Robert Griffin III started it, rest of the Redskins are finishing

Robert Griffin III led the Washington Redskins to a 27-20 victory over the struggling Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Griffin returned after being held out of last week’s game because of a right knee sprain. (The Washington Post)
Jason Reid
Columnist December 23, 2012

What Robert Griffin III created is no longer only about Griffin. After the star rookie quarterback showed that great things are possible, the Washington Redskins evolved into a single-minded, 53-man force that expects success. And now that the Redskins are only one step away from completing a stunning season-closing revival, they’re making believers of their fans, too.

Griffin returned to the lineup Sunday afternoon and Washington extended its winning streak to six games with a 27-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles here. Griffin, who sat out last week’s win over Cleveland because of a knee injury, tossed two touchdown passes against the Eagles, but clearly wasn’t at his big-play best wearing a bulky knee brace and apparently icing his right knee between series.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

But Griffin’s teammates have provided strong support throughout the streak and delivered again against the last-place Eagles.

Alfred Morris (91 yards rushing, one touchdown) continued to carry would-be tacklers while handling the bulk of the work in the running game. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, obviously recognizing Griffin’s limitations, didn’t call the usual assortment of snazzy option plays that have enabled Griffin to terrorize opposing defenses in a season that should end with his being selected as the NFL’s top rookie on offense.

Instead, Washington operated a more traditional, pro-style offense. The Redskins had to work harder to score than they’ve been accustomed to, but Morris was a difference-making workhorse, as usual. Washington’s receivers ran great routes and blocked as if a playoff berth could be on the line.

The defense was no less impressive. For the fifth time in six games, the Redskins collected at least two turnovers. The pass rush, much improved during the run, produced five sacks and pressured Eagles rookie quarterback Nick Foles from start to finish, forcing an interception and a fumble. The Eagles squandered scoring opportunities and their final drive stalled at the Redskins 5-yard line as time expired.

Washington has its longest winning streak during the regular season since it reeled off seven consecutive victories from Weeks 2 to 9 in the 1996 season. The Redskins (9-6) have rallied from a 3-6 start to move into sole possession of first place in the NFC East. There are no secrets behind this turnaround. It’s just an inspired group effort.

“To win down the stretch, to win the way we have, it takes much more than one guy, no matter how talented he is,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “RG has been playing at one level all year. And the moment that everyone else picked it up, the moment that we caught up with him, that’s when we started winning. That’s what you’ve been seeing and that’s what you saw today.”

Record-setting kicker

Of all the unexpected developments during the streak, perhaps none is more surprising than place kicker Kai Forbath’s run of perfection. He just can’t miss, or at least he hasn’t so far.

Forbath connected from 45 and 42 yards in the first half to improve to 17 for 17 on field goals. In the process, he set an NFL mark for most consecutive field goals at the beginning of a career. Garrett Hartley of the New Orleans Saints was successful on his first 16 attempts.

The Redskins hoped Forbath, signed after an open tryout in Week 6, would be a little steadier than the wildly inconsistent Billy Cundiff, who got the boot after missing 5 of 12 attempts in Washington’s first five games. Coach Mike Shanahan and Danny Smith, the Redskins’ special teams coordinator, received much more than they could have ever envisioned from Forbath, who quickly emerged as one of the team’s top weapons on offense. That’s saying a lot on a team that has Griffin and Morris.

For Forbath, it has been a straight-line climb to the top of the record books. He nailed a 50-yarder on his first attempt and has inspired confidence in his teammates each time Shanahan signals for the field goal unit.

As a junior at UCLA in 2009, Forbath won the Lou Groza Award, which is given to the nation’s top kicker. But he went undrafted and struggled to find a home in the NFL. Clearly, he has one now.

Young at heart

In his 15th season, inside linebacker London Fletcher, 37, has started every game despite battling injuries that would have sidelined many younger players. He has played in 239 straight games — the NFL’s longest active mark — and also is building another impressive streak.

Fletcher has interceptions in the Redskins’ past three games. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, showing that it takes much more than speed to play well in pass coverage.

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett raves about Fletcher’s instincts in coverage. Fletcher is also still pretty good against the run, as shown by his ranking among the league leaders in tackles again.

Ray Lewis leads active linebackers with 31 career interceptions. No. 2 on the list? Fletcher, who has 23.

With Fletcher leading the way, Redskins linebackers have nine interceptions. That’s the most the team’s linebackers have produced since they totaled nine in 1991. It’s not surprising that Fletcher would be at the front of the line. It’s a position he has occupied for a long, long time.

Still effective

You know a quarterback is off-the-charts great when he finishes with a 102.4 passer rating in only a so-so performance. It’s just an indication of how spectacular Griffin has been since his smashing season debut against New Orleans.

Griffin completed 67 percent of his passes and teamed with Josh Morgan and Santana Moss on touchdowns. Obviously not fully recovered from the injury he suffered in Week 14 against Baltimore, Griffin ran only twice for four yards (but still leads all quarterbacks with 752 yards rushing).

Griffin’s running, and the threat of his running, are a big part of the Redskins’ attack. If he’s not right physically, it could hurt the Redskins against an opponent better than the hapless Eagles, who have lost 10 of 11.

The takeaway

It’s all there for the Redskins if they beat Dallas next week: A playoff berth, the NFC East title and the first playoff game at FedEx Field since the 1999 season. So this is what happens when the right guy finally arrives and teaches everyone else what it takes to actually win.

For columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

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