The Redskins, who have now won more games than they had in either of Coach Mike Shanahan’s two previous seasons at the helm, dodged a couple of bullets Sunday. For one, they trailed the Ravens by eight points late in the game and couldn’t afford a loss in the very tight NFC playoff race. Secondly, the Redskins learned later Sunday night that quarterback Robert Griffin III’s knee injury is a sprain and not some type of season-ending ligament tear.
We don’t know yet about Griffin’s availability for next Sunday’s game at Cleveland. It’s yet another must-win game for the Redskins, especially because New York and Seattle both won on Sunday as well.
But first, here are five observations from the win over the Ravens.
1.) Resilience shows once again – Yesterday’s game was yet another matchup that had all the makings of a classic Redskins collapse. From the defense’s sudden inability to stop the run, continued ineffectiveness against the pass, the cold streak the offense suffered from the second quarter on, an apparent turnover (that wound up being reversed) when the Redskins needed to orchestrate a comeback drive, all the way down to Griffin’s injury with less than two minutes left … it was all there. The Ravens will tell you that there is no way the Redskins should have won that game, and they’re probably right. But Washington’s players again demonstrated their ability to weather adversity, and with a collective effort, they came out on top. “It’s definitely been a change of mentality in this locker room,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “Guys are fighting and clawing. If we can play that bad and win against a good Baltimore Ravens team, it’ll get really scary when we start clicking.”
2.) Cousins pick justified again – Mike Shanahan again looked like a very smart man for drafting Kirk Cousins in the fourth round after taking Griffin with the No. 2 overall pick. At the time, when the Redskins passed on a right tackle and defensive backs, the move seemed to make no sense. But Shanahan explained the Redskins’ need to improve the quarterback position from the top down, and that they needed a quality player to turn to if Griffin ever got hurt. For the second time this season, the Redskins had to turn to Cousins. He fell short in his comeback quest in Week 5, but was perfect this time around. Cousins looked decisive and in control. His 15-yard strike to Leonard Hankerson put Washington in scoring position, and his TD pass to Pierre Garcon pulled the Redskins within two. An impressive element to the touchdown pass was the way Cousins scanned the field and then pump-faked and in so doing froze cornerback Chris Johnson, who was on Garcon, and then rolled to his right and hit Garcon for the touchdown. The Redskins say they have confidence in Cousins if Griffin can’t play. Although he doesn’t get a lot of snaps with the first team, he knows the offense very well. During the team’s downtime each morning, he sits on the couch outside the locker room with his iPad and a pencil and notebook and studies plays. He might not have Griffin’s athleticism, but he has enough mobility that he’s not a statue, and he has the skills to run most of Washington’s offense. Maybe not frequent quarterback keepers, but everything else. And he’ll do it well.
3.) Bad and good from defense – The Ravens gashed Washington’s defense – which previously had allowed only two 100-yard rushers – with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce for a combined 174 rushing yards. And in the first half, quarterback Joe Flacco took advantage of breakdowns in coverage for three touchdown passes. Two of those touchdowns went to Anquan Boldin, who twice beat DeAngelo Hall in coverage. “We just blew some things. That’s all you can say about it, myself included. We have to be better,” Hall said. He indicated that he had expected help over the top from free safety Madieu Williams. But on both touchdowns, Williams didn’t come over until late. On the second touchdown pass, Flacco looked to his left, where Torrey Smith was running his route, and for a split second, Williams appeared to drift that way. On the third touchdown, tight end Dennis Pitta had Perry Riley beat and made an open catch. Frankly, I was surprised the Ravens didn’t go deep more often during the first half. But in the second half, it became clear that they didn’t because they don’t trust Flacco. The Redskins made halftime adjustments for the second straight week, and those tweaks made a difference. Rob Jackson again recorded a big play, coming up with the sack -fumble on Flacco, and Ryan Kerrigan hit the quarterback to force the interception by London Fletcher. The Redskins limited Flacco to 55 passing yards in the second half, sacked him twice and hit him another three times in the final two quarters. After giving up touchdowns on three of Baltimore’s first four possessions of the game, the Redskins forced a punt in the second quarter, then forced a fumble, an interception and back-to-back punts on the next five Ravens series of the second half before giving up a fourth-quarter touchdown run by Rice. Despite Rice’s score, the Redskins did better in the fourth quarter against the run, holding Baltimore to 16 yards on seven carries after giving up 163 on 26 carries through three quarters. In the two games combined, the Redskins have given up a total of 10 second half points. The Redskins know they must be better overall, but they have to feel good about the second-half stands. As Hall said, “Those problems are a lot easier to fix after a win.”
4.) Answers on special teams – Mike Shanahan told the struggling Brandon Banks that he wanted to give Niles Paul and Richard Crawford a chance to see what they could do in kick and punt returns, respectively, so Banks was a healthy scratch. Although Paul suffered a close call on a fumble that could have cost Washington the game, the Redskins got much better production out of those two players than they had from Banks. Neither Paul nor Crawford is as fast as Banks, but both are much more decisive. Because of that, they got upfield with greater efficiency. Crawford did a great job of using blocks from his teammates, who created a lane for him on his big 64-yard return to set up the game-winning field goal. One thing coaches had talked about with Banks was field vision, how he seemed to be missing lanes. Some of Crawford’s veteran teammates gave him some grief for letting Ravens’ punter Sam Koch tackle him, but others said that they would let it slide this time. Shanahan said he isn’t sure when Banks’s next opportunity will come. If Crawford and Paul continue to produce, it could wind up being with another team next season.
5.) Playoff implications – The Redskins didn’t make up any ground on the Giants or Seahawks, who both won Sunday. But Chicago’s loss to Minnesota helps. For now, the Redskins are still a game back of the Giants for the NFC East lead, and a game behind Seattle and Chicago for a wildcard bid. But with a win at Cleveland, and a Chicago loss to Green Bay on Sunday, Washington and Chicago would have identical 8-6 records, and the Redskins would hold the tiebreaker because of a better conference record than the Bears. From there, the Redskins would control their own destiny, and if they were to beat Philadelphia and Dallas to close out the season, they’d reach the postseason.