Here's five takeaways from the Washington Redskins' Week 10 game against the Minnesota Vikings that took place at FedExField in Landover, Md.
1. The Redskins had opportunities to grab another big victory, but struggles in key areas on both sides of the ball proved costly.While the 30 points Washington scored were its most through the first nine games of the season, the Redskins did not capitalize on more opportunities to put points on the board in a 38-30 loss to the Vikings on Sunday afternoon.
The Redskins jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter off an opening drive touchdown and were ahead midway through the second quarter with a 17-14 lead.
But after the Vikings took a 21-17 lead off an Adam Thielen seven-yard touchdown, Redskins quarterback Trent Williams threw a costly interception in Washington territory.
Three plays later, the Vikings would extend their lead to 28-17 off another Case Keenum touchdown throw in the red zone (he had four touchdown throws inside the 10-yard line as all five of Minnesota's touchdowns came in the red zone).
It was a series of plays that was indicative of a day in which the Redskins couldn't match the Vikings.
"I think every OTA, every situational awareness is what we try to focus on, and work on. Today we weren't very good at either, on either side of the ball," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. "They were five-for-five in the red zone, like I said, we were two-for-four. In third downs, I think they were close to seventy percent. We were close to forty percent.
"Those are obviously two, very, very important parts of the game you need to do well in to succeed in the NFL. We didn't today. That's why, part of the reason, we lost."
Minnesota, however, wasn't done finding the end zone early in the third quarter, as it opened up the frame with a six-play, 72-yard touchdown drive.
In an effort to get back into the game, the Redskins went for it on 4th-and-6 late in the fourth quarter, down 35-20. They would not move the chains.
Then in the fourth quarter – trailing 38-27 – the Redskins would go for it on 4th-and-1, giving the ball to running back Chris Thompson but he was pushed back for a four-yard loss.
"We had been good in short yardage with similar plays earlier in the game and we came back to a play we had run earlier and we just didn't hit," Cousins said. "Didn't work."
2. Maurice Harris comes through with an all-time grab on his first catch of the season.
After having been promoted to the active roster from the practice squad on Saturday, Maurice Harris logged a remarkable, one-handed touchdown reception to give the Redskins an early lead.
Though it was Harris' first catch of the 2017 season, the team has seen a strong effort from him in the past.
Sunday was an entirely different story.
The Cal product appeared in 10 games for the Redskins last season, recording eight receptions for 66 yards but did not find the end zone. On his first catch Sunday, though, Harris extended out for a remarkable 36-yard touchdown grab with one hand.
The call originally was called an incompletion but was overruled on the field, cementing a remarkable play.
Cousins praised the wide receiver for his game day performance and anticipated upcoming contributions for the remainder of the season.
"We were so excited to have him become activated because he has practiced at a level that was deserving of that, last year as well," Cousins said. "We're excited about him going forward and what he can bring to the table and on top of that his ability and those hands, being a natural receiver."
Gruden agreed with Cousins, noting Harris' value for the rest of the season.
"Maurice Harris is good because he can play all three positions. He's physical. He can block in our running game, so it's a good thing to get him up," Gruden said. "He's been great on the practice squad and deserves an opportunity."
3. After weeks of being injury-plagued, the starting offensive line returned.
Washington's offense knew it needed to have its best on the field against one of the league's best defenses, but questions of health had become a familiar refrain in recent weeks.
Against the Seahawks last Sunday, the Redskins were without four of their starting offensive linemen along with swing tackle Ty Nsekhe.
The Vikings game was a different story, though, as the Redskins had all of their offensive linemen available.
"Great, because it's been three or four weeks, right?" said Morgan Moses, the lone regular offensive line starter to appear in Seattle, when asked about having everyone back. "So, we've just got to go out there and build as a team. Just got to get better, find a way to win these close games, find a way to get bigger plays, whether that's in special teams, defense or offense, we just got to play – it's almost like we're down one week and then the defense is up one week, and then the defense is down one week and then we're up one week, and we just got to find a way to come together as a unit and put all four phases together and go out there and play."
Despite having just one practice under his belt over the last month when he suited up on Friday, Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams (knee) returned to his normal left tackle spot.
It was another impressive effort by the 2010 first-round pick, helping keep Cousins clean outside of one sack.
"He needed a couple of weeks off, I think, to let the thing calm down – the bone bruise," Gruden said. "And it did a little bit. He had a couple good workouts on Thursday and Friday where he felt like he could muster up enough energy to play."
Spencer Long, meanwhile, did not start the game at center. He would come into the game on Washington's third series as rookie Chase Roullier slid over to guard for a time.
It's a spot Roullier has become familiar with over the last few weeks, especially with the coaching staff's desire to cross-train the guards and centers in the event those interior linemen are needed in different areas.
"Over the last few games, I've just kind of been in and out of different positions," Roullier said. "You just kind of have to roll with it. I've been practicing it as well. In practice, I'm moving around to guard and to center and in and out. It's just something that we're used to doing, something that may have to happen again. You never know."
4. After a difficult first half for the defense, D.J. Swearinger set a tone in the second half with two interceptions.
Safety D.J. Swearinger logged two interceptions in the second half of Sunday's, marking his first game with the accomplishment. His key plays fueled the Redskins defense against an efficient Vikings offense that had scored four straight touchdowns on four straight drives.
His interceptions also came on back-to-back passes by Keenum.
Gruden expressed his appreciation for Swearinger's performance and motivating role on the defense.
"In the second half, it was good to see [the defense] come out with a little more energy and see D.J. [Swearinger] make those two plays and show the type of leader he is," he said.
Though Swearinger's interceptions led to points for the Redskins, Washington was not able to capitalize on these opportunities overall. In only his first year with the Redskins, however, Swearinger hopes to continue to lead his teammates to successful performances in the future.
"I put my heart in this. I've got a love and passion for this game like no other," he said. "I put in a lot of hard work day in and day out. So, I'm just going to keep working, keep getting my guys ready the best that I know how. But, we've got to do it together, that's the only way we can get it done."
5. While he had three total touchdowns, Kirk Cousins understood the offense needed to do more to get Minnesota off-kilter.
Early on, it looked as if Cousins was going to have another special performance at FedExField.
The quarterback completed his first seven passes on the afternoon for 76 yards and one touchdown. He also had a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating during that time.
But Washington's offense struggled to keep pace with a white-hot Case Keenum, who connected with Thielen eight times for 166 yards and a touchdown and Stefon Diggs four times for 78 yards and a touchdown.
After the Redskins got out to their 17-14 lead in the second quarter, Washington scored just one touchdown on its final seven drives.
Minnesota, meanwhile, would get 14 points late in the second quarter, capitalizing on an off-target throw from Cousins to go up 28-17.
"I just felt some trash at my feet and wasn't really able to transfer my weight and just kind of tried to touch it over the line, but the ball was high to Jamison Crowder and then there's a defender behind him who catches it," Cousins said. "So, that is the challenge of playing the position, you put the ball in the air 45 times, you're making split second decisions.
"There was trash at my feet all game long and one play, one throw that's a foot too high can be many times the difference in the entire game and that's where it becomes a challenging position and can be very tense throughout the game."
While Cousins finished the game with more than 300 yards for the just the fourth time this season, the offense let too many spots to score slip away.
"There was no ball of stretch where I felt like we couldn't move the ball and yet no matter what we did it still felt like we weren't doing enough and it's because of – I think a few missed opportunities here and there and just a couple of plays that if they were to go out way or if they don't go our way that could change the game and make a big different probably at the end," Cousins said. "But still, despite of that, we scored 30 points and moved the football throughout the game but obviously it wasn't enough."