LONDON — Sometimes ties in football are annoying, frustrating and have social media blowhards shrieking for a rule change. And sometimes ... ties provide just the perfect outcome. The latter was the case here, as the Washington Redskins and the Cincinnati Bengals slugged out a 27-27 stalemate after more than four hours of struggle at Wembley Stadium in the NFL's final United Kingdom showcase of the year.
In a game where both teams were afraid to win, in the end, neither of them did. Dustin Hopkins could have wrapped it up for Washington with a 34-yard field goal deep into overtime, but he pulled his kick wide. The Bengals could have had a chance had Andy Dalton not fumbled on third-and-1 once the game had reached sudden death.
It might look ugly in the standings, but heck, we were at the home of soccer for goodness sake — a sport that enjoys a battle where honors are even more than any. And here in England, one of the national sports, cricket, regularly sees games lasting five days before ending in a draw.
“I remember thinking last week, how on earth do you tie a game of football,” Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said, referring to last weekend's 6-6 tie between the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. “Well, I guess I now know. We know we had chances to win the game, the team over there will feel the same way.”
Cincinnati now sits at 3-4-1, and coach Marvin Lewis was also left nursing the odd feeling of having not lost yet having little to celebrate, either. “You are never going to be satisfied unless you come away from a game having won it,” he said. At least this wasn’t a defensive snoozer like the Seattle-Arizona contest.
It was one of the best games that the NFL’s London experiment has offered so far and taught us that there is perhaps no limit to the Redskins’ generosity. After gifting away victory a week earlier, they now sit at 4-3-1 instead of 6-2. Washington thrived early, with Kirk Cousins marching the offense confidently down the field on the opening drive, before Robert Kelley crossed on a 3-yard touchdown run.
However, in what would swiftly emerge as a running theme, the Redskins were unable to make the most of the advantage. Alex Erickson returned the ensuing kickoff to the Washington 36 and the Bengals capitalized on the short field, with Giovani Bernard eventually evening the score 7-7.
Time and again, it seemed that Cousins and his crew were poised to take full control, only for mistakes of mind or execution to stifle their progress. A fourth-and-inches in the red zone was broken up. Hopkins nailed one field goal but missed two more, and Cincinnati hung around.
Cornerback Josh Norman, locked in an entertaining battle with wide receiver A.J. Green, had two chances to grab a game-changing interception but allowed the ball to spill free each tie. Sooner or later, the Bengals were going to wake up, and it happened in the third quarter. A pair of impressive Dalton drives both resulted in touchdowns, with the quarterback finding a willing recipient in Tyler Eifert and running another in himself.
It was not until they had slipped 10 points behind that Washington crept into life again. Cousins got busy, and Jordan Reed showed why he is one of the finest tight ends in football. Reed expertly caught a Cousins pass on the 18-yard line late in the third quarter, cut inside, shrugged through a tight gap and dived spectacularly over the goal line. Soon after, Cousins hit Jamison Crowder for a 33-yard touchdown pass at 9:30 to put them back in front 24-20.
Dalton engineered another drive, though, highlighted by a superb 40-yard catch from Green, even as Norman drew a penalty for interference. It set up Jeremy Hill for a 1-yard rush that put Cincinnati ahead once more, only for Hopkins to tie it with a 40-yarder late in regulation.
Overtime was nervy and tense as the defenses dug in. Still, Washington had it all but sealed, victory awaiting at the tips of Hopkins’ cleats — only for the chance, like so many others, to slip away. “Obviously I am disappointed in my execution of what I am supposed to do, “ Hopkins said. “Especially when you have got guys in here who put everything on the line for longer than a normal game.”