The fourth quarter started to turn, just as it had in the previous three games. A negative play happens and the Redskins start to stumble. That's what could have happened in St. Louis. That's what nearly happened, too.
But it isn't what ultimately did happen.
And it's why the Redskins remain alive. Their chances aren't terrific; they're also not dead. If they beat Arizona this weekend, they'll return for two straight home games against divisional opponents. It would make those the biggest December home games since 1999.
The difference Sunday? Washington made plays when it had opportunities. The Redskins stayed committed to the run, which wasn't hard to do given the success (257 yards). The defense continued to shut down the Rams' offense and confuse a rookie quarterback.
A costly fourth-quarter fumble for a safety could have ruined a good day. Instead, it gave the Redskins a chance to prove they could overcome adversity on the road in the fourth quarter to win.
At this point, they're still a longshot to make the playoffs. But it's better than what they would have been had they not finished well Sunday.
Defensive gem: The Redskins did an outstanding job against Ryan Fitzpatrick. They forced the Rams to beat them through the air. They couldn't. And assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams seemed to outguess his counterparts. When the Rams used max protection, the Redskins rushed four linemen; when they kept in six blockers, the Redskins countered with a blitz. It didn't always work that way, but it happened enough and it usually worked. Fitzpatrick couldn't solve this defense. The Redskins now are 3-0 against rookie quarterbacks.
Gift: OK, so the Redskins got a gift of a fumble from Fitzpatrick, but the Rams had gotten one themselves just a couple plays earlier for a safety. Consider it like a bloop hit in baseball, one that gets a batter out of a slump. And didn't it seem like for a second that Washington wouldn't recover? It's about time one of those rolled the Redskins' way.
Nice to see: Robert Royal come back with a decent game, catching four passes after dropping three the previous week. Royal is merely an average tight end, but he's a good guy in the locker room and it's never fun to see someone struggle like he did.
Offensive game ball: to the offensive line. When two rushers surpass 100 yards, the credit goes up front. They were outstanding across the board, opening holes all day. The running backs did a nice job finding the holes, but they weren't always hard to spot. Clinton Portis ran untouched on his 47-yard touchdown. He showed great vision on a few runs, making proper cutbacks. In some cases, those cutbacks are designed; in others, they're because of his vision.
Defensive game ball: linebacker Marcus Washington helped set the tone early, as did end Phillip Daniels. Washington was all over the place in the first quarter, getting a sack of Fitzpatrick on the opening possession for a 10-yard loss. Daniels did a nice job of making plays, both at him and in pursuit. Not bad considering he was playing against an All-Pro tackle in Orlando Pace.
All white: The Redskins looked sharp in the all-white uniforms. It's a good look.
Tested: When the Redskins fumbled for a safety, more than a few players remembered the disasters of previous weeks, leading to losses. This time, they responded well. They didn't cause a fumble, but they did recover one and they capitalized, driving for the clinching score. Then they intercepted a pass.
The Rock: Few players are as respected in the locker room as Rock Cartwright. Every year there's speculation about his job and every year he finds a roster spot. In reality, the past two years, there hasn't been much chance of him getting cut. The coaches absolutely love him and he's developed into a real leader. Remember, this is the guy who organized a special teams meeting every Friday, something that hadn't been done in the past. Cartwright's size works against him; coaches might not want to admit it, but that's a reason why he hasn't played more. It hinders him in pass protection on third down. And his fumble against Kansas City was a factor, too. If you make 15 million and fumble, you get more chances; if you're Cartwright, it takes a while to get more.
Better effort: Punter Derrick Frost. He had his usual short punt, a 30-yarder, but after that he was good with length and hangtime. That allowed the coverage to be strong again.
Game manager: Mark Brunell did not need to make spectacular plays and instead managed his way through the game. The receivers weren't open; he didn't need to force it, knowing the defense would continue shutting down the Rams; so he threw to tight ends and backs for 10 of his 14 completions.
Then again: the Redskins need to find another receiver. They lack a solid No. 2 wideout and, even with David Patten returning next season, they need to find another target – preferably someone with size. Unless something happens with Taylor Jacobs over the next four weeks, this has to be a priority for the offense to advance.