When his team needed him the most Saturday at FedExField, Washington Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland made what he called the biggest play of his young -- but blossoming -- career in the national spotlight.
With the game tied and the Philadelphia Eagles crossing into Redskins' territory with 1:36 remaining in the game, quarterback Mark Sanchez dropped back and looked to his right for his primary receiver, Jeremy Maclin. As Sanchez let go of the football, his pass sailed to Maclin's inside shoulder, rather than his outside.
That one mistake put Breeland in a position to make arguably the play of the game.
"I knew it was going to come out quick so I tried to jam him," said Breeland, who noted that the Redskins were in a man-to-man coverage during the play. "He did a little sit. The quarterback threw it inside instead of throwing it outside. I saw the ball and I just put my hands out to catch it."
The rookie defensive back drove on the football and went down to the ground to pick off the low pass. Upon further review, the interception stood as called and the Redskins took over with a fresh set of downs on their own 42-yard line.
Eight plays later, Kai Forbath kicked a 26-yard go-ahead field goal with five seconds left to give the Redskins a 27-24 win, their fourth victory of the year and third off their kicker's foot.
In the five plays prior to Breeland's clutch interception, Sanchez connected with his tight end, Zack Ertz, on four of them. Despite his own man not seeing the ball much – Maclin was targeted only six times in the game – Breeland said he was ready for the opportunity.
"I'm ready every play because that's one of their main receivers," he said. "So, I'm thinking he's getting the ball just about every play."
On the night, Breeland finished with five total tackles – including one highlight-reel stick on special teams – with a tackle for loss and pass deflection to go along with his game-changing interception.
After another solid performance, the 2014 fourth-round pick garnered plenty of praise in the post-game locker room chatter.
"What I like about him and what I think the coaches like about him is he's aggressive," Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "He's going to get up there. He's going to challenge you. He's not going to let a guy have a free release off the line."
Head coach Jay Gruden echoed that point following the game.
"This guy is a great competitor," the first-year head coach said of Breeland. "He wants all the action. He doesn't want to have any safety help. He wants to be manned up and that's the type of guy he is – very tough, very physical. He obviously came up huge for us today."
Here's an exclusive look from the the Washington Redskins' sideline during their Week 16 game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Already this season, Breeland has made his presence known in a division that boasts several big-name wide receivers. Against the Dallas Cowboys -- the Redskins' opponent next Sunday in their 2014 season finale -- Breeland had his coming out party in a victory on *Monday Night Football *that saw him shut down Dez Bryant.
In that game, Bryant was held to 30 yards on three receptions with one touchdown. With their backs against the wall, Breeland deflected passes on back-to-back plays in the red zone to force a second-half field goal.
It's moments like those where he steps up when the game calls for it that make Stephen Bowen believe Breeland has ice water running through his veins.
"That dude has ice cold veins," Bowen said. "He's been playing real good the whole season and I'm happy for him. Rookie, NFC East, you're going to play against some great receivers and he's been stepping up every week."
On the season, the Clemson-product has 57 total tackles, two interceptions and each of his 13 pass deflections have come in the last nine games. As he stepped in as a rookie to replace an injured Pro Bowler in DeAngelo Hall, he's answered the call and has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches.
With their support, Breeland says that only motivates him more, not wanting to let them down, while doing his part to help the team win.
"It feels real good to have guys that have my back like that," he said. "It makes me go out and play even harder. … It made me feel real good to help the team."
As the defensive back continues to improve as the season goes along, Gruden views Breeland as a young player that the team is already putting in a leadership position.
"As a rookie, he's one of the guys we're already leaning on as a leader back there," Gruden said. "He's a great competitor and a great find for us. He's just going to get better and better."