In one of the most shockingly lopsided and deeply satisfying wins in FedEx Field in recent years, the Washington Redskins manhandled the previously powerful Oakland Raiders, 27-10, on Sunday night.
This nationally televised horror flick of a football massacre should probably have required parental discretion — in Oakland. In Washington, however, a star was born: broken-field receiving sensation Chris Thompson, who had 150 yards receiving, along with a touchdown, and another 38 on the ground.
Just as heartening, a Washington defense previously hoped to be average — which would have been a major gain on the team’s 2016 unit — throttled the Derek Carr-led Raiders, holding him to a paltry 118 yards passing while sacking him four times and intercepting him twice.
That Washington could beat a Raiders team that was a three-point favorite always was a possibility, especially on an NFL Sunday full of upsets and near-upsets. But the magnitude of the beatdown was stunning and a jubilant shock to even the most optimistic Washington fans. We’re left to ask, grinning for the moment, “Where has this team been? And will it be returning on a weekly basis?”
Sometimes, the score lies. Only the stats tell the truth. Late in the fourth quarter, the Raiders, the NFL’s highest-scoring team through two weeks, had 71 yards in offense. Washington: 463 yards.
The optics were worse. A half-hour before the final gun, the Raiders quit. Packed it in. Waiting for the bus. Get me a fluffy pillow for the plane. Done. Time of possession was 38:06 to 21:54 in favor of Washington. But who cares? Time of Beat-You-in-The-Head-All-Night: Redskins 60:00, Raiders 0:00.
When was the last time this Washington team, as an underdog, dominated a team that was 12-4 the previous year and came to D.C. with such a stout reputation? You tell me. The franchise got to D.C. 80 years ago, so work forward from there.
“Great team-defense all around,” Coach Jay Gruden said. “Our defense gave us so many opportunities. And I was really pleased with the whole offense.”
That may exceed, in just 20 words, Gruden’s most enthusiastic praise of his team after any game in his tenure. He hates being this happy. So, he had to add, “Enjoy it for a couple of hours, then get on to [planning for] Kansas City.”
Others do not have to be so restrained. It’s not often that one game reveals so much about how improved a team might become.
Everything Washington could have dreamed of — both for one night of pride or, for that matter, as an omen of improvements and wins in the future — was delivered in one game.
By Kirk Cousins’s arm on 25 for 30 passing for 365 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a near-perfect 150.7 quarterback rating.
By Chris Thompson’s swift, swerving legs on his 74-yard pass reception.
Or by a swarming, mauling defense that intimidated Marshawn Lynch into being Least Mode with just 18 yards rushing and memories of being stopped dead, picked up and planted by 265-pound Preston Smith.
Or by much-mocked wide receiver Josh Doctson, who has barely been on the field because of injuries since being drafted in ’16, yet showcased the very play he’s known for — a 52-yard touchdown on a jump-ball bomb that he stole from defender David Amerson before pushing into the end zone.
“I thought, ‘You know what? Let’s give him a chance,” said Cousins, who went against his nature by throwing to a covered receiver far downfield, even if Doctson had a height and leaping advantage. “We’ve seen him do it (in practice).” Even after he heaved it, Cousins admitted he was worried. He wasn’t for long. But defensive backs may now have a new cause for lost sleep.
Luckily for the mental health of Washington’s traditionally manic fans, who have been known to project such nights of excellence, giving Washington a pleasant 2-1 record, into predictions of 15-1, Cousins himself gave an almost perfect analysis afterward.
“From week to week, it’s so hard to tell what we are and what we aren’t. It depends on the matchup. It varies from week to week,” said Cousins. “But it’s just good for us to get some momentum.”
What made this night so fascinating was that Washington entered this game with its prospects for the season almost entirely shrouded in doubt. After a loss at home to the Philadelphia Eagles, a losing team in ’16 whom they beat twice last season, the Redskins rebounded with a last-minute win in Los Angles, over the Rams, an awful team in ’16 but clearly improved now.
The powerful Raiders, 12-4 last year, were universally regarded as a tough test, and the first indicator whether Washington would be competitive against the better teams on its rough schedule. This year, Washington must face seven playoffs teams from ’16, nine winning teams and, perhaps just as testing, 13 teams who had a better point-differential than Washington last year.
Instead of just competing, Washington spent the first three quarters totally dominating a shocked Raiders team that usually administers the bruisings.
Washington’s intention, one spelled out by players, coaches and even some of the team’s ex-players during the week was that the only way to beat the Raiders was to “strike iron,” “crack some skulls” and administer a physical bludgeoning.
Faced with the Raiders’ reputation, that seemed like a tall order.
Washington relished it.
On offense, Washington blasted, often between the tackles. Rookie 236-pounder Samaje Perine enjoyed the role of battering ram, even though his first seven runs were for short gains of one to three yards. But the team established an identity. The Redskins intended to let their own large offensive line smash some mouths, too.
The short Perine runs helped Washington put Oakland back on its heels. That hesitation of the Raiders helped the Redskins protect Cousins, who had felt more pressure in the pocket this year than in either of the past two seasons when he amassed huge passing yardage totals.
Once in rhythm, Cousins shredded the Raiders’ defense. Suddenly, his decision to bet on himself by playing under the $24 million franchise tag this season looked like good long-term financial planning.
This game also shone a flattering light on Washington’s new defensive coordinator, aggressive, blow-’em-up and worry-’em-plenty Greg Manusky. Or, perhaps it reflected poorly on previous defensive administrations.
This game completed a day in which a league known for flag-waving, military flyovers and conservative owners rebuked the President of the United States for his verbal attacks on players who protested social injustice by taking a knee during the national anthem. Some owners issued harsh statements directed at the President, many players took a knee or sat during the national anthem, and entire teams linked arms in solidarity or even stayed off the field entirely during the anthem. Most of the Raiders sat during the anthem, while Washington, including owner Daniel Snyder, stood with arms linked on the sideline. Only a handful of Washington players chose to take a knee in protest.
At that moment, it seemed that Donald Trump being sacked by much of the NFL for his attacks on free speech and peaceful protest would be the day’s lasting image. Yet, before midnight, at least in D.C., the memory of a brilliant game played by a united Washington team forced its way into the spotlight as well.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.