For one game at least, the Redskins got the job done in the third quarter.
The 15 minutes after halftime have been a graveyard for Redskins leads, a nightmare of poor tackling, blown coverage, ineffective rushing and turnovers. Add it all up and counting all possessions that started in the third quarter (including those that ended in the fourth), the Redskins had been outscored 78-3 in their first six games.
They were much better yesterday. In their first six games they had averaged 50 yards of offense in the third quarter. Yesterday they more than doubled that, putting up 104. Most of the improvement there came from the passing game, with Kirk Cousins throwing for 97 yards compared to an average of 38 going into the game.
On the other side of the ball, they had given up an average of 145 yards in the third quarter and they yielded 82 yesterday. After six teams averaged 90 yards passing and 54 rushing in the third quarter, the Bucs managed just 56 in the air and 26 on the ground.
But certainly more important than the yardage numbers is the turnover stat. In the first six games Washington gave the ball away five times in the third quarter and had no takeaways to balance them out. Their opponents had scored a touchdown after all five of the turnovers. Yesterday they didn’t turn the ball over in the third. Technically they didn’t get a takeaway either but they did manage to steal a possession.
After they executed a four-play, 60-yard drive to cut the Bucs lead to 24-14 and make a comeback look like a possibility, Jay Gruden called for a surprise onside kick.
Gruden has called Dustin Hopkins’ onside kicks “magic” during the week before the game and he figured this was the right time to try to try and execute one.
"We worked on it all during practice and we saw the look a couple times," he said. "We kicked off before that [and] we liked the opportunity to take a shot with it. It was a great kick, great kick by [Hopkins] and a big play, big play in the game."
Hopkins said that his biggest challenge was to make the play look like it was a regular kickoff right up until the last possible moment.
"I was definitely, before that, trying not to get wrapped up in the moment," he said. "And make sure I didn't overkick the ball."
It could have been an easy recovery as the Bucs return team was setting up to block. But there was a brief scramble and safety Trenton Robinson pounced on the ball at the Washington 49.
Seven plays later, Cousins threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Reed and Hopkins’ point after made it a three-point game and the comeback was underway in earnest.
Had the Redskins not turned around their third-quarter woes they like would not have been able to turn what had started out as an ugly game into a historic comeback win. It’s only for one week but it’s a start.