The Chiefs are the last unbeaten team in the NFL. With the league’s leading rusher in Kareem Hunt, a veteran quarterback playing the best ball of his career in Alex Smith, and a defense that hasn’t lost a step without safety Eric Berry on the field, they also may be the best team in the NFL.
The Redskins had the chance to knock off this team on Monday Night Football in one of the best games of the season so far, but after a dropped would-be touchdown and a boneheaded timeout call, they blew it, falling 29-20.
With the ball and under five minutes to go in the fourth quarter down three points, Kirk Cousins put together what looked like a classic drive, moving the ball 53 yards in nine plays. On three of those plays—including a crucial third-and-8—Cousins scrambled, finishing with more rushing yards in that drive alone (33) than his previous career-high in a game (30). It’s these type of moments the Redskins expect out of their signal-caller, who is playing on his second-consecutive franchise tag and could leave the team after this season (assuming the franchise doesn't tag him again, which would cause them to incur a ludicrous cap hit).
Cousins and the offense moved the ball to the Kansas City 22-yard line, comfortably within field goal range. With a game-tying field goal nearly assured, the team was more in a battle with the clock than with the Chiefs’ defense. Unfortunately for the Redskins, Jay Gruden didn’t realize this. With a third down and the clock ticking under one minute, he called a timeout, even though he could have run it down another 27 seconds. On the next play, Kirk Cousins threw a dart toward Josh Doctson, who nearly held on to what could have been a game-winning touchdown.
His drop, though, meant a fourth-and-2 for the Redskins with the clock stuck 50 seconds. They kicked the field goal to tie the game and gave the ball back to the Chiefs with 47 seconds left. That turned out to be the difference—Smith and his offense drove 50 yards in 43 seconds, kicking the go-ahead field goal to push their record to 4-0.
No one should blame the Redskins for taking a shot at the end zone to win the game—especially playing in Arrowhead, where no opposing team wants to experience overtime. But calling a timeout, rather than burning clock, is a near-inexcusable mistake that cost Gruden’s squad this game.
If your play-call there is to take a shot at the end zone why call timeout with :57 seconds left and :27 seconds left on the play clock? Now the Chiefs have :47 seconds left here with 2 timeouts.— Brandon George (@DMN_George) October 3, 2017
Before calling the timeout, the Redskins had all three left in their pocket, meaning they could have almost completely controlled the clock for the rest of the contest. They could have run it all the way down to 30 seconds and gone for the first down rather than shoot for a touchdown and still had plenty of chances to land in the end zone with no worry that time would run out on them. They even could have still taken their chance with the play to Doctson—which, to be fair, should have been a completion (in which case we might not be talking about this timeout at all)—and still tied the game on the next play, with the crucial difference being that the Chiefs would have had much less time for their own last-minute drive.
There’s no downside to letting the clock run in this instance and there’s exactly one downside to stopping it early: giving your opponent the time to comfortably march down the field.
John Gruden: "Redskins smart to let the clock run. Don't leave any time for Alex Smith"— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) October 3, 2017
*brother calls TO w 57 seconds left*
Those extra 27 seconds proved vital to the Chiefs, who called a timeout with exactly 27 seconds remaining on the ensuing drive before running two more plays (a run to burn clock and a spike to stop it) before the game-winning field goal. Without that extra time, Kansas City would have had to scramble, and there’s a good chance the team never sets up for the game-winner. Instead, the Chiefs are 4-0 and easily the most impressive team in the NFL. The Redskins are 2-2 and in a dogfight with the Eagles and Cowboys in the NFC East.
And just to add insult to injury, the Redskins did get one last play with the football, and proceeded to hand the Chiefs the back-door cover.