No Alex Smith, no problem.
Despite losing Smith to a calf injury in the first half, the Washington Football Team relied on its stellar defense to gut out a 23-15 win against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Glendale, Ariz.
Though Washington enjoyed a double-digit lead in the second half, the score didn’t indicate the type of game the Burgundy and Gold put together defensively, as neither Smith nor backup Dwayne Haskins could effectively move the ball downfield for the game’s duration.
However, the 49ers did jump out to a quick seven-point lead as quarterback Nick Mullens led a seven-play, 52-yard drive with running back Jeff Wilson punching it into the end zone from a yard out in the first quarter.
Despite missing his first attempt before San Francisco’s initial scoring drive, Washington Football Team kicker Dustin Hopkins nailed a 51-yard field goal with 5:50 remaining in the second quarter.
Just two plays later, Washington rookie defensive lineman Chase Young forced Wilson to fumble, and defensive lineman Daron Payne scooped it up to regain possession.
Hopkins booted through another field goal on the ensuing possession, cutting the deficit to one point after the drive fizzled out on the San Francisco 13-yard line.
The game opened up for Washington with just two minutes remaining in the first half when Young made yet another huge play after Payne forced Mullens to fumble. The former DeMatha Catholic High School phenom picked up the rock and scampered into the end zone on a 47-yard return for a touchdown to take the lead for the first time in the game, 13-7.
“I’m at a loss for words … I was just out there playing ball, and good things happened for me today,” said Young as he was on Facetime call with his mother during the press conference. “When I picked it up, I was like ‘I can’t go down, I gotta score.’”
Washington tacked onto the lead on the opening drive of the second half when Hopkins hit a 21-yard field goal. Mullens and the 49ers threatened to score two offensive possessions later but an 11-play, 68-yard drive was interrupted by an errant pass to rookie safety Kamren Curl.
The seventh-round draft pick not only lead his team in tackles but also made arguably the biggest play of the game by taking the interception 76 yards to paydirt as Washington extended their lead to 16 points near the end of the third quarter.
However, Haskins (7-of-12, 57 yards) just couldn’t get it going and left a tired defensive unit to fend for themselves the rest of the way.
“I’m grateful that we got a win,” said Haskins. “I’m not a finished product by any means, and I’m just trying to be as great as the guys that I watch on TV every day, and having somebody like Alex [Smith] in the room with me is a great example. He has been helping me out throughout this whole process.”
The 49ers defense held star wide receiver Terry McLaurin in check (two receptions, 24 yards), and J.D. McKissic only managed to muster 68 yards on the ground.
Mullens bounced back on the next possession and hit four different receivers on a 60-yard scoring drive at the start of the fourth quarter after hitting fullback Kyle Juszczyk for a six-yard touchdown. Mullens was still hot after the score and found wide receiver Kendrick Bourne for a successful two-point conversion attempt.
Washington was losing steam and momentum as they punted on every single possession in the fourth quarter after that. The game finally came down to the last minute and some change when linebacker Jeff Bostic and cornerback Ronald Darby took down Bourne short of the sticks fourth and 12 to seal the game.
Washington clocked the ball on the next possession and gave Mullens one last heave with one second remaining in the game as the Burgundy and Gold left with a 10-point victory.
Washington (6-7) notched their fourth consecutive victory and now sits atop the NFC East Division once again by a narrow margin over the New York Giants, who lost to the Arizona Cardinals 26-7 most recently.
Though it wasn’t pretty, the Washington Football Team must like what they have seen defensively up to this point this season as they prepare for the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
Seattle (9-4) blew out the New York Jets 40-3 as quarterback Russell Wilson had a field day, throwing for 206 yards and four touchdowns minus an interception.
However, Seattle will match up against a Washington defense that turned two takeaways into points against the 49ers, accounted for 40 tackles, and got to the quarterback four times. Washington is now ranked fourth in the league in total defense, while Seattle is eighth in total offense in what shapes up to be a must-see showdown in Landover on Sunday.
“It’s crazy how the season started; I mean, we were on an uphill start. We are trusting each other every week, and I feel like everyone can see that. We just keep rolling, and who knows how far we can go,” said Curl.