*After little production in the third quarter through the team's first six games, the Redskins reversed the trend Sunday against the Buccaneers en route to a comeback 31-30 victory. *
The common refrain during the last week, and really for the entire season, revolved around the Redskins' immense struggles in the third quarter. The fears were exacerbated last Sunday against the Jets, when they were outscored by 17 points and raised questions about the team's temperament heading out of the locker room.
Why had they been outscored 46-3 in a quarter head coach Jay Gruden called a "nightmare for us?" There were few answers after the loss. The believed they had the right attitude, but couldn't confirm it on the field.
A week later, at home, the Redskins trotted into the locker room more dejected than usual, trailing the Buccaneers by 17 points. At previous intermissions, Washington had held a slight lead, or had at least been within striking distance.
"I told [head] coach Gruden, I said, 'Look, you've been bothering us so much about the third quarter, we forgot about the first quarter,'" nose tackle Terrance Knighton said. "We came out and played well in the third quarter, we forgot about the first half."
Considering their recent struggles out of the half, they played more than just well. The Redskins outscored the Bucs 14-0 – thanks to two Kirk Cousins touchdowns and a successful onside kick – that spurred a motivated 31-30 comeback victory to head into the Bye week.
What was the difference?
The frustration that consumed the locker room had less to do with needing a pep talk than each player fulfilling responsibilities.
Linebacker Will Compton knew the team was "strolling down memory lane." The defense was missing tackles. The offense wasn't executing. It came down to fundamentals.
"We just had to challenge them a little bit," Gruden said after the game.
According to left tackle Trent Williams, Gruden was livid and "on the gas." It was a different mood than in weeks past.
Check out these top photos from the Washington Redskins 2015 Week 7 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Oct. 25, 2015, at FedExField.
Coaches drew up a few plays as usual but logistics weren't the issue this time. There was no "miracle speech" as Cousins put it.
"He just said we're playing sorry right now. A lot of guys bought in to that," wide receiver Jamison Crowder said. "It's not about the plays up on the board, it's about how we playing. Got to go out there and be physical. Go out there and stop shooting ourselves in the foot."
"It was a big message, definitely coming from [head] coach Gruden," running back Matt Jones said. "He said this is not good enough, we've got to go back out there. He just knew that wasn't us… we took that out on our shoulders."
That was felt almost immediately. The defense, aided by some Tampa Bay penalties, didn't allow the Bucs a yard of offense on their first drive, forcing a punt. Four plays later, using a 38-yard pass completion to wide receiver Andre Roberts, the Redskins found the end zone with a three-yard floater to a wide open Ryan Grant.
As if to exemplify the importance of capitalizing on the unprecedented momentum out of the half, the Redskins opted for a surprise onside kick, something kicker Dustin Hopkins had executed before but never found success.
This time it did, falling into the mitts of safety Trenton Robinson. The offense, calibrating at an efficient level unseen in the first half, drove down the field thanks to a 32-yard strike to Grant. With some added defensive penalties, Cousins found tight end Jordan Reed with a three yard dart for another touchdown with just less than seven minutes left in the quarter.
"The onside kick and the great stops by the defense and that kind of thing is what gives the offense a chance, gave us a short field," Cousins said. "The guys started making plays and winning their matchups. I'm just really proud of the way we kept playing. It was a good lesson – just keep playing and you never know what could happen."
"We knew that we had to go out there in the third quarter and make something happen," Crowder said. "We played the best that we played all year in the third quarter."
The nightmare had turned into a dream, which turned into a fairytale by the game's final two-minute drive. After weeks of a familiar chorus, and not being able to provide an answer for it, players responded by looking inward, and then channeling that anger out.
"We're still finding our way as a team," Knighton said. "But the way that we fight and the mentality that we have will give you a chance every game."