Jamison Crowder. Chris Thompson. Spencer Long. Not only would diehard football fans have a hard time picking them out of a lineup, the most ardent of Washington football fans, who happened to root on these players just a few hours ago, would need their game program just to know the ABCs of some of their footballing pros.
Fortunately for the D.C. area, the Philadelphia Eagles got to know who some of those players were after today’s game: men who helped the Birds sink further back in the NFC East and closer to playoff irrelevance.
While Washington improving to .500 with a 23-20 come-from-behind victory over the Eagles today was a surprise, even more surprising was some of the players who made up the cast of characters who took the FedExField stage. The perfect world would have seen Robert Griffin III electrify with his arms and legs and connecting on deep balls to Jackson, who would high-step into the end zone while sticking it to his former team.
Nope. Cue Plan B.
Kirk Cousins, the career backup who’s now the unquestioned starter, probably had his best game as a professional (31-of-46, 290 yards, TD), avoiding the turnovers that plagued him in games past while spreading the ball around on short and intermediate passes as he connected with eight different receivers. Crowder made key receptions in the contest (he tied for the team lead with seven). So did fellow rookie Rashad Ross. So did second-year player Ryan Grant.
Who? Men who helped lead Washington to victory, that’s who.
“We have to ask our young guys to step up,” said Washington head coach Jay Gruden. “We’ve got eight or nine guys on IR now, and another four starters not playing because of injuries. They’ve had to grow up fast. We’ve coached them to get themselves prepared. I think mentally they are prepared, but when you go out there on Sunday afternoon – you’re playing a division rival like the Eagles – sometimes the game gets a little too much for these young guys.”
If they were in over their heads playing in a meaningful division game to get the team back to .500, they already have developed good poker faces then. Of Crowder’s seven receptions, six were in the second half, coming for 56 yards and helping Washington to stave off a Philadelphia comeback.
“I knew it was going to be a big game for me,” said Crowder. “It’s a big moment for me, getting all this playing time and experience. I just did what I could throughout the week to be prepared as possible. I just wanted to go out there and play and do my thing.”
Along with the unsung heroes who did their work through the air, Washington’s ground game was also efficient (127 yards total), and also had the aid of young players stepping up in reserve roles. Second-year running back Chris Thompson helped to complement Alfred Morris in the backfield, running for 53 yards, including a 42-yard scamper around left end on a third-and-19 on the team’s first possession, a drive which ended in a field goal.
“All week, [the coaches] were telling me they were going to give me chances,” said Thompson. His run around the left side was led by second-year left guard Spencer Long, who started in place for the injured regular starter Shawn Lauvao.
The masked (well, helmeted) heroes also made a mark on defense, specifically rush end/linebacker Trent Murphy, the second-year man out of Stanford who recorded a sack on the Eagles’ final drive, constantly pressured quarterback Sam Bradford and came up with the game-sealing fumble recovery on an interception of a lateral on the last play of the game on a desperate hook-and-ladder series. Knowing Philadelphia needed to pass the ball after getting down 13-0 at halftime, the D-line was able to tee off on the Philly signal caller, who, along with throwing three second-half touchdowns, also was sacked five times.
“We knew they were going to be passing the ball,” said Murphy. “So, that’s like a D-lineman’s dream; you pin your ears back and just go.”
Even with all of the support from the young’uns, it was players like Pro Bowl offensive lineman Trent Williams, established rushing stud Alfred Morris and experienced wide receiver Pierre Garcon who also helped lead youth to victory, with Garcon catching the four-yard touchdown pass from Cousins with 26 seconds remaining to clinch the victory.
But Washington now has new players that are earning the trust of coaches and playing their part in team victories. Even if you don’t know them just yet.
[Cover photo (Kirk Cousins) courtesy of Evan Habeeb/Getty Images]