Brandon Scherff dug his hand in the grass at the 38-yard line with his team up one point against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. It was a stark contrast from how the Redskins started the game, but there they were, driving into Panthers' territory and trying to add to their lead.
Scherff pulled to the left once the ball was snapped and delivered a block on All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly, which allowed Derrius Guice to crash through the crease he created. Guice then stiff-armed Shaq Thompson on his way to a 37-yard run that set up the Redskins' second touchdown of the day one play later.
As Guice mowed down Panthers defenders, all Scherff could do was laugh.
"You can't really do that in practice because they're your teammates, but [Guice] is an animal out there and we love seeing it."
That run was one of the many exclamation marks that came in the second half for the Redskins, who were down 14 points just 10 minutes into the game. It can be easy for teams to panic in those situations, said interim head coach Bill Callahan, but rather than shifting gears too quickly, the team stayed true to their game plan, which paid off in a big way.
"We've been down before and we've been patient and come back," Callahan said. "I think it would be a different game if it got away from us a little bit more, but the game was still in hand and it was early on, so there was no reason to abandon any run-type thinking at the time."
The Panthers' offense was led by versatile running back Christian McCaffrey, and his ability as a runner and pass catcher were on display in the first two drives. He accounted for 52% of the yards on the Panthers' first drive, helping them zip down to Washington's 4-yard line to set up the eventual score.
The Redskins managed to contain McCaffrey on the next drive, but this time it was wide receiver D.J. Moore who powered the Panthers offense. Six plays later, Moore put his team up 14-0 with a 13-yard touchdown grab.
It was a punch to the gut for the Redskins, who had -11 yards compared to the Panthers' 130. But Scherff said there was no need for the team to give up.
"It was only the first quarter, so you just gotta keep chipping away," Scherff said. "This is our job. We gotta perform."
The Redskins' response came on the next drive. Two plays after the offense set up shop at their own 25-yard line, Guice exploded for a 60-yard run on his first carry of the game. The drive ended in a field goal -- the offense stalled three plays later -- but it showed that the Redskins weren't done fighting and were still dedicated to their run-dominant rushing attack.
"The young guy, Guice, he came in and gave us a spark we needed," Adrian Peterson said after the game. "He had an incredible run and was picking up some big chunks."
From that point on, the offense was rolling; the Redskins scored 29 unanswered points with three field goals and touchdowns apiece. After having negative yardage in the first drive, they finished the game with 362 yards on six yards per play.
All of the Redskins' touchdowns came on the ground, which Scherff said is a credit to how well the running backs performed throughout the game.
"We…finally started coming away with touchdowns, and it kind of helped us get the motor running watching [Guice and Peterson] behind us running the ball," he said.
While Washington's offense was moving up and down the field, its defense held strong and confounded the Panthers and McCaffrey. After their two scores, Carolina's next five drives ended in four punts and an interception.
What's more is that after McCaffrey rushed for 35 yards in the first quarter, the league's leading rusher at the time was held to just nine rushing yards the rest of the game.
"We knew their run game like the back of our hands," said safety Landon Collins. "We knew the gap schemes. Teams are going to go back to what they know best and what they do best … and we played it out from there."
Limiting McCaffrey came down to "studying, studying, studying film," Collins said, while linebacker Montez Sweat said it was a credit to every player on the defensive side of the ball.
"We knew what we had," Collins said. "We knew that this defense was pretty good. We knew [this offense] and what they like to do, so we had to just put it all together, calm down and play our defense."
The defense sacked quarterback Kyle Allen seven times -- a season-high for the team. The biggest of those came on the final drive of the game after Carolina recovered an onside kick and were just three yards away from potentially tying the score.
Facing a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line with 40 seconds left in regulation, the defense stopped the Panthers on three straight plays. On a four-and-goal at their own 3-yard line, it was linebackers Chris Odom and Nate Orchard -- two players who weren't even on the active roster a week ago -- who made the strip sack and fumble recovery that essentially ended the game.
"I couldn't be more proud of what [defensive coordinator] Greg [Manusky] did with the unit and how they came back in the second half and played hard with good results," Callahan said. "Chris Odom and Nate Orchard contributed [three] sacks. It was good to see them come in and give us some production."
Sweat said the Panthers almost coming back was "definitely a shocker," but the moments like the goal line stand excite the defense.
"We excel in those moments and we love to do that," Sweat said.
The Redskins went to Bank of America Stadium with just a 17.8% chance of winning against the Panthers, according to ESPN.com, and it looked like a loss was certain in the first quarter.
But they returned to Redskins Park with a victory and an outside shot of making the postseason. But the players couldn't celebrate for too long; their priorities were on moving forward and using the game as a building block for the rest of the season.
"Keep chipping away," Scherff said. "Our hard work is paying off and we just have to focus and go back, watch the film and see what we did wrong and then keep moving on."