Ryan Kerrigan has played in both a playoff game and in the Pro Bowl during his four seasons with the Washington Redskins, but, believe it or not, the most nervous he's ever felt during a game came Dec. 20 during a field-goal attempt against the Philadelphia Eagles.
After fellow outside linebacker Trent Murphy had to exit the game with a broken hand, the Redskins turned to Kerrigan to take his place along the edge of the line to block for kicker Kai Forbath during extra points and field goals.
With 10 seconds remaining in a 24-24 game, Washington sent out Forbath, Kerrigan and the rest of the field goal unit to attempt a potential game-winner from 26 yards out.
When he's playing defense and going after a quarterback, the moves just come naturally to Kerrigan. In the moments just prior to this particular field goal attempt, however, the Purdue product was forced to think back to the few times he had taken emergency reps at this position during training camp.
Fortunately for Kerrigan and the Redskins, the line held up perfectly on the kick, which split the uprights, giving Washington a much-needed 27-24 victory over the rival Eagles.
"We're a resilient bunch," Kerrigan said after the game. "I mean, we've played hard all season long and today things went our way. We made plays and, you know, things went our way."
The win snapped the Redskins' six-game losing streak, and, perhaps not surprisingly, it was a play by Kerrigan that got it all started for his team during a chilly, late-afternoon matchup at FedExField.
The Eagles received the opening kickoff and drove to the Washington 47-yard line before facing a 3rd and 14. Philadelphia quarterback Mark Sanchez, lined up in the shotgun with running back LeSean McCoy to his left, took the snap and dropped back, and as he looked down field and shuffled his feet, he had no idea what was headed his way.
Kerrigan had easily gotten around right tackle Lane Johnson – the fourth-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft – by swiping away the lineman's hands, and set his target set on Sanchez. As the quarterback went to raise his right hand to attempt a pass, Kerrigan reached out with his left hand to bat the ball out of his hands.
Kerrigan immediately fell on the ball – giving his team its first possession at the Philadelphia 47-yard line – and had completed the pass rusher's trifecta: sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery.
The Redskins would strike first a few plays later with a field goal from Forbath.
"Good coverage on the back end," Kerrigan said of the Redskins' secondary on the play. "You know, three-man rush up front, I believe. Fortunately, I was able to beat my guy and get to the ball carrier, get to the quarterback and get it out."
His own worst critic
Kerrigan's strip-sack Dec. 20 against the Eagles was just the latest in a barrage of huge plays made by the former defensive end throughout the 2014 season.
The sack was No. 13.5 on the season for Kerrigan, easily beating his previous career high of 8.5, set in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. And, unlike previous years, Kerrigan has been able to get to the quarterback more often towards the end of the season, as he became the first member of the Redskins to record a full sack in five consecutive games since Fred Stokes in Week 1-5 of the 1991 season.
The forced fumble, meanwhile, was the 15th of Kerrigan's career -- the second-most of any NFL player since he entered the league in 2011 (Charles Tillman, 17).
With each big play he makes, Kerrigan also slowly works his way up the Redskins' record books. His 13.5 sacks this season are the fourth-most in team history, and are also tied with Ken Harvey for the most by a Redskins' linebacker in a single season. Kerrigan also now ranks sixth in team history with 37.5 career sacks.
His four-sack performance Week 2 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, meanwhile, also tied a single-game record.
Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said Kerrigan has evolved into the exact type of player the team envisioned when it picked him 16th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.
The key for Kerrigan this season, Haslett said, is that his pressures are not only resulting in quarterback hits – they're resulting in sacks.
On May 2, 2014 the Washington Redskins exercised the fifth-year option of OLB Ryan Kerrigan. Take a look back at some the highlights from Kerrigan's time in Washington.
"Sometimes, you get a lot of pressures and hits and you don't get sacks. Ryan's getting both of them right now," Haslett said. "I think he's been consistent here from day one since he started as a rookie and he stays consistent and he's getting better and better with rush game moves, using his hands, getting away from that rip technique that he has and on to different, and I think he's getting much better, and I think he'll get better as we move along."
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said he'd like to keep Kerrigan – who next year enters the final year of his rookie contract – around for a long time.
"I can't speak highly enough of Ryan," Gruden said after the Eagles game Dec. 20. "He is another one of those core guys that you want on your team, as long as you are here. Very tough, very competitive. He made a great play today. I love having him out there. You sleep good at night knowing Ryan is out there."
Kerrigan says he appreciates the praise, but knows it's important not to buy into it too much at this point. As he enters the prime of his career, Kerrigan – who has expressed a great deal of interest in signing a new deal with the Redskins – remains his own worst critic, as he hopes to push even more boundaries in 2015 and beyond.
"I haven't really reflected on that," Kerrigan said when asked about his record-setting 2014 season. "I'll probably do that after the season. It is cool to hear. I know there have been a lot of really good players in this organization, so to have some people think of me in that light is pretty cool.
"But for now, I'm just focused on beating Dallas," Kerrigan continued, as he spoke about today's season finale against the Cowboys at FedExField. "A win could be huge heading into the offseason, and give us some momentum to become the team we know we're capable of being next year."