Rob Jackson is proving that he has a nose for game-changing plays.
He did it once again Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, as the outside linebacker's interception just 39 seconds into the third quarter helped turn a 14-10 Cleveland lead at halftime into a 28-7 Washington run to close the game, as the Redskins extended their winning streak to five games with a 38-21 win at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Jackson had a stat-stuffing game with six tackles, two pass deflections and a sack that caused a fourth-quarter fumble, but his momentum-stealing interception was the talk of the defense after the game.
"Again, Rob Jackson, that dude is just playing out of his mind," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "He's grown as a player, and he's going to continue to get better."
Jackson, who replaced perennial Pro Bowler Brian Orakpo Week 2 vs. the St. Louis Rams after he suffered a season-ending pectoral injury, said his key interception was a read in which Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, looking for an open receiver across the middle of the field, simply must not have seen him.
"I was in a zone, playing in the middle of the field, and I guess [Weeden] was throwing to somebody behind me," Jackson recalled. "I saw it, jumped up, and caught it."
Jackson returned the interception – his career-best third of the season – to the Cleveland 15-yard line, setting up a three-yard touchdown run by running back Alfred Morris three plays later that would give the Redskins a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Fellow outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said the play "set the tone" for the rest of the second half.
"Rob's playing on fire right now," Kerrigan said. "You can't really ask for better play out of an outside linebacker right now. He makes me want to elevate my game … and he's been such a spark for us."
Kerrigan was a menace for Weeden and the Browns' offense, as well, as he finished with three tackles and batted down two passes. Jackson said he enjoys the back-and-forth nature of playing alongside Kerrigan.
"He sets the standard," Jackson said. "I know if I'm playing on the other side from him, I'm going to have to make plays. I can't be average, I can't be mediocre -- I'm going to have to step my game up and match his intensity. You know, we're just kind of feeding off each other; he makes a big play, I make a big play."
Kerrigan was quick to credit defensive coordinator Jim Haslett for putting him and others in the right position to make plays.
"Collectively, as a defense, everyone's been more accountable," Kerrigan said. "We've executed the calls better, and [Haslett] has been calling great games lately and calling the right blitz at the right time, and we've just been executing. That's been the difference for us."
With playmakers both on offense and defense, the Redskins control their own destiny for a playoff run. But Jackson hopes the defense continues its gradual improvement to be playing at its best come any potential postseason games.
"It feels good," he said. "We're gelling together as a team overall, and I feel like we're just getting started."