“We’ve got a lot of problems, obviously,” said wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who will notice himself on a few of those drops when the team gathers Monday morning to watch film.
On this night, though, the problems didn’t include quarterback Robert Griffin III.
He is the face of the team, and so often this season he has shouldered the many burdens of a season gone sideways. Griffin can’t possibly be blamed for this loss, and if anything, he gave Washington a chance to redeem itself on national television — and himself a chance to curb a season-long narrative that he is among the team’s biggest problems.
Instead, Washington’s fourth consecutive loss underscored that Griffin is hardly the only — or biggest — reason for his team’s nightmare 2013.
He has struggled, sure, but has done so during a season that has been impossible to fix because, week after week, the responsibility lies somewhere different.
It’s the special teams sometimes, or turnovers, and then the running game can’t stockpile yards, and after that the coaches’ ineffective game plan.
And, yes, it has occasionally been Griffin, whose confidence has surpassed his right knee as the reason his second NFL season has been so different from his first.
On Sunday night, Washington’s quarterback threw no interceptions and established season highs in rushing attempts and yards, passing for 207 yards and finishing with a passer rating above 100 for only the fourth time this season.
He was efficient, completing 16 of 17 passes in the first half, and led his team to a 14-0 lead. Washington entered the game with the dimmest of chances of making the playoffs, but if there was going to be a time for Griffin to re-earn the belief in his abilities and quiet critics and hush the consternation in his own locker room, this was it.
Instead, Garcon kicked a ball in the end zone, making place kick Kai Forbath’s field goal five yards more difficult. Long snapper Kyle Nelson, signed in October after Nick Sundberg suffered a season-ending knee injury, grounded a snap to punter Sav Rocca, who barely got the ball away.
Garcon and tight end Fred Davis had crucial drops in the fourth quarter.
“You can’t stop yourself,” Coach Mike Shanahan said, repeatedly using the word “disappointing” when describing a game that could’ve gone differently.
This time, the game plan favored Griffin, who has been asked often this season to bail his team out with quick, thoughtful reads and deep passes.
This isn’t his strength, or isn’t yet at this point in his career, and finally, it seemed, Shanahan and his offensive staff had figured that out.
So it was in Washington’s 12th game, in front of a crowd that seemed to have begun looking toward 2014, that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan tailored an attack using quick reads, short passes and low-pressure check-downs.
This is what coaches do to settle a young quarterback’s nerves, often early in careers or seasons. After the young passer establishes rhythm, then the plan grows more complicated — but only after a foundation of confidence has been built.
On Sunday, Griffin showed little panic, and he displayed rare poise in the pocket. He didn’t throw an incomplete pass until 5 minutes 4 seconds remained in the second quarter, and by then, he was flinging deep passes and giving his team a chance to score.
Then the mistakes began, and perhaps no possession symbolized this season better than the Redskins’ final series. Needing a touchdown to tie, Washington made errors and was the victim of a controversial play that will be discussed often this week — but wouldn’t have mattered at all if the Redskins had just gotten out of their own way.
Tight end Logan Paulsen dropped a pass on first down, and after a seven-yard pass on the next play, Garcon dropped another before the team converted on fourth down.
Later, the officials on the chain crew incorrectly signaled first down, when it was third down, and Griffin fired a deep pass toward Davis, which he dropped. Griffin then completed a first-down pass to Garcon, who had the ball stripped.
As this one, the latest one, came to an end, all Griffin could do was stand and watch.