Packers turn momentum with early goal-line stand
LANDOVER, Md. - DeSean Jackson was in the clear. He had an open lane to the end zone, a free pass to six points. His legs crossed the goal line. His right foot kicked over the pylon.
One official conferred with another, then raised his arm to signal touchdown.
There was just one fundamental flaw. When the speedy Washington receiver crossed the goal line, when his right foot kicked over the pylon, Jackson broke his stride like a track runner crossing the finish line. His chest puffed forward. His arms stretched apart. In his right hand, the football was pushed out of bounds.
“It wasn’t a touchdown,” Packers cornerback Casey Hayward said. “The ball was out. He got his body across, but the ball was out.”
Tricky boundary, that intersection of goal line and sideline. Replay review showed Jackson carried the football out at the 1-yard line. Four plays later, Washington settled for a harmless field goal.
The biggest play — the biggest defensive stand — isn’t supposed to come in the first quarter of a playoff game. Sunday was an exception. The Packers won going away, beating Washington 35-18 in the NFC wild-card game. They scored 35 of the final 42 points, dominating the final three quarters.
But that first quarter was a doozy. The Packers trailed 11-0 before they had any signs of life. Those four points Jackson’s blunder took off the scoreboard would’ve made it a two-touchdown hole.
“Biggest play of the game. That play,” Hayward said. “I told Ha Ha right after he made the play, I was like, ‘Yo, that probably was the biggest play of the game.’ We got a stop, held them to a field goal. If they score, you can add four more points and the game could be totally different.”
The Packers still weren’t out of danger. Take a straw poll around FedEx Field, and the only people saying they expected the Packers to keep Washington out of the end zone with three plays from the 1-yard line would’ve been lying. A touchdown seemed inevitable. It wasn’t.
On first-and-goal from the 1, rookie inside linebacker Jake Ryan shot a gap and stuffed Washington running back Alfred Morris for no gain.
On second down, defensive tackle Letroy Guion beat guard Spencer Long off the snap. Beat him bad. Guion drove Long three yards to his right, spraining his ankle in the process, until he was in the middle of a running lane. Guion wrapped his arms around Morris’ legs, and inside linebacker Clay Matthews cleaned up the tackle for a 1-yard loss.
That became the biggest play of the Packers’ stand.
“You just hunker down,” Guion said, “and man-to-man, you beat the man in front of you, and you make the tackle if it’s in your gap.”
Before third down, Washington lost 5 yards with a delay-of-game penalty. Quarterback Kirk Cousins tried to thread the needle to receiver Pierre Garçon, but Clinton-Dix knocked away the pass.
With that, momentum was irreversibly changed.
“That was huge,” Hyde said. “Even though it was the first quarter, that was a huge play. That was a huge stand going from that — they had seven points, obviously – to kicking a field goal. That gave us momentum. That was huge for our defense, and we take pride in something like that.”