Here's five takeaways from the Washington Redskins' Week 10 26-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at FedExField in Landover, Md.
1. Preston Smith comes up big for the Redskins in his best performance of the season.Entering Sunday's game, Smith from a numbers game was struggling to replicate his success from a strong rookie season.
Through the Redskins' first eight games of the season, Smith had just 1.5 sacks. On Sunday, though, the 23-year-old would take down Sam Bradford twice and intercept him on one of the most athletic plays you'll see out of a linebacker.
In the first quarter on a 3rd-and-15 play from the 50-yard line, Smith took down Bradford for a two-yard loss. After Minnesota was forced to punt, the Redskins would score nine plays later off a 38-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis.
"It was a much-needed game for me," Smith said. "Confidence-wise, it's a great game statistically for me. It's a great way to start the second half of the season for the team. We got the win. I ended up making some big plays on the way to the win, and that's the best feeling ever, getting the win."
But Smith's production was far from over on the afternoon, as he logged his first career interception in the fourth quarter as he tipped a Bradford pass into the air before fully reaching back to grab the ball with one hand. He'd then race up the field for a 22-yard return that would soon set up a Dustin Hopkins field goal.
"I'm going to walk you through the moment," Smith began. "When I saw it, I was like, 'Oh, he's really about to throw this.' After I hit it, I was like, 'I can't miss it twice or everybody will be mad at me.' So I caught it and I pulled it in. I tried to get a touchdown, but I think somebody got in the way."
Then with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter and the Vikings only down six but well within striking distance, Smith dragged Bradford down for a massive loss. It preserved the Redskins' victory in the process.
"I felt like my rushes all through the game were kind of setting up for it," Smith said. "I try to set up moments inside and out, or speed rush. On that one, I just felt like, 'On this last play I've got to rush as fast as I can, as hard as I can and give it my all on the one last play and hopefully I get home.' I ended up getting home and sacking Sam Bradford."
2. Robert Kelley continued his strong running as the team's starting back."Fat Rob" ate up a juicy Vikings defense all day long.
Despite making only his second career NFL start, Kelley – undrafted out of Tulane – had no issues getting yards in bunches against one of the league's top run defenses.
On the afternoon, Kelley carried the ball 21 times for 97 yards. Looking deeper into those numbers, Kelley had three carries that went 12 yards or longer on the first play of a Washington drive and only once was he taken down for a loss.
"He's fun to watch," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "and he's going to get better and better. I'm very excited for his progress as a young, new player and we're excited for what's to come."
Gruden isn't alone in that feeling, though.
"He's a great back, he's got great vision," tackle Ty Nsekhe said. "Overall did a great job."
As for what he thought about his performance, Kelley didn't fully divulge into his performance without watching the film but believes his strong running style did him well.
"That's how I run the ball," Kelley said. "I'm not one of the guys who sits back all day and just try to dance around it. I try to get north and south as much as possible. …I say [this] all the time, but for me it's real. I go out there all the time and just look around like I dreamed about this as a kid and it happened. So I'm always surprised, I always try to take advantage and don't just go out there and get big-headed and stuff like that."
3. The defense clamped down in the second half, not only any points on the Vikings' four drives in the third and fourth quarters.Minnesota entered halftime with all of the momentum, as they scored the final 20 points of the second quarter to jump out to a surprising six-point lead.
Check out the images from the postgame celebration after the Redskins win against the Vikings!
"At the end of the half we weren't very happy, weren't very pleased," Gruden said of the team going into halftime. "But [we] shut them out in the second half and that's big. And the big drive to end the game to get that stop."
Gruden told the players in the locker room that "every game this year, we've been leading and we've been trailing, and today's no different."
"We just have to continue to handle the adversity, the adverse situation," Gruden added of his talk to the players.
The Redskins responded accordingly by shutting them out in the second half.
After the offense pieced together 12-play, 60-yard scoring drive to open up the third quarter, the defense would force a quick three-and-out.
With the ball back in Washington's possession, the Redskins added three more points on their next drive.
Minnesota would get the ball back for just one more play before the end of the third quarter.
"Guys being on assignments sharper and making better plays," linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "We saw when we allowed those couple touchdowns, those guys were kind of running a little bit open. We got to be on our assignments better and I think we were in the second half."
Indeed Washington was, as they didn't allow much in the fourth quarter, either, as that drive that started in the third quarter lasted just four plays.
Smith would tally his interception on Minnesota's next drive before their final drive – one that could have ended with a potential game-winning touchdown – resulted in a turnover on downs.
"It shows we can be resilient," defensive end Chris Baker said. "We just have to play well in all phases of the game. It's one of those days where we started to play [well] on special teams, offense, and defense. We still have to learn when we have a team down, [how] to keep them down. A lot of times we get the lead early, give the up the lead and let the team come back. If we really want to be a good team, we have to stick our foot on their throat from the beginning of the game until the end and not let teams back in the game."
4. Ty Nsekhe showed why the coaching staff is so high on him.
Throughout the last few months, the coaches and front office staff have explained time and time again that Nsekhe can be a starting tackle for a lot of teams in the NFL right now.
But with Trent Williams and Morgan Moses in-house, Nsekhe serves as the team's swing tackle on most days.
His role changed, though, once it was announced Williams was suspended four games. Pushed into the starting lineup, Nsekhe got his time in the starting lineup off on the right foot on Sunday, as he didn't allow a single sack while helping the run game eclipse 100 yards.
"This isn't the first time, so I knew what to expect going into it," Nsekhe said. "I knew how to prepare for it, that's why I just tried to build off of what I did last year."
Nsekhe held his own against 2015 Pro Bowler Everson Griffen, not allowing a sack to the 2015 Pro Bowler.
"It felt good," Nsekhe said. "There's always things I can work on, we going to look at the film and make the corrections."
Not that he need any reasons coming in to say this, but Morgan Moses believes that Nsekhe proved that he can play against top NFL competition.
"He's a helluva football player, obviously he's humongous, and he's ready, man," Moses said. "He works his tail off every week, so there's no doubt he's going to be able to come in here and play."
5. Kirk Cousins played a mostly clean game for the Redskins.
Outside of a near goal line interception in the first quarter (he would rebound off the play to throw a touchdown to Jamison Crowder), Cousins operated well in the pocket all day long against an aggressive Vikings defense.
"I don't know until I see the film, but I felt Jordan [Reed] had to step on a shell across and I was to get it to him and right at the moment I was trying to get it to him, I couldn't," Cousins said of the near interception. "You see it and you want to throw it and from the moment the ball leaves your hand. I couldn't get that push enough behind it the way I wanted to."
He finished the afternoon with 262 and two touchdowns to no interceptions, running an offense that was able to score on all four of its second half possessions.
"It was a big win, they're all big," Cousins said. "It took everybody. I'm very pleased with the way the team played and the way we were able to get the win."
Even with Minnesota taking a sudden lead into halftime, the Redskins were able to take back control in the second half.
Yes, the offense certainly would have preferred to score touchdowns over field goals, but the scoring drives gave the Redskins confidence in a tight game.
"Football is a game of momentum, so you definitely want to capture the momentum and keep it," Cousins said. "If you lose it, which you're bound to do at some point, try and fight like crazy to get it back. I thought the first drive coming out of halftime, taking it down the field, was a step in the right direction. I hated having to settle for three but it was a good step to move the football like that coming out of the half."