The setback featured the continuation of three disturbing trends for the Redskins.
First, it was their seventh straight loss at home; their last victory at FedEx Field coming in Week 2 of last season.
Second, Washington’s defense continued to give up yardage in big chunks, as the Bengals compiled six plays of 25 yards or longer. In three games combined, the Redskins have allowed opponents 13 plays of 25 or more yards, and Washington has allowed 10 passing touchdowns.
Finally, the injury bug that plagued the defense in the season’s first two weeks spread to the offense. Left tackle Trent Williams suffered a right knee injury two plays into the game, returned for a brief stretch in the second quarter, but returned to the sideline to stay after three third-quarter snaps. Williams said after the game he didn’t believe the injury was serious, but he will have an MRI exam on Monday to learn the full extent.
Those problems overshadowed another impressive performance by Griffin, who completed 21 of 34 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown and also rushed 12 times for a team-high 85 yards and another score.
“Like I’ve told you from Day 1, in order to win, especially with a young quarterback, you have to have a great defense and a great running game,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “That’s where it starts. There’s not a team in National Football League history that’s won without a great running game. . . . So we’re going to have to buckle up a bit, and we’ll come back.”
Washington fell behind 24-7 late in the second quarter before scoring 17 straight points to tie the score. The Redskins then gave up two quick touchdowns in the fourth quarter before a two-yard touchdown run by Griffin with 3 minutes 38 seconds left to play pulled them within seven.
On the ensuing onside kick, Washington touched the ball just before it traveled the required 10 yards, giving the ball to Cincinnati. But the defense held, and the Redskins got the ball back on their 2-yard line with just 1:47 left and no timeouts. Still they were able to drive to the Bengals 19 before a sack and penalties drove them backward 40 yards, ending their hopes.
“It’s always frustrating,” said Griffin, who was sacked six times for 53 yards and also fumbled while getting hit during a pitch. “But one thing we’re not going to ever do is stop fighting. I think it showed a lot of heart of the team, but the bottom line is we’ve got to come away with those victories.”
The Redskins gained 381 yards and for the third consecutive week scored at least 28 points, but their defense broke down repeatedly. The Bengals generated 478 yards of offense with Andy Dalton leading the way with 328 yards and three touchdowns passing, along with an interception.
The Redskins found themselves in a deficit just 17 seconds into the game, thanks to some trickery on the first play. Dalton split wide and receiver Mohamed Sanu lined up at quarterback in a Wildcat formation. Wide receiver A.J. Green lined up in the slot, then blew past safety DeJon Gomes before hauling in a pass from Sanu and streaking into the end zone for a 73-yard score.
The Redskins came out on offense and looked to establish the run game. Rookie Alfred Morris gained 10 yards off right tackle on the first play from scrimmage. On the next play, he picked up 12 yards to the left, but after the play, Williams lay on the turf writhing in pain.
Without Williams, the Redskins’ offense struggled through three series, punting after coming up short on plays of third and 12, third and seven and third and 19.
Washington’s first touchdown came from the defense. Following a 58-yard punt by Sav Rocca, the Redskins backed up Cincinnati to its 1-yard line. On second down, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan came untouched from the left and drilled Dalton as he let go of a swing pass intended for tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis. But the ball landed instead in the hands of linebacker Rob Jackson, who made a diving catch in the end zone for the first interception and touchdown of his career.
Coupled with last week’s 30-yard fumble return for a touchdown by cornerback Josh Wilson, the play gave Washington defensive touchdowns in consecutive games for the first time since 1994.
But from that point on, the defense offered few other highlights.
With Cincinnati facing second and 20 from the Washington 48 with 3:37 left in the first quarter, Wilson fell down attempting to cover wide receiver Armon Binns, who caught a pass from Dalton and raced untouched for a 48-yard touchdown.
The Bengals added a 47-yard field goal to stretch the advantage to 17-7. Cincinnati then forced Griffin to fumble deep in his own territory and extended its lead to 24-7 on a two-yard run by Green-Ellis with just more than three minutes left in the half.
Washington managed a 36-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff and trailed 24-10 at the break.
But the momentum suddenly shifted in the second half. On their first possession of the third quarter, the Redskins put together an 80-yard drive that culminated with a seven-yard touchdown run by Morris that cut the lead to 24-17.
After a three-and-out by Cincinnati, Washington got the ball at its 14, and Griffin completed a 23-yard pass to Leonard Hankerson. The Redskins then went to an option attack that featured Griffin, Morris and Brandon Banks on eight consecutive running plays as the Redskins marched down to the 3-yard line. Griffin hit Santana Moss in the front of the end zone, and Cundiff’s extra point tied the score at 24 with 3:34 left in the third quarter.
The Bengals went back to what had worked for them for much of the game, reclaiming the lead with a pass-heavy attack. Dalton first completed a six-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jermaine Gresham, and then threw a 59-yard strike to Andrew Hawkins to go up 38-24.
“You can’t give up big plays, one-play drives,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “They started the game off with a big-play touchdown out of that Wildcat formation, we gave up another touchdown on an all-out blitz, and we gave up another one late in the game. You give up big plays like that, it’s going to be tough to win games.”