Redskins vs. Chargers: Five observations from the 30-24 overtime victory

Marcus Gilchrist, Robert Griffin III

Kyle Shanahan showed a few new wrinkles in the offense, such as Griffin on the option pitch to Santana Moss. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Redskins got a much-needed win against the visiting Chargers in a game that basically, Washington could not afford to lose.

Now at 3-5, the Redskins are 1 1/2 games back from the Cowboys, who lead the NFC East, and four division games remain. Washington hopes to take the momentum of their win against San Diego and carry that over into Thursday’s game in Minnesota.

That’s basically another must-win game. If the Redskins have any aspirations of being contenders, they can’t fall to a 1-7 squad.

Players will receive treatment for various bumps and bruises while their coaches go over video both from last night’s game and the Vikings, and then they’ll get to work this afternoon, practice again Tuesday and have a walk-through on Wednesday before flying to Minneapolis.

But first, here are five observations from yesterday’s 30-24 overtime win over the Chargers.

1. Sense of urgency — Washington’s players knew how important the game was, and because of that, they appeared to play with a greater sense of urgency. The game obviously wasn’t perfect, but there were instances where guys had a little something extra (whether in the form of effort or concentration), where the ball bounced the right way, and that translated into positive plays. Two blocked field goals — especially one on a 25-yard attempt after a 92-yard drive – and a pass deflected for an interception in the end zone could’ve proven demoralizing for this team. But the Redskins shook off those gaffes and continued battling. Robert Griffin III improved in the passing department, but he still had a number of throws that were low and behind receivers. The difference this week was the pass-catchers showed greater effort and snagged many of those throws. Griffin seemed more decisive on throws, and didn’t hold onto the ball too long, waiting for receivers to get open as he did in Denver. He still locked in on some receivers, which helps the defense identify where he’s going. But overall, the offense clicked. Things were just crisper. Players in the locker room this week said they noticed fewer overthrows by Griffin and fewer receivers falling down on an assignment.

2. Clutch defense — Aside from a pick-six or fumble returned for a touchdown (DeAngelo Hall chuckled after the game and said he had envisioned picking off a Rivers pass at the goal line in the closing seconds of the game and taking it back for a game-winning touchdown), things couldn’t have played out more favorably for Washington’s defense as the players had their backs against the wall with 21 seconds left. The defenders held the slippery Danny Woodhead to run for no gain as London Fletcher and Brandon Meriweather combined for the stop. Then, on second and inches, Hall jammed Antonio Gates at the line and made it difficult for the tight end to get deep enough into the end zone, and the pass fell incomplete. Third down, the Redskins denied Rivers on another pass, and the Chargers had to settle for a field goal. Obviously, Washington’s players and coaches would’ve preferred the game not come down to that stand, but that strong stand gave the offense the fire required to march the length of the field and score the game-winning touchdown in overtime. … The Redskins defense did pretty well all game long, limiting the Chargers to a 3-for-9 showing on third downs and forcing two turnovers. They also held San Diego to just 69 rushing yards. … The pass rush could’ve been better. Philip Rivers isn’t really considered elusive, but he was slippery on Sunday, avoiding several would-be sacks and finding receivers open downfield. … Rookie David Amerson had the interception that set up the 47-yard field goal that gave Washington the 24-14 lead, but then hit some struggles as he fell prey to some double-moves gave up three completions (including the 16-yard touchdown to Keenan Allen) on the last two drives by San Diego. Amerson earned some redemption, however when he came up with a key play by knocking Woodhead out of bounds at the pylon, preventing a touchdown and instead set up first and goal from the 1.

3. Improved RGIII — Robert Griffin III looked more comfortable and confident against the Chargers. He completed 71 percent of his passes (23 for 32) for 291 yards. He wasn’t exactly dangerous with his legs — averaging just 2.8 yards a carry — but his most crucial run also proved his most successful. On third and 9 from the Chargers’ 46, Griffin took off on a broken play and picked up 10 yards after going airborne as linebacker Thomas Keiser flew in at him. It was good to see Griffin get his mojo going again — both with his arm and his legs — after struggling mightily against Denver and then having second quarter hiccups in the form of the three batted balls and interception. From the third quarter on, Griffin completed 13 of 19 passes for 179 yards (68 percent) including an overtime period that saw him complete all four pass attempts for 39 yards on that 78-yard drive. A big key to success was the commitment to the run game. Alfred Morris had a monster game with 25 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown. Roy Helu Jr. added a couple clutch runs as well. An effective rushing attack kept the Chargers from being able to just tee off on Griffin. Griffin still has to improve his accuracy, but he did better this week than last week. He locked in on receivers several times, and that telegraphs the play, but if he makes quick decisions, this will help in that area. That’s probably one of the biggest ways Kyle Shanahan can help Griffin: calling more quick-hitters to get the ball out of the young quarterback’s hands quickly. Griffin will still need to get better at reading coverages, though. But overall, Griffin definitely looked much more like the player the Redskins believe he can be and need him to be.

4. Diverse play-calling — Tip your hat to Kyle Shanahan for calling a balanced game that featured 40 run plays and 32 pass plays. A 12-for-17 showing on third downs helped extend drives and allowed him to open up his playbook more. We saw few new wrinkles in the offense such as Jordan Reed on the option pitch, Santana Moss on the option pitch and Darrel Young as a goal-line threat. Those plays all caught the Chargers off guard. The pitch to Reed went for an 18-yard gain and served as a further testament of the young tight end’s versatility and athleticism. Moss picked up 18 yards on his pitch from Griffin as well. Griffin had another pitch to Moss, but it was ruled a forward shovel pass, so it counted as a two-yard completion. Moss still has plenty to offer the Redskins, but Shanahan has used him less frequently with Reed emerging. I’d still like to see more of Moss out of the slot, but these plays take advantage of the burst and athleticism that Moss still has to offer, however. The handoffs to Young worked so well because he so often is used as a lead blocker for Alfred Morris that the defense doesn’t key on him as a runner. But last night, the Redskins ran the same play three times and scored each time. Asked about the new wrinkles, Griffin said, “As an offense, you have to switch things up, keep the defense off-balance, and that’s what we did as an offense. The one thing you don’t want to do is become too predictable. Whenever we’ve been on throughout the season, we’ve done a better job of just mixing things up: run, pass, giving them different looks.”

5. Rallying point? — The Redskins have been looking for something to jump-start their season, but thus far have come up short. You never know what this victory could wind up doing for the team, however. Sometimes it takes a special performance to rally the troops and get things going in the right direction. Everyone from Griffin to  Fletcher to Trent Williams to Alfred Morris and Hall said they think this was that kind of game. “It was definitely a character-building experience,” Hall said with a grin and shake of the head. The defense denying the Chargers at the goal line, and then fueling the offense on a game-winning drive in overtime certainly was monumental, for now at least. For this week, it kept hope alive for the Redskins. Could it wind up sparking the team onto something more? We won’t know for sure for a little while, but if this team does go on a run, weeks from now, they’ll be able to point to this game.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.

More From The Post:

Fullback’s three TDs, goal-line sequence leads to 30-24 overtime win

Boswell: Just call this a win for the ages | Takeaway: More needed to save season

Young helps spark resurgent running game | Goal-line stand a turning point

RGIII bounces back in a big way | Forbath miffed over blocked field goals

D.C. Sports Bog: Redskins vs. Chargers best and worstBox score | Photo gallery

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