The Redskins got some big plays from rookies Joshua Holsey and Fish Smithson in the second half of their preseason victory over the Bengals Sunday night.
Most of the focus during the Redskins' third preseason game Sunday evening at FedExField centered on the starters. This was the "dress rehearsal" game after all, the last time the first-team offense would get a chance to play together before the regular season opener in a couple of weeks.
But there was still a game to be played in the second half, where some young defensive backs stepped in to make some big plays -- including a defensive stand in the red zone with the clock winding down -- that helped the Redskins defeat the Bengals, 23-17, to collect the team's first victory of the preseason.
A tally in the preseason win column may not seem like a huge deal in the broad scheme of things, except that every player battling for a roster spot knows their performance will be under constant scrutiny. Making plays is at once important for the team and as an individual achievement to take pride in.
Or, as undrafted safety Fish Smithson reasoned: "Some people don't watch the preseason, they say it don't matter, but at the end of the day, inside out, it matters, after the way we won and the players that were out there wanted to make a stand. We didn't want to give in, [we] make plays and let people know we belong on the field."
Smithson had one of the highlights of the day, a fourth-quarter interception off quarterback A.J. McCarron in front of the end zone that he nearly returned for a touchdown, tripping up after 63 yards. After a mostly quiet first two games, this was the moment Smithson knew he was capable of taking.
"I kind of just read the quarterback and just made the play out there based off instincts," Smithson said. "The coaches did a really good job of preparing us and letting us know what they were going to do, some of their tendencies throughout the week, I just went out there and did what I was coached to do and made a play."
"I thought he was going to go all the way to house with it," cornerback Joshua Holsey said. "But that's good for us, these young guys, especially for him because he's had a really good training camp, preseason as well."
Check out the top images from the Washington Redskins' defense in their 2017 Preseason Week 3 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals Aug. 27, 2017, at FedExField.
Holsey made his big plays, too. His moment came in the third quarter, after he had already made a good play in coverage to force an incompletion on third down. Sent on a nickel blitz (he is the team's other nickel corner behind Kendall Fuller), Holsey saw the left tackle occupy an outside linebacker and had a clear path once running Jarveon Williams stepped up to block another blitzer in inside linebacker Will Compton.
Holsey used his speed to run down McCarron and got the first sack of his NFL career.
"Once I seen the tackle go high and the back disappear, I just hit another gear," Holsey said. "Had to make sure I secured the sack, it was all fun from there."
Holsey, who played 25 snaps Sunday, knew he'd get a decent amount of opportunities once Fuller sat out. One of the nice surprises at camp, the seventh-round pick knows that the cornerback room is pretty full, but Sunday's game was another positive impression for coaches.
"You get that game-time experience, good, close games, you've got to be able to make plays," Holsey said. "These games right here give the coaches a good key of who they can trust in big situations, they gotta be able to trust you out there on that field. When I go out there I just try to make sure I do my assignment and fly around to the ball. That's what they want to see, they just gotta make plays. Right not it's just me trying to just show them what I can do, because it's a great DB room right now. Just trying to help my role with that group of guys."
He remained on the field during the final red zone stand, where veteran safety Will Blackmon made a couple of big plays in the backfield before defensive back Jeremiah McKinnon broke up a pass in the back of the end zone on fourth down.
"You don't want to be the guy that gives up that play," Holsey said. "We were all talking the whole drive like we gotta make a play, we gotta make a play let's get this started let's get off the field, so it's just a big momentum rush for us to get out there and make a play, get a stop for the team and get us that first W of the preseason."
Between Holsey and Smithson, their biggest test will come this Thursday in the team's final preseason game at Tampa Bay. After Sunday's performances, they will carry some confidence into the short week, hoping to channel that momentum into another big night.
"It's big. Sometimes you can go through games and not be able to make plays, because at the end of the day, the only thing you got is the film," Smithson said. "So it's kind of good to show people what you can do. At the end of the day, I made a good play but now I'm moving on to Tampa."
And as for those Fish puns saturating social media, Smithson is happy to see them.
"Oh man, I can just imagine," he said. "My phone's been blowing up. I haven't looked at it yet, but I'm ready for it."