Here's five takeaways from the Washington Redskins' Week 6 game against the San Francisco 49ers that took place at FedExField in Landover, Md.
1. Despite dealing with a major case of the injury bug, the defense held on when it counted most.In a back and forth fourth quarter, the 49ers go one finally chance at a comeback victory with 52 seconds left on the clock.
While Washington's improved defense got the upper hand on San Francisco's offense early, particularly when Brian Hoyer was in the game, the unit was banged up. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland (knee) and defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (foot) both suffered game-ending injuries. Cornerback Josh Norman and safety Deshazor Everett, of course, weren't playing either while safety D.J. Swearinger briefly exited the contest with a stinger.
Quickly the 49ers got things rolling against the hampered defensive unit. In just four plays, San Francisco got to Washington's 40-yard line off two big catches by former Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garçon. But the receiver's aggressive nature would ultimately cost his team their first victory of the season.
Called for offensive pass interference, San Francisco was pushed back to the 50-yard line. They would never get back into field goal range, as cornerback Jonathan Allen iced the game with his second interception of the season on a fourth down throw from C.J. Beathard.
"We were just kind of playing the sticks, trying to make sure they don't get a first down, at the same time trying to protect the sidelines," Fuller said. "Definitely a good play call for the coaches."
The cornerback added that although the 49ers got into field goal range down just two points, the defense "never get nervous [and] never lost confidence."
"We knew it was going to be a dog fight and we've just got to keep on fighting," Fuller said.
2. Outside of an errant pass that was picked, quarterback Trent Williams once again was effective for the Redskins.For the third time in as many games, the Redskins' offense scored on the unit's opening drive. After receiving the opening kickoff against the 49ers, Cousins drove the offense 75 yards in eight plays, capped by an 11-yard score from wide receiver Josh Doctson.
It was the first of three touchdowns on the afternoon for Cousins, who also connected with Samaje Perine for a score and scampered in for a seven-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"I think we did a good job as an offense," Cousins said. "I think we moved the football. There were a lot of good decisions, a lot of good plays made, a lot of third-down conversions in big moments, a lot of crucial drives where we had to churn the clock and come away with points. So, I was proud of the way our offense played today. It wasn't perfect, there were a couple mistakes, but all in all we did a lot of good things."
Cousins' touchdown run early in the fourth quarter was actually the game-winning score for the Redskins. On the option run, Cousins pulled the ball back from Perine before running to his right untouched into the end zone.
"It's always been there because you know – I would credit going back to my rookie year with Robert [Griffin III] here, we did it a lot," Cousins said. "It's always going to be a part of our offense because it does give defenses something to think about. Kyle [Shanahan] told me when he left, he said 'I've learned after working with Robert that this is a really valuable play no matter who the quarterback is and I'll always carry it with me.' So, when Jay [Gruden] arrived, we kept it and valued it, and as I started playing, it can still be a great play. You just have to pick your spots, be smart with it, call it at the right times, and read it correctly, and then usually you can get some yards."
3. The young players, particularly in the secondary, stepped up.
At one of the deepest position groups on the roster, the Redskins needed all of their active defensive backs on Sunday.
Normally, of course, the Redskins have Norman and Breeland as the starting cornerbacks. But Norman missed the entire game with a rib injury while Breeland briefly dealt with a hamstring issue before a knee injury -- suffered when 49ers tackle Joe Staley rolled up on him – knocked the Clemson product out of the contest.
In their place, Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau saw significant reps. Even seventh-round pick Joshua Holsey logged snaps on the final drive. It was the first time he ever played on defense in his nascent NFL career.
"No drop-offs, we prepare," Dunbar said of the young defensive backs. "Everybody prepares like starters. Coach Greg [Manusky] helping us through the week, helping us during the week to prepare everybody like starters so that when you get in, they expect you to play like a starter."
Swearinger told the defensive backs that they're only as good as their weakest link. In his eyes, though, the unit has no weak lines.
"The next player up, if the next player prepares, he's going to be good," Swearinger said. "Perfect preparation prevents poor performance, and I tell the guys that all the time and we performed well."
4. Chris Thompson and Vernon Davis continue to be the go-to targets in the passing game, but others had their contributions, too.On an afternoon in which Cousins completed 25 passes, his top two receivers once again were Thompson and Davis.
While neither found the end zone on Sunday, both continued their strong starts to the season.
Thompson notched his second career 100-yard receiving game, as the Florida State product became just the second Redskins running back with multiple 100-yard receiving games in a season since 1960.
In total, he caught four passes for 105 yards, highlighted by a 49-yard reception on a 1st-and-22 pass.
"[The offensive linemen] are all blocking their guys great and I've been given some one-on-one opportunities and just winning those matchups," Thompson said. :That's pretty much the key to it. I had three screen plays today, my first three catches. And my O-line did a great job downfield, Jordan Reed, the receivers, all those guys did just a great job blocking for me. It's on me to make plays and be a playmaker, be a difference maker on this team."
Davis, meanwhile, avenged a third quarter fumble with a 51-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter in the first game facing the team that drafted him No. 6-overall in the 2006 NFL Draft.
Including a 69-yard catch against Kansas City, Davis has now posted a reception of 50 yards or more in consecutive games for the first time since Weeks 5-6 of the 2013 season as a member of the 49ers.
5. After not being able to do anything physical for two weeks, Trent Williams played the entire game.Originally suffering a knee injury during training camp earlier this year, the issue resurfaced two weeks ago against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Missing four plays in the game, Williams did not practice throughout the entire week leading up to Sunday's home contest against the 49ers.
For most, such an injury would keep them out for a few weeks. But Williams isn't your average player.
The five-time Pro Bowler said he knew he was going to be good on Saturday evening. Just a few hours later, he played 73 of 74 offensive plays for Washington.
"I didn't necessarily feel like myself, but that's expected," Williams admitted. "I haven't done anything with football in the last two weeks. I felt rusty. It was kind of hard early trying to fight through the rust and everything, but once you start getting in the flow of the game and the adrenaline starts rushing, you kind of start to worry about the game more than anything."
Williams' presence was certainly felt, as the 2010 first-round pick didn't allow a young and talented defensive line any sacks from his side. In total, San Francisco tallied just one sack of Cousins.
"For us, man, we know what we've got – he's our leader," said tackle Morgan Moses. "He doesn't have to practice all week, but we know he's going to show up on the game. He's just mentally and physically there. That's what you expect out of a Pro Bowl tackle."
Cousins added that he wasn't entirely sure if Williams was going to play the entire game. In the end, though, the quarterback's sturdy left tackle was there for him.
"You prepare for the worst and hope for the best and Trent did a great job playing through his injury," Cousins said. :I'm a little spoiled having him as a left tackle and when he's in there it makes a big difference."