“I’ve never had that in my coaching career, to have two guys go out in pregame,” Coach Mike Shanahan said. “Luckily it was more than the hour and a half before you put in the 46 [active] players.”
Yes, this is what passes for luck for the Redskins. Imagine the pregame speech: “Let’s get ’em — but be careful out there, and if you get hurt in pregame warm-ups, please do so before the league-mandated deadline to submit our list of 46 active players! Now go! But gently!”
The St. Crispin’s Day speech it ain’t.
Yet somehow, after four quarters, all was well again in Burgundy and Gold Land (formerly known as Maroon and Black Estates). You can chalk up Billy Cundiff’s winning 41-yard field goal to talent and execution if you want, but after going o-fer in three tries, deep down you know better. (I’ll give him a skate on the 57-yarder, but the other two? Definitely makeable. And when he misses, boy, does he miss.)
So Cundiff goes from goat to hero, one of America’s favorite transformations. (Goat to water buffalo? Not so much.) The real hero, of course, was — wait for it, you’ll never guess — Robert Griffin III, who in one minute 42 seconds calmly marched the Skins down the field into Cundiff’s range (or what everyone thought might be Cundiff’s range). Note the “calmly.” Griffin may have been having hysterics on the inside, but he looked as cool as the underside of the pillow. This cannot be emphasized enough: He has played in a total of four NFL games. This guy is so money.
I said, after Week 1, that at least the Redskins would be watchable this season, and with one quarter of it gone, they have proven that to be true. They should have won the St. Louis game, and they could have won the Cincinnati game. And somehow, they did win the Tampa Bay game. Mercy me, though, don’t they give you the vapors doing it?
The Redskins were more circumspect in their use of Griffin on Sunday, which was wise. In return, he proved that he can throw the ball with accuracy and that fellow rookie Alfred Morris is increasingly capable of handling the bulk of the running chores. The offensive line was again better than expected (though not as awesome as the Fox TV announcers made it out to be). The defense? Well, the defense was more of the same.
It helped that the Redskins were playing the Bucs, which came into the game with the worst secondary in the league. Griffin took advantage of that for 323 yards and a 102.4 quarterback rating. Pierre Garcon’s return was a boon largely because he fell on Griffin’s fumble in the end zone for the Redskins’ first touchdown. (His two late penalties, including the inexcusable unnecessary roughness flag, were not a boon. Shanahan’s doghouse is going to need bunk beds at this rate.)
On the negative side, the secondary gave up 293 passing yards, and two Bucs receivers had 100-plus-yard days — despite the fact that quarterback Josh Freeman was pretty dreadful in the first two-plus quarters of the game.
And what’s with the challenges? Last week, the Redskins’ brain trust challenged that touchback ruling against the Bengals. It was clear from television that it was a touchback, even before CBS had time to show the replay from five angles. After that, it was a no-brainer: Don’t challenge. And yet there went the red flag, and the Redskins lost their final timeout. That was crucial to their eventual loss.
Sunday, it was the challenge of the ball placement in the fourth quarter. Griffin had gone out of bounds and again, it was clear he was short of the first-down marker. Replays confirmed it. Shanahan isn’t basing his challenges on “rock-paper-scissors” with Danny Smith. There are guys upstairs with TVs who are advising him. Yet again, there came the red hankie. And again, there went a timeout. It wasn’t crucial at the end of the game, but two arrows in the quiver are better than one. (Archery metaphor courtesy of every movie and TV show playing. At least we’re off vampires.)
And the Redskins are off their two-game losing streak. It wasn’t pretty. I wouldn’t expect pretty this season. But Griffin was great in Week 1, and he’s getting better each week. The coaching staff is getting better at using him in creative but non-lethal ways. The defense, however, still needs work. And so, too, do the pregame warm-ups, which should also be non-lethal.