Sometimes, lost in the wreckage of an NFL team’s struggling season, a story emerges that supersedes that team’s previous troubles.
For the Redskins, Josh Johnson is that story. The 32-year-old journeyman quarterback was thrust into one of the most improbable roles of all: saving a team’s season when he hadn’t played in an NFL game in seven years.
Johnson, the fourth quarterback Washington has started this season thanks to an unforgiving rash of injuries and poor play, was not able to save the Redskins. Their 25-16 loss to the Titans on Saturday, coupled with the Cowboys clinching of the NFC East on Sunday, has left the Redskins on the outside of the playoff picture looking longingly in.
Don’t blame Johnson for that, though. He has quietly been one of the coolest stories in the NFL this season.
When he was inserted into the Redskins’ blowout loss to the Giants for mop-up duty three weeks ago, it was the first time Johnson had played in an NFL game since 2011.
When he helped lead the Redskins to a win over the Jaguars two weeks ago to get Washington to 7-7 and one game behind the Cowboys, it was Johnson’s first career win as a starting NFL quarterback.
Johnson completed 16-of-25 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown, ran for 49 yards and led both a game-tying and a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter over the Jaguars.
It was not only Johnson’s first career victory, but it was the Redskins’ first win since starting quarterback Alex Smith was lost for the year with a broken leg. Colt McCoy replaced Smith and suffered a fractured leg and then Mark Sanchez, who was signed as insurance, flopped badly in his lone start against the Giants.
That’s when Johnson entered the game and began carving out his remarkable story.
Johnson actually had the Redskins ahead of the favored Titans, 13-9 entering the fourth quarter Saturday. But Tennessee rallied with 16 points in the final 15 minutes, and the game effectively ended for Washington when Johnson threw an interception on an overthrow to receiver Josh Doctson.
After the game, according to reports, Doctson, Redskins veteran running back Adrian Peterson and other teammates were quick to console him and take the blame from his shoulders.
“I wish I could have that opportunity to do again, but now I have to learn from it,’’ Johnson told reporters after the game.
The question is, after this week’s game, whether Johnson will be given another opportunity. You’d have to think, based on what Johnson has given the Redskins on zero notice (he was signed on Dec. 5), that he’ll be given a chance to remain as a backup. His coaches and teammates in Washington have fallen in love with the guy.
“You couldn’t ask for anything more from a guy coming from his couch, playing pickup basketball a couple weeks ago,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden told reporters. “To learn everything, go in there with full speed and people coming at him full speed, handling the play-calling, protections, handoffs, the run game … I just can’t say enough about him.”
Hopefully, Johnson has found a home with the Redskins for more than five minutes, because based on his meandering career path, five minutes seems like his average stop at places.
A check of his Wikipedia page illustrates just how long and winding Johnson’s pro football journey has been:
Since he was drafted in the fifth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008, he’s been a member of the San Francisco 49ers, Sacramento Mountain Lions, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Jets, Indianapolis Colts, Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Giants, Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders.
Johnson has a connection to Gruden from the time they were in Tampa Bay together in 2008, Johnson’s rookie season, and then with the Bengals in 2013, when Gruden was the offensive coordinator.
Before the Jaguars game, Gruden shook Johnson’s hand and told him to “calm down.”
After the win against Jacksonville, Johnson, according to the Washington Post, said playing again was “like going to Disneyland” for him “because just a week ago I was at home in the ‘hood chilling with the kids, chilling with my family and thinking on the couch that I might never play in the NFL again.”
This might sound weird, but it’s possible that even Sanchez, despite his failed chance to save the Redskins, is rooting for Josh Johnson. His story is that good.
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