Rookie running back Alfred Morris entered the game seeking his fourth 100-yard rushing performance of the season. Instead he was held to 59 yards on 13 carries by the Steelers, whose defense ranks fourth in the NFL against the run.
Meanwhile, Griffin’s watered-down collection of pass-catchers experienced little success against a defense that entered the game first in the league against the pass.
But the lack of execution in the passing game wasn’t entirely a result of Pittsburgh’s fierce defense. The Redskins had eight uncontested drops and two more forced drops. The Redskins’ receivers, tight ends and running backs combined for just 16 receptions for 177 yards on 35 targets.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve had a game like this, relative to that many opportunities that you didn’t take advantage of when guys were open. I was disappointed,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “I don’t care where the placement is. As long as it hits your hands, you better catch it or else you won’t be in the National Football League for very long.”
Late in the first quarter, receiver Leonard Hankerson blew a chance for a touchdown. He had his man beat on a crossing pattern, and a pass from Griffin hit him perfectly at the 3-yard line. But the second-year pro let the ball bounce off his hands and land in the grass.
“Not making any excuses. We didn’t play our best game,” said Hankerson, who had one catch on four targets. “Us receivers, pretty much the whole team, we put the ball on the ground the whole time, and we didn’t make any of the plays we normally make.”
Later in the game, Dezmon Briscoe ran a slant into the end zone and Griffin hit him in stride, but cornerback Keenan Lewis stripped him of the ball to prevent the score. Late in the second quarter, Evan Royster, Josh Morgan and Moss dropped passes on consecutive plays to force a three-and-out.
The Redskins’ butterfingers did not improve in the second half. A steady rain fell throughout the game, but it didn’t appear to affect the Steelers, who had 24 catches on 33 targets for 222 yards and three touchdowns.
Morgan said that weather was a factor, however,
“Just a bad-weather game. Wet ball, wet gloves. It makes your job 10 times harder,” said Morgan, who caught five of the eight passes that went his way for 46 yards. “But as a pro, you’re expected to make every catch and every throw. I’m not worried about the drops. I know we all have good hands. I know all these fans, everybody out here are expecting us to make every play. But you can’t make every play. Robert’s not going to make every throw. Alfred’s not going to break every run for 100 yards. We’re all human out there and make mistakes, and we just have to overcome it.”
Royster didn’t want to use rain as an excuse, though.
“It was just lack of concentration. We’ve all played in rain before, and that was really not a factor,” he said. “We just took our eyes off the ball and didn’t really look it in.”
Shanahan agreed with Royster, saying, “They had the same weather as we did, so I definitely don’t attribute it to weather.”
Void of explosive threats, the Redskins used a number of gadget plays to attempt to move the ball, running a reverse, a couple of fake reverses, a receiver pass and a flea-flicker. But none paid off for Washington, as overthrows and good defensive reads prevented Washington from producing any significant gains.
Morgan did rush for nine yards on a game-opening end-around, and one fake reverse led to Griffin finding Paulsen wide open for a 31-yard completion. But when Griffin flipped the ball to Morgan on another play and went out as a receiver, the pass fell incomplete. Morgan tried to hang the ball up into the air so Griffin could run under it, but the quarterback had to slow up, and he pushed off a defender to draw an offensive pass interference call.
Griffin finished the game with a season-low 46 percent of his passes completed and a passer rating of 72.8 (also the worst in his eight regular season games). But Shanahan didn’t lay any blame for the dropped balls at his quarterback’s feet.
“I thought he played well coming into this environment,” he said of Heinz Field, where the Steelers have won 10 of their last 11 regular season games. “But he’s got to have some help.”
Griffin refused to criticize his teammates.
“It’s just about execution, and whether you have a drop or a bad play here or there, they have to know that I’m going to come back to them, because these are the guys I have to play with,” he said. “If I make a bad pass, the coaches aren’t going to stop calling pass plays. I have to go out there and make a good play throwing the ball. I think that’s the main thing you tell them, that I’m going to come back to them no matter what happens, and I need them to make plays for me.”