he said. "I mean, it's been a blessing. Hopefully, I can rack up a couple more."