Here's five takeaways from the Washington Redskins' 16-10 Week 5 victory over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
1. The defensive unit made sure to master the situation with pressure mounting.
The game did not get off to the best of starts for the Redskins on Sunday afternoon, as the Ravens marched down the field on nine plays to score a seven-yard touchdown on the opening drive.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco went 4-of-4 on the drive including a touchdown pass to tight end Crockett Gilmore, while running back Terrance West set a career-high with a 35-yard carry on the fifth play of the game.
But as the game wore on, the defensive unit clamped down and did not allow a touchdown for the rest of the game. In the second half, the Redskins forced five punts – three of which came after three-and-outs – while they did not break on the last drive of the game, one that could have resulted in the Ravens squeaking out a one-point victory.
"The biggest thing was like I said, just master the situation," said linebacker Mason Foster, who finished the game with seven tackles. "We get in good situations and if it's stopping the run on first or second down, and get them into a 3rd-and-long, and then making the plays. [Defensive coordinator Joe Barry] is going to make a great call we just have to make the play and finish it. When we do that, I feel like we are a dangerous defense."
The defensive backfield – one that has changed drastically since the start of the season due to injuries – was tested late in the game, as 21 of the final 22 plays were Flacco pass attempts. The other play was a Flacco scramble.
"Speaks wonders on how we're able to have 11 DBs," cornerback Josh Norman said. "Coach [Barry] kept as many DBs as any position group on the team. It's amazing that guys can come in and [fit themseleves] into the role. Donte Whitner came in off the street and played for us today. Guys like that contribute and make plays. Will Blackmon, Duke Ihenacho, [Quinton Dunbar], [Greg Toler], there's so many people. Kendall Fuller, he's a rook coming in and making plays. Everybody coming in and doing their job to the best of their ability."
2. Facing the NFL's stingiest defense, the Redskins' offense was able to do just enough to land a victory.
Check out the top images from the Washington Redskins' offense in their 2016 Week 5 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens Oct. 9, 2016, at M&T Bank Stadium.
As they have been for years now, the Ravens have one of the toughest defensive units in the NFL today and it showed on Sunday.
Despite having weapons all over the field, the Redskins' longest play of the game was a 27-yard completion from Kirk Cousins to DeSean Jackson in the fourth quarter, before finishing with a total of 310 yards from the offense.
While the Ravens controlling the majority of possession in the first half, the Redskins had eight drives in the second half including a three-play, 50-yard drive in the third quarter that resulted in Pierre Garçon first touchdown reception of the season.
"At halftime, we knew that we'd had some opportunities in the first half," Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "We knew we started with the football, and the first few drives were going to be important. At halftime, we didn't come in there thinking that they're not as great as we thought. We just focused on the fact that we'd done some good things in the first half, and we needed to keep playing."
Two drives after Garçon's touchdown gave the Redskins their first lead of the game, the offense milked nearly six minutes off the clock on an 11-play, 72-yard drive that resulted in a Dustin Hopkins field goal.
"That was a great drive," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "We got to eat up some clock, and got our defense fresh again. That was a big-time play."
3. The Redskins' victory wasn't complete without strong special teams play.
For the first time in nearly eight years, the Redskins had a punt return go for a touchdown, as Jamison Crowder took back a kick 85 yards in the first quarter.
Easily the longest return of his young career, Crowder was set up by superb blocking all the way up the field.
"From my perspective, it's just the guys blocking a lot better," Crowder said of his increased results in punt return this year. "Last year, we had a mixture of pains. Sometimes I'd make the wrong cut, other times guys were in my face. This year, our guys have been doing a really good job of holding up. I'm able to catch the ball and have a lot of yardage even before the first defender is down there. So they've done a really good job of blocking."
While Dustin Hopkins would miss the extra point – a rarity for the Redskins kicker – Washington benefitted from a strong game out of punter Tress Way, who averaged more than 42 yards on his six punts in the game.
On his first punt of the second half, Way boomed a ball that would end up traveling 61 yards.
"With those end over end punts, he does such a great job," Hopkins said. "Testament to him, he got a ball off really quick where I think there was penetration, a guy might have gotten a tip on it. But he stayed focused. That's really distracting as a punter, I'm sure. So being able to keep your focus and hit a ball that is still good is awesome."
Washington also benefitted from a failed fake field goal play that the Ravens ran in the second quarter.
The right-footed Justin Tucker lined up to take a kick with his left foot, only to drop back and attempt a pass that would hit Duke Ihenacho's helmet before falling to the ground.
"When they cross the field, close to that goal line, it's just a weird feeling," Ihenacho said. "[Josh Norman] J-No wasn't like, 'Watch the fake,' but he was like, 'We've got 80 over here, but 80 been over there all game. Watch some funny stuff.' I was like, 'The only way to watch funny stuff is not to rush.' I took a step up, and then he released. They never do that. When he released, I kind of stuck my foot out a little bit so he could trip, and I found the ball."
4. Josh Norman wasn't going to stay on the sidelines in a close game.
It was a scene the Redskins never wanted to see on the field, but one they were faced with when Norman awkwardly landed on his arm and then laid on the ground for a few minutes before leaving the game and heading to the locker room.
Norman had been dealing with a wrist injury throughout the week, but there was "no doubt" in his mind he'd make it back out on the field.
After missing eight snaps, Norman was reinserted into the game.
"Just got to numb the pain a little bit," Norman said. "Go through the grind, have the mentality of being physical, overcoming obstacles of being hurt, in pain, being numb to it. Just go out there and fight for your team."
Even with the injury, Norman was key down the stretch, as he gave Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman just enough of a push to knock him off-balance on a grab that was originally ruled a touchdown.
But after further review, he managed to get just one foot inbounds.
"Fought through it, caught the ball, I just nudged him a little bit and got the call of being out of bounds," Norman said. "That's one of the plays where we have to throw out hats off to the technique. Because if it wasn't that, he probably would have scored. I saw it and I knew it [was out of bounds]."
5. Matt Jones will remain confident.
While the Redskins had quite a few positives to take out of Sunday's close victory, Jones struggled on the ground, managing just 31 rushing yards on 14 carries.
The Redskins dodged a bullet in the second quarter after a bad exchange between Jones and Cousins resulted in a fumble, one that the Ravens would recover at Washington's 15-yard line, wouldn't result in any points.
"It's a handoff exchange with me just bobbling the hand exchange and trying to get in the hole at the same time," Jones said. "and [the defender] just put his head right on the ball as I just fumbled the ball. He just made a good play."
Jones wouldn't appear on the Redskins' first drive of the third quarter with Chris Thompson and Robert Kelley taking reps at running back instead.
He would eventually make his way back into the game, putting the fumble behind him.
"I'm just going to keep on grinding and not let that get to me as much," Jones said. "That's something I can fix with an exchange."