When Jay Gruden decided to go for it on fourth down and less than a yard from near midfield, the stands at FedEx Field roared. A first down would put the Redskins in firm position to beat the Packers, avenging a playoff loss 10 months earlier.
Gruden called for a quarterback sneak, and with a great push from the interior of the offensive line, Kirk Cousins got the needed yardage without much worry.
"I think you had to do it," Cousins said. "Credit Brandon Scherff, Spencer Long, and Shawn Lauvao for getting the push inside against a pretty good interior defensive line, to enable me to get in because I certainly don’t get in there by turning my legs. It’s those guys making some push up front."
Cousins was right - the Redskins almost had to go for it in that situation, if for no other reason than to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. At that point, the Redskins lead was less than a touchdown, and Rodgers had just guided the Packers down the field for a TD in less than a minute.
A few plays after the 4th down conversion, Cousins connected deep to Jamison Crowder, allowing Rob Kelley to score another TD from the goalline on the next play. That gave Washington a 35-24 lead with under five minutes left.
"They made the plays, we didn’t," Green Bay safety Micah Hyde said after the game. "It’s as simple as that."
Though the Skins would go on to score one more time — another TD from Kelley — the fourth down call was arguably the game's most important. On a night when Gruden was forced to make many unorthodox calls, a swirling wind limited the Washington kicking game rather ineffective, the coach showed major guts on that fourth down.
"The fourth-and- one was pretty simple. It was half a yard and the wind was pretty strong in our face," Gruden said. "Thought our offensive line was getting pretty good movement [and] we’d get a half a yard with the quarterback sneak play."
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While Gruden's analysis is factual, it leaves out an important part: Had the Packers defense stuffed Cousins' sneak, the coach would be killed for the decision. Gruden knew that, too.
Looking back at the tie game in London, there were perhaps a few opportunities where the Redskins could have been more aggressive. Right or wrong, the team didn't take them.
Sunday night against the Packers, Gruden pushed his chips in, and more than one player in the Skins locker room after the game appreciated their coach's courage. While the night evolved to be a celebration of Cousins' ability, Gruden made the game's biggest decisions with an eye towards victory.
In an increasingly tough NFC East, Gruden knew his team needed a win to keep pace in the Wild Card race. The players delivered, but Gruden put them in positions to succeed.