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Thanks To 4th Kicker, Washington Survives Raiders in Thriller

Rookie Brian Johnson's 48-yard field goal keeps alive Washington's winning streak and playoff hopes

Here we grow again.

In 2020, the Washington Football Team was floundering at 2-7 before reeling off four consecutive wins and eventually winning the NFC East.

In 2021, coach Ron Rivera's injury-decimated squad was again near last rites at 2-6. But after Sunday's gritty, dramatic 17-15 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders, another late-season, four-game winning streak is a reality and another remarkable rally to the playoffs is suddenly realistic.

Down to its fourth kicker of the season - after Dustin Hopkins, Chris Blewitt and Joey Slye - Washington got a 48-yard field goal from rookie Brian Johnson with 41 seconds remaining to keep its hopes of a deju vu alive.

WFT got help on its final drive from a dropped interception by Las Vegas' Trevon Moehrig-Woodard that gave Johnson his chance, then survived two late, long passes by Raiders' quarterback Derek Carr. His Hail Mary attempt was deflected and fell incomplete near the goal line on the game's final play.

Nursing a two-point lead with less than 10 minutes remaining, WFT appeared en route to orchestrating one of its trademark long drives to seal another victory. But where drives of 19 plays and 16 plays helped it beat the Buccaneers and Seahawks, this possession suddenly U-turned into disaster.

After eight plays had pushed the ball into Raiders' territory, star tight Logan Thomas left the game with what appeared to be a lower-leg injury. On the next snap - trying to convert a key 3rd-and-4, quarterback Taylor Heinicke's throwing arm was grazed by Las Vegas pass-rusher Maxx Crosby. The ball wobbled aimlessly and was intercepted by Las Vegas' Nate Hobbs.

From there, the Raiders drove 43 yards and took their first lead of the game - 15-14 - on Daniel Carlson's 37-yard field goal with 2:26 remaining.

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Heinicke, however, drove Washington to the Raiders' 30 after a clever third-down hand-off to receiver Curtis Samuel. Johnson's kick sneaked inside the right upright to propel WFT to 6-6, clearly in the mix for an NFC Playoff berth and even a whiff of the NFC East with two games in the next three weeks against the division-leading Dallas Cowboys.

Despite a tumultuous season in which pre-season cornerstones Chase Young (1.5 sacks) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (six pass attempts) barely contributed, a 3-0 November and this December drama has Washington alive.

In this physical, old-school, pick-the-grass-out-of-your-helmet kind of game, Washington seemingly took control early in the fourth quarter. Aided by consecutive defensive penalties on the Raiders that provided 20 yards and two first downs, WFT took advantage with a 35-yard reception by Thomas and a key third-down sliding scramble by Heinicke. The quarterback pushed the lead to 14-6 with a side-arm sling to Antonio Gibson for a 4-yard touchdown.

The Raiders countered with their own 75-yard drive, climaxed by Josh Jacobs' 1-yard run to make it 14-12.

Washington led, 7-3, after a first half dominated by defense.

After struggling all year in the first quarter, Washington took the opening kickoff and crisply drove 75 yards for a 7-0 lead. Heinicke went 5 of 5, tossing a 7-yard touchdown that Thomas punctuated with a leaping, one-hand grab in the back of the end zone.

Though Thomas' return as a third-down target helped Washington, it struggled to move the ball consistently without pass-receiving running back J.D. McKissic and a fully healthy Samuel.

The Raiders' only sign of offense in the first two quarters came in their two-minute drill. Kick-started by two Carr scrambles, Las Vegas drove from its 20 to Washington's 34 before settling for a 52-yard field goal from Carlson.

Las Vegas entered the game leading the NFL in explosive plays of 25+ yards, but managed a long gain of only 18 in the first half. Washington's defense bottled up a Raiders' offense that on Thanksgiving erupted for 509 yards and 36 points in an upset of the Cowboys in Arlington.

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