Redskins vs. Eagles: Special teams are a major problem in Washington’s 34-10 loss

January 1, 2012

PHILADELPHIA — The mix-up, apparently, started when Washington Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman could not hear the entirety of a play call from offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. It came at the end of the first half, when Sunday’s 34-10 blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was still very much a game, and the exchange was almost comical.

When Grossman completed his final throw of the half over the middle — instead of throwing to the end zone or chucking it away, as the coaches’ truncated message would have conveyed — Nick Sundberg, the long snapper, thought he was supposed to go onto the field for a hurry-up field goal on fourth down. Yet when he arrived, starting center Will Montgomery was standing over the ball, with his hand on the ball.

“I heard people yelling, ‘Spike!’ ” Sundberg said. “I knew it was fourth down, but it just created a bunch of confusion. I turned around to run off thinking that I’d made a mistake instead of just trusting myself, and it cost us.”

The mess meant the Redskins didn’t even attempt a field goal before the clock expired, but it was just a small slice of a disastrous day on special teams that contributed significantly to Washington’s 11th loss of the season. The Redskins punted poorly. They had their fifth field goal of the season blocked. They committed a pair of penalties on a punt return, including one by special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander.

“Very weird,” Sundberg said.

The uneven special teams play started from the very first time they lined up to punt after an opening three-and-out series. Sav Rocca, the former Eagle who spent a largely successful first season in Washington, dropped the ball to his foot.

“But it was a bit breezy out there,” Rocca said. The ball ended up on the outside of his foot, a 22-yard shank that gave the Eagles the ball in Washington territory. They needed to drive 31 yards to kick a 35-yard field goal and take a 3-0 lead.

That was part of a day in which Rocca averaged just 36.6 yards per kick, and the Redskins netted just 30.2 yards in net punting — both their second-worst numbers of the season.

“I feel like I kind of fell off the last three or four games,” Rocca said.

In the second quarter, Grossman threw three straight incompletions after the Redskins reached the Philadelphia 18. Still, place kicker Graham Gano had a seemingly easy 36-yard field goal.

Gano had made his last 13 kicks over four games. Rocca barely got the snap down, but “I thought I hit it well,” Gano said. It didn’t matter, because Eagles defensive lineman Derek Landri completely overwhelmed Redskins offensive lineman Tyler Polumbus, who was playing right guard on the place-kicking team.

The resulting block not only meant the Redskins went without a score — one of three trips to the red zone in which they came up with all of three points — but it led to Gano getting drilled as he tried to tackle Philadelphia’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who scooped up the ball. The kicker sat at his locker after the game with his right ankle heavily wrapped and his back iced, right where Philadelphia lineman Jason Babin had kneed him. Of the 10 field goals he missed on the year, half were blocked.

“I think we actually had seven blocked, but two of them went in,” Gano said. “It’s frustrating.”

Coach Mike Shanahan said he had never seen a team have five field goals blocked in a season. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen three,” he said.

And all that set up the confusion at the end of the half.

“I wasn’t sure exactly what we were doing,” Montgomery said.

An apt description of an entire day of special teams futility.

Barry Svrluga is the national baseball writer for The Washington Post.
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