The Washington Redskins trailed 24-0 during the first half of Sunday's game vs. the Buccaneers, but came all the way back to win and complete their largest comeback in franchise history.*
Perhaps it's only fitting that the Washington Redskins made history on Sunday in front of more than a hundred former players, coaches and team personnel.
On a day in which the team would celebrate all of its distinguished alumni during its annual homecoming celebration, the Redskins completed their biggest comeback in franchise history, erasing a 24-0 second-quarter deficit to defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 31-30.
On three occasions – as recently as 1999 – the Redskins have come back from a 21-point deficit to win, but they've never, in their 83-year history, done anything like they did on Sunday.
"It's huge," Gruden said after the game. "To come back and battle back to give (the alums) something to cheer about on their alumni weekend is an awesome feeling."
Things were looking very bleak for the Redskins (3-4) in the first half of Sunday's game, especially in the second quarter. Down 17-0 with 8:31 left in the second quarter, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, lined up in the shotgun at the Tampa Bay 45-yard line, dropped back to pass, and immediately found himself under duress.
Tampa Bay defensive end Jacquies Smith came around and knocked the ball out of Cousins' hand at the Washington 46-yard line, which was recovered at the 43 by defensive end Howard Jones. From there, Jones won a foot race against rookie guard Brandon Scherff to the end zone for the big defensive score.
Check out these top photos from the Washington Redskins 2015 Week 7 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Oct. 25, 2015, at FedExField.
After the extra point, the rout was on: the Buccaneers were leading 24-0.
"I'm looking left so my right side became my blind side, can't feel him behind me and when I take two hands off the ball to go throw it, it's exposed," Cousins said. "That's why we talk about avoiding sacks and getting the ball our of your hand and that kind of a thing because when you hold on to it you never know who's coming from behind you. It was a huge play because that's a seven-point swing right there. We have the ball somewhere near midfield, makes it tough."
Washington's comeback started innocently enough on its ensuing drive, when Cousins used the read option to take it in himself from eight yards out. A Dustin Hopkins extra point made the score 24-7 Buccaneers heading into halftime, giving the Redskins a little bit of hope to make it respectable in the second half.
Easier said than done, however.
Although the Redskins had led going into halftime in five of their six games to start the season, they had well-documented struggles in the second half of games, being outscored 46-3 in the third quarter of those first six matchups in 2015.
It was a different story on Sunday, however, as the momentum continued to swing Washington's way in that previously-elusive third quarter. They cut the lead to 24-14 on a three-yard pass from Cousins to Ryan Grant – the second-year receiver's first-career touchdown – and then 24-21 on another three-yard touchdown pass, this time to tight end Jordan Reed, a play set up by a terrific onside kick by Hopkins that was recovered by safety Trenton Robinson.
Entering the fourth quarter, it was anybody's game.
"The guys stepped up when we needed them the most and we got the ball into the end zone," Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon said of the 14-0 performance in the third quarter Sunday. "That's the only thing that matters – no matter what they say, no matter what you do."
The fourth quarter will be classified as an instant classic. The Buccaneers extended their lead to six on a Connor Barth 45-yard field goal early in the quarter, but the Redskins responded right back with a Hopkins 35-yard kick.
The Redskins' defense bent but didn't break from there, allowing the Buccaneers to get to the three-yard line, but not an inch further, forcing a 21-yard Barth field goal and pushing the score to 30-24 Tampa Bay with 2:24 left.
And 11 plays, 80 yards and two minutes later, Cousins would complete his second-straight home comeback victory, finding his guy Reed in the end zone from six yards out for the touchdown.
Hopkins' seventh point of the game was the most notable of his career to date, as his extra point was good and gave Washington a 31-30 lead it wouldn't relinquish.
The Redskins had been down 21 points and won three times in team history prior to Sunday's game: a 21-0 deficit to the Dallas Cowboys (34-31 win) in 1965; a 35-14 deficit to the Detroit Lions (48-41 win) in 1990; and a 21-0 deficit to the Carolina Panthers (38-36 win) in 1999.
But Sunday's 24-point comeback, now the best in the franchise's 1,202-game history, was even more special with the Redskins' team greats on hand to see it in person.
"I talked to our team last night about the alumni being here, and these guys paved the way for us being here, as athletes and as professional football players for the Washington Redskins," Gruden said. "We want to make them proud and show them that all the work that they put into this organization did not go for naught.
"It was great to shake a lot of those guys' hands, and it's a huge victory in front of them, and like I said, it paves a way for all of us."