Running back Samaje Perine broke through for the Redskins' first 100-yard rush game by an individual player this season, but it wouldn't prove enough an overtime defeat.
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden had a feeling this week that rookie running back Samaje Perine would prove he's capable of being a reliable starting option out of the backfield. Taking over the bulk of the carries in Sunday's tough 34-31 overtime loss to the Saints in New Orleans, Perine did just that.
The Oklahoma product, starting in place of Rob Kelley, who was designated to Injured Reserve earlier in the week, took the ball 23 times, rushed for 117 yards and ran for his first touchdown of the year.
He fostered the kind of run game the Redskins have been sorely missing over the last several weeks, lacking a legitimate threat on the ground that prevented them from opening up the pass game. As a result, quarterback Kirk Cousins had one of his best games of the year in the air despite not being able to score on the final drive of the game that forced extra time.
"Samaje ran hard, man, I was impressed with Samaje's running style," Gruden said after the game. "I figured the type of player he is. He'll get better with more carries. That's what he showed today."
Perine was the first Redskins running back this year to gain more than 100 yards on the ground, and the first to do so since Week 11 of last season. Overall , the Redskins rushed for 156 yards, the team's second-highest total of the year behind a 229-yard rushing day against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 2.
During the team's first touchdown drive, Perine broke off a 30-yard run, a career high, up the left side of the defense and continued to earn hard yardage, pushing his way through the middle of the defense and gaining extra yards that he hadn't been able to achieve in his previous, more sporadic, efforts in the season.
Part of his improved effort was a full week of practice with the first-team offense, receiving more consistent reps and using those to his advantage. In the third quarter, Perine had to be leaned on again when running back Chris Thompson fractured his right fibula on a Cousins scramble. Perine gained a first down on the drive around midfield before Cousins connected with Ryan Grant for a 40-yard touchdown.
"I mean, I was just feeling sorry for him," Perine said of Thompson and carrying the burden. "I just let the game go out and play out how it played, but it was just – I don't know. I was just thinking about him and how unfortunate it is for him. You know, he's doing so great and possibly having a Pro Bowl type season, to have him go down like that, that's never good."
With the game on the verge of being clinched – the Redskins were ahead by eight points and needed a first down to wind down the clock – the team faced a third-and-one situation. Perine was stopped for a loss, the Redskins had to punt and the Saints drove down the field to tie the game.
"It was just miscommunication," Perine said. "We had it blocked up and I think we missed one or two guys. It was just a miscommunication, but that really changed the game for us."
The Redskins have a short week ahead of them but hope that Perine's outburst and consistency throughout the game, picking up decent chunks of yardage on first down, will carry over against the Giants on Thanksgiving.
"I mean, you can't do anything but move on," Perine said. "We have to come in tomorrow and watch the film and learn from our mistakes and get better and get ready for Thursday."