Linebacker has penchant for making huge plays

ASHBURN -- Sometimes it's just a matter of doing his job. That's what happened against Cleveland. The Redskins' Rob Jackson dropped into coverage, the quarterback didn't see him and Jackson made a game-changing play.

Other times he fools the quarterback. That's what happened Sunday night against the Cowboys. Jackson started upfield until the running back went on a route. So Jackson turned with him and, while moving back, made a leaping interception -- another game-changing play.

These are the plays Jackson once envisioned himself making. He just never was in position to do so, sitting behind starter Brian Orakpo.

"I'd watch Rak make plays, and I picture myself doing it," Jackson said. "Or even plays they didn't make that I would just see what I would do in that situation, what I would do differently."

Now he knows. What he has done is make plays. What he has done is change games that helped put Washington in the postseason. Like in Sunday's 28-18 win over Dallas, in which he intercepted Tony Romo, leading to the clinching touchdown. Earlier, Jackson's pressure prevented Romo from stepping into a pass, allowing Josh Wilson to intercept an underthrown ball.

Two weeks earlier, Jackson's interception against Cleveland early in the second half led to the go-ahead touchdown. Jackson also sacked and forced a fumble vs. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco with the Ravens driving and up by a touchdown. Finally, there was a sack vs. New York in a 17-16 win that forced a punt.

Jackson said these plays happen, in part, because he has found a comfort level.

"I anticipate [plays] more now than five weeks ago," he said. "It's knowing what I'm supposed to do, and plays just sort of happen."

It might be a surprise that Jackson -- a seventh-round pick in 2008 who converted from end to outside linebacker two years ago -- is doing these things. But not to those who watched him in practice. Earlier in Jackson's career, the former defensive end was considered raw. It also took him time to learn the system. Once he did, though, his game clicked once the opportunities arose.

"When he was on the scout team, we had a hard time blocking him," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "I just kept on thinking, 'Sooner or later, he's going to transfer this to the field.' And he really has once he's had the opportunity to play and play consistently. ... He's made some big plays the last three or four games. That's a difference in us winning and losing."

The Redskins turned their season around for a variety of reasons. And Jackson is far from the only defensive player to have made an impact. But his penchant for big plays has impacted games. Jackson's hands aren't a huge surprise; he played tight end at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, a big reason he has four interceptions this year.

"We joked with Orakpo that I'm not sure he catches those balls that Rob's been able to catch this year," Wilson said. "The catches he's made have been amazing. He definitely was a hidden gem and has made a name for himself. That's how careers are made in this league. ... Now he's made a name for himself to where he's going to have an extended career because of this year."

The question is where? Jackson is a restricted free agent after the season, so the Redskins can match any offer he receives. But they also will have Orakpo returning from a torn pectoral muscle (his second in a year).

"Yeah, it would be," Jackson said. "I'm just trying to put myself in the best situation possible at the end of the year and control what I can control. I can't think about the future if I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing in the present. The more wins we get and go far, it opens a lot of doors for everybody. Winning is always the key in this game."