The Redskins defense made history on Saturday with five interceptions against the Bears, keeping their playoff hopes alive in a 41-21 victory.
Before the Redskins' 41-21 victory over the Bears, Redskins safety DeAngelo Hall texted the group of defensive backs and told them not to worry about the X's and O's and just play football as a group, to just "be on the same page," as safety Will Blackmon put it.
The secondary responded and followed orders from their captain, recording five interceptions (the first time the Redskins had done so since Nov. 29, 1992) against quarterback Matt Barkley to ensure victory and keep its team in the hunt for the playoffs with just one more game left in the regular season.
The timing of the text from Hall, who has been on Injured Reserve for most of the season, couldn't have come at a more resonant time. Six years ago he recorded four interceptions himself against the Bears' Jay Cutler in Chicago. So it seemed particularly fitting that a similar display took place at Soldier Field again, providing Hall and the Redskins an early Christmas gift.
"He was just telling us to go out there and do what we do," cornerback Bashaud Breeland said of Hall's message. "As long as we're playing together we've got a good chance of winning this game."
Entering Saturday's game, the Redskins had only compiled eight interceptions as a defensive unit, and not one player had multiple interceptions. That changed on the first play of the second quarter, when Breeland hauled in his first interception since Monday night's season opener, jockeying for position at the edge of the end zone with cornerback Josh Norman and safety Donte Whitner.
Breeland became the first member of the Redskins since Fred Smoot to open a career with multiple interceptions in three straight seasons.
"I wasn't even involved in the play," Breeland said. "My man ran a dig and my safety drilled the dig so I saw the quarterback throw the ball deep so I just ran to go make a play."
Breeland recorded his second interception, one of the Redskins' four in the second half, when Norman broke up a pass intended for wide receiver Cameron Meredith. The ball popped up, and unlike previous unlucky occurrences, Breeland was there to collect it.
On the drive before, Norman collected his second interception of the season with some aid from his linebackers. Preston Smith wrapped up Barkley while Ryan Kerrigan deflected his stressed pass in the middle of the field, where Norman dove and kept it from hitting the ground.
Barkley had picked on Norman throughout the first half, tossing up passes to Jeffery who used his size to his advantage and won the physical battles. Norman took offense. He entered the second half more determined after feeling "disrespected."
"I went to a whole different place, went to a dark place in my mind and just said enough is enough," Norman said. "God helped me out with that because I said a quick prayer. I said, 'Look, man, we've got to get this out of here. Let them stop this crap.' And it did. We came out and had a whole other different half."
The interceptions continued in the third quarter, a product of a consistent pass rush and poorly thrown balls from Barkley that the Redskins took advantage of. Barkley's fourth pick sailed over wider receiver Alshon Jeffery and into Blackmon's arms, and the safety returned it 79 yards, just missing the end zone as he was tripped up.
Norman rounded up Barkley's bad day with his second interception of the game, jumping and coming down with an underthrown pass to Jeffery near the front corner of the end zone. It was the first time since 1960 that the Redskins had two players record multiple interceptions in the same game
"I think we made up for the whole year in one game," Blackmon said. "We dropped about 10 this year, but it was just good for guys to look back for the ball, be in the right spot at the right time and just capitalize. It was real key for us to do that today. I think last week and the last few weeks, we had chances to make plays on the ball and we have a good secondary. Skill-wise, across the board, we have starters all over the place. It was cool to see that happen."
"We're just working at it," Breeland said. "You keep working at it and working at it and they're going to come. They come in bunches. One game you get one, next game you get two, next game hopefully you get three."
It was particularly important for Breeland, who had one of his best games of the season last week against the Panthers. This season hasn't seen the production he showed throughout training camp, which meant, in his third year, something was due as the season wrapped up.
"He did a good job. He did a good job today," Norman said of Breeland. "It's hard to handle the media, and then handle the team, and then handle the stuff that's going on at home, it's hard. Bree's doing a good job at handling it all together and doing what he can do. At the end of the day, it's about what you do. It's not about anybody else. It's about what you do and your controllables of what you can do. And I think he came out and he did a good job today. He's going to continue to go better and better and farther and farther if he continues to play like that."
The Redskins hope the defensive unit can, too. Their struggles the last few weeks still showed up against the Bears. They allowed Chicago to convert 7-of-10 third downs and allowed 458 total yards of offense. But the difference remained in the turnovers, which came during crucial times and allowed the offense to take advantage on their ensuing drives.
The Redskins, who stand at 8-6-1, remain in the playoff chase, but continue to need help from other teams as they play their final regular season game next week against at home against the Giants. After a performance like Saturday's, the team wants to keep rolling further into January.
"We just had a lot of guys that were willing to go out there and do their jobs so we could make plays," Breeland said. "Me speaking for everyone in this locker room, we're not ready to go home after next week."