Five observations from the Redskins’ loss to the Giants

December 2, 2013

Washington running back Alfred Morris (46) runs into a wall of Giant defenders for a loss in the first quarter. (By John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins’ second-half slide continued Sunday, with their third fourth consecutive loss dropping them to 3-9 on the season.

Now officially eliminated from playoff contention, Washington can hope only to play the role of spoiler the rest of the way. But given their struggles and the competitive situations that many of their upcoming opponents find themselves in, it will be interesting to see if the Redskins players can find a way to summon the motivation and mental fortitude needed to execute at a high enough level to do so.

Up next, the Kansas City Chiefs — themselves on a three-game losing streak — come to town.

But first, here are five observations from Sunday night’s 24-17 loss to the Giants.

1. Shanahan watch: Sunday night might have been the defeat that spoiled Coach Mike Shanahan’s hopes of returning for a fifth season. Three Four straight losses would prove upsetting to any owner, but three four in the embarrassing fashion that we’ve seen — the past two on national television — are infuriating for someone in Daniel Snyder’s position. After a promising start, the Redskins had a meltdown. They hurt themselves once again. They lost their composure. They missed prime opportunities. They didn’t show themselves to be a team of strong discipline and resolve. You can’t say the players don’t care. They definitely care, and that’s why we saw some of the frustration. But at the same time, they must display greater poise and concentration. There’s no denying that under Shanahan, the Redskins — at least operationally — have developed into a franchise that runs like an NFL team, and you would like to say that the foundation is stronger now than it was when he took over following the Vinny Cerrato-Jim Zorn era. But it’s all about results, and the positive signs are few and far between. Shanahan is now assured of his third losing campaign in four seasons. His three losing records equal the total that Joe Gibbs posted here in 16 seasons. With one more loss, Shanahan would have his third double-digit loss campaign with the Redskins, which ties the total that Norv Turner posted in his seven seasons with the team. Four games remain: vs. Kansas City, at Atlanta, vs. Dallas, at New York. Can the Redskins orchestrate a mini-turnaround to save their coach? Or has the damage already been done? Two factors could help Shanahan: the salary cap penalty argument, and the $7 million that Snyder owes him for next season. We’ve been over the impact of the cap penalty many times. Will that hold up, or is Snyder of the belief that even with the penalty, this team should’ve finished better? Then, it’s all about if Shanahan would coach in a lame-duck situation.

2. Morris’s quiet night: One of the most common questions I’ve received has gone something along the lines of, ‘What happened to Alfred Morris? I’m surprised they didn’t run him more.’ The truth is, the Redskins tried to use their workhorse back, but the Giants were determined to take him away and force Robert Griffin III to beat them with his own legs and his arm. New York’s defense packed players into the box and keyed on Morris to the point where they left Redskins wide receivers to run free in single coverage many times during the first half. Morris had nine first-half carries and gained just 11 yards (1.2 yards per carry). The stats show two carries for 15 yards in the second half (7.5 yards per carry), but he actually had three attempts. A holding penalty wiped out a six-yard run for a first down early in the third quarter. Had that first down stood, would he have gotten another carry? Most likely, either then or on the ensuing second down. Then, Washington had three three-and-outs. Griffin had a two-yard run on first down on the possession that began at the Giants’ 12 following Brandon Meriweather’s interception, and an incompletion brought on third down. Next series, Washington tried the quicker Roy Helu Jr. to see if his change of pace could catch the Giants off guard, but he had a gain of two yards and a loss of one, and then Griffin got sacked. A sack started off the first drive of the fourth quarter as well. Overall, penalties and poor execution on first downs put the Redskins in more passing situations, and the Giants’ effectiveness against Morris forced Mike and Kyle Shanahan to deviate from their game plan.

3. Bad bounces: During last season’s dramatic seven-game win streak, we saw the ball bounce the Redskins’ direction in all kinds of ways. You shook your head at plays saying, “Man, they’re living right.” One veteran player said that a number of times, things happened that really shouldn’t have happened in the luck department. But they did, and the Redskins were able to capitalize as players found themselves in the right places at the right times. This year, as London Fletcher said last night, “Yeah, that was last year. This year, we just can’t catch a break.” The Redskins are finding new ways to lose. There are wacky occurrences (all the special-teams gaffes come to mind), a lack of spectacular plays, frustrating second-effort production by opponents, fumbles, drops, miscommunications. One of the more perplexing incidents came late in the game where the Redskins thought they had gotten a first down. (Shanahan actually said one of the officials had told him he didn’t need a measurement because it was a first down. Although it’s not clear who said that, head linesman Phil McKinnely was seen waving the gang downward but then held up three fingers signaling third down, so he could’ve been the man at fault.) The chain gang on the Redskins’ side had switched the down marker, only to find out that the other officials had properly placed the ball just shy of the first down and set up a third down. Instead of first and 10, the Redskins faced third and one, and then came the fourth-and-one pass to Garcon, who lost the ball for a game-sealing turnover. When the Redskins need things to go their way, things simply are not. Their defense even gave them the ball at the Giants’ 12-yard line, and they couldn’t find a way to score a touchdown. Remember last season when Griffin took off on a run around the left end and as he got tackled downfield, he fumbled the ball right into the hands of Josh Morgan, who happened to be right there and ran the rest of the way for a touchdown in that win against the Giants? That just hasn’t happened this season. Cursed, snake-bitten, or just plain old ordinary with no special sauce at all — whatever it may be, the Redskins don’t have the “It” factor that good teams often have in addition to their quality play.

4. Costly drop: Some of the Redskins voiced their frustrations over the mix-up with the first down that wasn’t, and said that it impacted the play-calling and disrupted things. But really, it wouldn’t have been a factor if not for another dropped pass. On that first-down that actually was third and one, Griffin fired a pass down the center of the field to Fred Davis at the 30-yard line. Davis had both hands on it, but couldn’t hang on as he got hit by Antrel Rolle. Had Davis hung on for the catch, the Redskins would’ve been just 30 yards away from either tying the score with a touchdown, or winning it with a two-point conversion. That goes back to the crippling errors. The Redskins then found themselves back at their own 45, and facing slim odds. Not only was it costly for the Redskins, but that play could prove costly for Davis, who finally had an opportunity to prove himself capable of being a difference-maker either for Washington down the stretch, or for some other team next year. But rather than shine in the big moment, he fell short. At the same time, a Redskins offense that has found itself deficient in the big-play department once again missed a golden opportunity.

5. Griffin’s game: Want a consolation prize? Griffin demonstrated an ability to rebound from a couple of trying weeks. The second-year quarterback opened the game by completing his first 12 passes, tying a career best he set against Dallas on Thanksgiving of last year. He finished the game by completing 24 of 32 passes (season-high 75 percent) for a touchdown and no interceptions. He also ran the ball 12 times for a season-high 88 yards. Overall, Griffin did a better job of taking what the defense gave to him and finding holes in the coverage or going to his check-downs. There were a few missed opportunities downfield, and also some times in the second half when Griffin held onto the ball too long after the Giants started dropping more players into coverage. But overall, he had a strong game. His throw to Davis was a beautiful strike, but Davis couldn’t hold on. The Redskins have nothing but pride to play for now, but these games remain important for Griffin’s development. Against the Giants, he looked like the player from last season, and that will serve as cause for hope within the organization that this season was indeed a year of growing pains for the quarterback, and not a sign that he cannot be a complete NFL pocket-passer.

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.

What’s ahead:

● Mike Shanahan meets with reporters at 3 p.m.

More from The Post:

Game ends with confusion, controversy over what down it was

Early lead, late chances slip away in Redskins’ 24-17 loss

The Takeaway: A little progress, a lot of problems | Boswell: Another night to forget

On this night, Griffin was not part of the problem | Redskins’ miscues hurt

D.C. Sports Bog: Best and worst | Box score | Photo gallery from FedEx

The Takeaway video:

The Washington Post's Mike Jones analyzes what's in store for the Redskins when they take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. (Mike Jones & Sandi Moynihan/The Washington Post)
Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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Mike Jones · December 2, 2013