BALTIMORE — With his starting offense struggling through the first half of Saturday’s preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens, managing a lone field goal in five possessions, Washington Redskins Coach Jay Gruden brought quarterback Robert Griffin III back for more work.
It only got worse, with Griffin throwing an interception to open the third quarter.
Four plays later, Baltimore padded its lead with a 21-yard field goal.
And Griffin’s night was done, with the franchise quarterback compiling a mound of grim statistics — three sacks, one interception and no touchdowns — that equated to a 27.1 passer rating.
Baltimore rolled on for a 23-17 victory in front of an announced 70,876 at M&T Bank Stadium, the second-largest preseason crowd in Ravens history.
Backup Kirk Cousins (14 of 20, for 122 yards) took over with the Redskins trailing 13-3, and, working against Baltimore’s second-team defense, engineered a 13-play drive capped by an 11-yard touchdown throw to Santana Moss that pared the deficit to 13-10.
Late in the fourth quarter, Cousins marched the Redskins 80 yards for another touchdown, connecting with Nick Williams on the seven-yard strike.
Saturday’s third preseason game was the equivalent of a dress rehearsal.
The defense had several impressive stands. Lineman Jason Hatcher, the key defensive pickup in the offseason, made his 6-foot-6, 299-pound presence felt in his debut. Working on the right end of the line, Hatcher flew in for a sack of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco less than eight minutes into the proceedings; he looked healed from knee surgery in June.
But the showing by Washington’s first-team offense was calamitous.
Of the six drives Griffin engineered, two were three-and-outs. One ended with a sack; another with an interception.
Through three preseason games, the first-team offense has yet to score a touchdown.
Nonetheless, Gruden said he doesn’t intend to play his starters in Thursday’s fourth and final preseason game. Their next outing will be the Sept. 7 season opener in Houston — and with no changes in the starting lineup, presumably.
“Not a lot of good things happened for our offense,” Gruden said. “But we’re not going to panic and abort ship. We’re going to keep working and get better and get ready for Houston.”
Griffin finished 5 of 8 for 20 yards. His longest completion was seven yards. He lost 15 yards on the three sacks. The interception came on a pass meant for running back Alfred Morris, who was blanketed by defenders. With a tip, Baltimore’s C.J. Mosley grabbed it and ran it back to the Washington 9.
“The offense goes as I go,” Griffin said, “so personally I have to play better. We shot ourselves in the foot too many plays; had too many mistakes. But whenever we can get 11 guys working in the same direction, we’re going to be something special.”
Asked about Griffin’s readiness, Gruden said: “Everybody is going to point to Robert, I’m sure. But really it was a total team thing. We had some chances for some plays, and we didn’t make ’em. Nobody played good enough in that first half to really talk about of note.
“There is a lot of correcting to do, and we’ll do it.”
Saturday’s game didn’t only give Washington’s starters their longest competitive test; it gave them their most formidable.
Baltimore has missed the playoffs just once in the past six seasons.
And the Ravens’ vaunted defense was more than the Redskins’ starters could handle, even with their top three cornerbacks sidelined.
The Redskins’ defense gave up a 23-yard passing play to start, with Brian Orakpo missing a tackle. But Washington clamped down when it mattered. Linebacker Keenan Robinson made a terrific open-field tackle for a stop on a fourth and 1 near midfield.
Taking over at midfield, Washington surged 19 yards on a carry by Morris. Griffin’s first throw, to DeSean Jackson, was intercepted but negated by a Baltimore penalty that advanced the Redskins to the Baltimore 10.
And yet again, the first-team offense screeched to a halt in the red zone. Morris gained a single yard on two carries. And Griffin, fielding a high snap, couldn’t find an open receiver and took off running to his right. His stiff-arm did little to hold off the rush, and he didn’t so much slide as crumple on the sideline, sacked for a six-yard loss.
Kai Forbath salvaged the possession with a 32-yard field goal to put Washington (2-1) ahead 3-0.
Washington’s second offensive possession was a three-and-out that ended with Griffin lunging on his own fumbled snap. He recovered, but Washington was forced to punt.
Terrific play by cornerback David Amerson and defensive end Jarvis Jenkins held Baltimore scoreless on its next series. Amerson broke up a would-be touchdown throw in the corner of the end zone, and Jenkins had the tackle on another unsuccessful fourth-and-one attempt.
Again, Washington’s first-team offense couldn’t get anything going. Another Griffin scramble on third down fell short.
Baltimore’s Justin Tucker kicked a 36-yard field goal in the second quarter, the drive aided by a 15-yard penalty against safety Brandon Merriweather for a helmet-to-helmet hit.
Griffin took a shot at Jackson to open the fourth series, but the roughly 50-yard throw fell incomplete. Griffin was later sacked a second time, for a loss of five, and the only encouraging play — a reception that tackle-busting tight end Jordan Reed stretched for a first down — was negated by a holding call on Trent Williams.
Washington’s fifth series was like Groundhog Day: another quick outing that ended with Griffin scanning the field for an open receiver as Baltimore’s pass rushers enveloped him in a heap.
Flacco, by contrast, had found his passing rhythm and moved the Ravens crisply down field, capping an eight-play drive with a 24-yard touchdown throw to 14-year NFL veteran Steve Smith, as Redskins cornerback E.J. Biggers stumbled in pursuit.
Flacco finished with a passer rating of 107.2, having completed 16 of 23 throws for 180 yards . Sacked twice, he threw for one touchdowns and had no interceptions.
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