Defense’s 3 straight forced turnovers lead way
LANDOVER — The Washington defense hasn’t been pretty in 2016. There have been glaring third-down lapses, missed tackles and blown assignments through four games.
But when it desperately needed stops Sunday, the defense produced turnovers — including three consecutive takeaways in the second half — to power a 31-20 win over the Cleveland Browns at FedEx Field.
Washington (2-2) recovered two fumbles and Josh Norman made an interception that led to all 14 second-half points.
It began in the third quarter, when linebacker Will Compton jarred the ball out of fullback Malcolm Johnson’s hands with Cleveland driving inside the Redskins 15. Cornerback Quinton Dunbar recovered and the Redskins took the lead on the ensuing possession, completing a 10-play, 91-yard drive on running back Chris Thompson’s five-yard touchdown reception.
“That saved the game,” defensive end Ricky Jean Francois said of Johnson’s fumble. “That saved the game. If it wasn’t [for that turnover], it would’ve been 27-17. We would’ve still been fighting, but Comp came through.”
The Redskins held on to the lead for the remaining 10:39 as Compton recovered a fumble on the ensuing possession. Linebacker Mason Foster and defensive end Ziggy Hood helped cause the turnover on a five-yard run by Cleveland running back Duke Johnson. Washington entered the game with the most fumbles forced (27) and recovered (18) since the start of the 2015 season, when Joe Barry began his tenure as defensive coordinator.
Norman’s interception completed the run of turnovers by Cleveland (0-4). He stepped in front of a pass intended for Terrelle Pryor Sr. for his first pick since signing with the Redskins. The turnover gave the Redskins a short field and they made the most of it, going 39 yards for their final touchdown that sealed the game.
Norman trailed Pryor throughout, allowing four catches for 42 yards and a touchdown, but he shut Pryor down in the second half with just one reception for four yards. The interception was the defense’s eighth turnover of the season.
“I was trying to figure this man out,” Norman said of Pryor. “I was kind of, not getting frustrated with myself, but not really like getting down either. I came out of halftime and got in a whole different place.”
Matt Jones capped the penultimate drive by scoring from 1 yard out to secure the victory. Jones had 22 carries for 117 yards for his second career 100-yard rushing game.
The teams were tied at halftime despite the Redskins starting the opening quarter with probably their best 15 minutes of the season. They jumped out a 14-0 lead with two red-zone touchdown passes from quarterback Kirk Cousins to tight end Jordan Reed, who became the fastest tight end in NFLhistory to record 200 receptions. He accomplished the feat in 38 games. Reed finished with a game-high nine catches for 73 yards.
Cleveland tied the game with two touchdowns in 85 seconds during the second quarter. Following running back Isaiah Cornerback Josh Norman’s second-half interception led to Washington’s final touchdown and victory Sunday. Crowell’s two-yard touchdown, Cousins was intercepted by cornerback Jamar Taylor on the first play of the ensuing possession. Browns quarterback Cody Kessler connected with Pryor three plays later for a nine-yard touchdown pass.