After a loss in which everything went wrong, Redskins have no choice but to cling to hope

The Post’s Jason Reid analyzes what the Redskins will need to avoid another loss when they go up against the Detroit Lions next week. (The Washington Post)
Thomas Boswell
Columnist September 15, 2013

In front of the podium where Washington Coach Mike Shanahan would speak following his team’s putrid 38-20 loss to Green Bay on Sunday, there sat a single green folding chair. Next to it were two I.V. bags ready for an emergency infusion.

One of those “INFU-SURG 1000 ml” bags should be for the Washington offense that hasn’t scored a single first-half point as Washington fell behind 33-7 late in the third quarter of its first game and 31-0 at a similar juncture in this lopsided Lambeau Field debacle. There are relatively benign opening defeats that can be explained away or excused. And then there are starts to a season that make fans shudder. This is the latter.

Tom Boswell is a Washington Post sports columnist. View Archive

The other sack of intravenous fluid can be administered to the anemic and disoriented D.C. defense. These Packers become the first team in Green Bay’s long history to have a 400-yard passer and a 100-yard runner in the same game. But this record came with a telling twist. Aaron Rodgers, who ended with a franchise record-tying 480 yards passing and backup running back James Starks, who gained 132 yards on 20 carries, had their 400/100 game in the books before the third quarter was even over. That’s a stomping.

The Packers took such pity that they ended the game by kneeling three straight times at the 10-yard line. What honor could there be in breaking the Packer passing record against such a defense or for James Jones, a wide receiver who doesn’t start, to pad his 11 catches for 178 yards?

Against a bewildered backfield that included rookies Bacarri Rambo and David Amerson, and which was without safety Brandon Meriweather (injured again, concussion in the second quarter), what would be the challenge?

Washington could not cover or tackle any of the Pack’s five primary receivers. Jones had his 11 catches on just 12 targets, Randall Cobb had nine catches on 10 targets for 128 yards. Jermichael Finley had six catches on seven targets, Starks, four of five, and Jordy Nelson, three of four.

Two weeks into its season, Washington has no consolation as it looks at the 14 games remaining on the schedule. After being scorched by Michael Vick and the Eagles’ blitz-speed attack and — in Shanahan’s words — “embarrassed” by the Pack and Rodgers, at least Washington doesn’t have to face many more good quarterbacks on its tough schedule. After all, Washington was almost last in pass defense last year and may now be worse.

Let’s see, after Rodgers, Washington only has to face the immortal Peyton Manning at Denver, Super Bowl runner-up Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers, playoff star Matt Ryan of Atlanta, Vick (again), the Giants’ two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning (twice) and the Cowboys’ erratic but gifted Tony Romo (twice). There’s also Philip Rivers of the Chargers, Matthew Stafford of the Lions next week at FedEx Field and Jay Cutler of the tough Bears. None are slouches. Whatever’s busted must be fixed, not finessed.

So far, the only play Washington stops worse than the run is the pass. If every team still on the schedule picked up Tim Tebow as quarterback for a week, Washington might still have their hands full. In NFL history, Rodgers became only the second quarterback to throw for 480 yards, four-plus touchdowns and no interceptions. Y.A. Tittle did it to Washington in ’62.

“They got so many big chunks of yardage, just gouged out, and way too much yardage after the catch,” said nose tackle Barry Cofield. “You’ve got to look at yourself first. Against the Packers we knew we had to come in here and play our best if we were going to win. We weren’t even close. . . . It concerns me. Things like that [yardage total] just don’t happen. It’s not last year anymore. The seasons change. We have to do better.”

The shape of NFL seasons changes fast. Washington always had a tough schedule. But it was assumed the Redskins were a tough team themselves after their 7-0 run to an NFC East title, so nine or 10 wins seemed logical or at least plausible. Now, with new data, is that still true?

“Football is a momentum game. The NFL is a momentum league,” said Cofield. “Right now, we’re having problems in all parts of the game at the same time. Nobody is doing anything positive.”

The only good spin is that when NFL momentum changes, teams that look worms, like Washington at 3-6 last year, can sometimes molt into a 7-0 beauties.

Because the season is so long, but also because his team has looked truly awful so far, Shanahan has little choice but to defend his players behind coach double talk. The Redskins play the Lions at home and sad Oakland on the road. That’s as manageable a path to 2-2 as any.

But it’s still fascinating to watch Shanahan, who isn’t fooled by much in his football universe, as he tries to keep a straight face doing his post-disaster vamp: Are-you-going-to-believe-me-or-your-lying-eyes? For Shanny, the key point is to focus on the disproportionate importance of “converting third downs.” You see, his team can’t do it; but the other teams have. He makes it sound like a little problem. It’s about as bad as it gets.

The first 10 times the Packers faced third or fourth down, they gained 106 yards including two touchdown passes. The first seven times the Redskins faced third down, they gained a total of two yards. Yes, two. By then, the score was 31-0.

Third (and fourth) downs tell the truth about both a team’s talent and coaching. Every team uses its best midnight-oil plays then to keep the ball. It’s the core of strategy. What information does this game give? On third downs, with their best talent trying to execute their best ideas, the Redskins gained almost nothing. On third downs, the Packers gained whatever yardage they needed with ease and often much more due to blown tackles.

“Last week it was turnovers (that hurt the offense). This time we can’t really put our finger on what it is. That’s the frustrating part,” said quarterback Robert Griffin III, who had big garbage-time stats for the second straight week (320 yards, three touchdowns). “We had sloppy execution in the first half of both games.”

The Redskins looked so bad that teammates actually asked Griffin to be more critical of them as motivation. “Be the stern leader — if they want me to be hard on them, I’ll be hard on them,” said Griffin.

Actually, RGIII may not have to worry about that. After these stinkers, a few million Washington fans, now in full wail, can probably handle that job.

For more columns by Thomas Boswell, go to washingtonpost.com/boswell.

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