TAMPA, Fla. -- A month ago, these were the narratives about Redskins cornerback Josh Norman. Take your pick:
He is overpaid. He isn’t the Redskins' best corner. This will be his last year in Washington.
Since then, however, Norman has done what many fans and team executives wanted to see: He has intercepted passes and blanketed the opposition’s best receiver.
He wasn’t the only heavily criticized Redskins player to make an impact in Sunday's 16-3 victory over Tampa Bay: linebacker Ryan Anderson forced a fumble; receiver Josh Doctson caught a touchdown pass; linebacker Preston Smith had a key sack and forced fumble.
But it was Norman who set the tone, intercepting Ryan Fitzpatrick at the goal line on the game’s first series. The past few weeks have been a reminder that Norman is still good enough to make an impact. He intercepted his first pass of the season vs. Carolina a month ago. He started shadowing the opposition’s top wideout early in the New York Giants game two weeks ago, and he has continued to do so. He then picked off his second pass of the season Sunday, two more than he intercepted in 2017.
Not that Norman felt he had to remind everyone of his ability.
“I don’t,” he said. “I’ve been doing it since I got here. Why do I need to remind? My opponents know who I am, and when I play them, they show that respect, so I don’t have to remind that person or that person or anyone else. The only thing I need to do is maintain who I am and go to a different level and higher and higher.”
He was in position to intercept a first-quarter pass Sunday because he had spent the past three games traveling with the other team’s top receiver. Tampa Bay's Mike Evans was aligned to the left, so Norman was there, as well. In zone coverage, Norman intercepted an overthrown ball and returned it 32 yards.
“It is all about opportunities and putting yourself in a situation to be successful,” Norman said. “When I’m in position to be successful, I will be -- if coaches allow that to happen, I’ll do that, and I can help out more so than what I do. I’ve shown that now, that I’m able to move around with certain guys and be effective there.”
For the Redskins to win, they need big plays from Norman. When he’s positioned to one side for an entire game, it's easy for a quarterback to avoid him, and he's therefore often not in position to make plays. He was clearly chafed by that role. After the Giants game, he was still clearly upset that he hadn’t been switching around before then. With Quinton Dunbar sidelined with a shin/thigh injury, the Redskins must use rookies Greg Stroman and Danny Johnson. It makes sense to play Norman all over.
Norman’s increased role should be evident Sunday vs. Houston and receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who has caught 63 passes for 894 yards and seven touchdowns.
To keep winning, the Redskins also need help from guys such as Anderson, Smith and Doctson. Anderson, a second-year outside linebacker, has done a solid job setting the edge and playing with a physical demeanor. The Redskins drafted him because they believed he would just be a good player, even if he wasn’t a great pass-rusher.
To date, Anderson just hadn’t made big plays. He did Sunday, punching the ball out from behind running back Jacquizz Rodgers inside the 20-yard line. The ball shot into the end zone, where safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix recovered.
“He does it every day in practice,” Redskins linebacker Zach Brown said of Anderson's making plays. “For it to finally pay off is just working his craft. We talk about it; he does it every day. Ryan is one of our high-energy guys. For him to come in and do what he did, he had a good game all around.”
Smith had not recorded a sack this season after finishing with eight each in 2015 and 2017 and 4.5 in 2016. It’s a contract year for him, but he hadn’t made any game-changing plays. Sacks aren’t always indicative of how a player is doing, but for an outside linebacker, going eight games without one is never a good look. On a second-and-goal play from the Redskins’ 2-yard line Sunday, Smith beat the left tackle, sacked Fitzpatrick and forced a fumble that was recovered by Ryan Kerrigan.
As for Doctson, he hasn’t become a dynamic playmaker. But he has been making tough catches consistently. Sunday, he finished with modest numbers: four catches, 46 yards. But one of those was a contested grab, and the other was a touchdown pass on which he drifted to the back middle of the end zone as an open target.
When a team is trying to survive an injury-filled season, it needs contributions from all over. That’s what the Redskins received. It started with Norman, proving what he can still do. Others took it from there.
"That," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said, "is what it's all about."