Redskins vs. Dolphins: Switch back to Rex Grossman yields same result

November 13, 2011

Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan made a surprise move Sunday, benching John Beck and returning to Rex Grossman as the team’s starting quarterback in an attempt to spark his struggling offense and snap a four-game losing streak.

It didn’t do the trick.

Washington managed to move the ball a little better, but still found touchdowns impossible to attain and fell, 20-9, to the Miami Dolphins , giving Shanahan the first five-game losing streak of his coaching career and the Redskins their first such skid since 2001.

“It’s the same thing each and every week,” wide receiver Jabar Gaffney lamented. “That’s what’s really, like, frustrating. We work on it, think we have it controlled and figured out. Then we come back out and we still have the same problems.”

Grossman, who was benched in Week 6 after a four-interception performance against the Philadelphia Eagles but who split first-team snaps with Beck in practice this week, threw two more interceptions to a Miami defense that entered the game with only two picks all year. He completed 21 of 32 passes for 215 yards, and the Redskins managed only 246 total yards on offense.

The Dolphins, who had only one victory this season, picked up consecutive wins for the first time since the beginning of the 2010 season. Paced by two rushing touchdowns from Reggie Bush, Miami topped Washington in every statistical category and improved to 2-7. The Dolphins became the fourth one-win team to defeat the Redskins this season.

Washington fell to 3-6 on the season after managing only 61 rushing yards.

With three offensive starters already out for the season, the Redskins started Sunday’s game without starting right tackle Jammal Brown and wideout Niles Paul, in addition to wide receiver Santana Moss.

“You go with more of an experienced guy that has dealt with these situations,” Shanahan said in explaining his switch to Grossman. “I didn’t want to put John in a situation where we had a number of guys down, and with his experience, especially over the last two weeks, I didn’t think that was the right thing to do.”

One of the topics of discussion among the Redskins’ defensive players this week was the need for them to help set up the team’s struggling offense with better field position so the play-maker-deficient unit would have an easier time scoring. The defense did just that twice in the first three quarters, but the offense couldn’t capitalize either time.

The first missed opportunity came late in the first quarter. Washington’s Graham Gano had missed a 50-yard field goal wide left, giving Miami the ball at the 40-yard line. But three plays later, Redskins defensive back Kevin Barnes picked off Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore’s third-and-31 pass and returned it to the 5-yard line.

But the offense actually went backwards from there. A one-yard Ryan Torain run was called back by a holding penalty on tight end Logan Paulsen and, after they were backed up to the 11-yard line, the Redskins only made it to the 8 before they had to settle for a Gano field goal.

Washington scored one more field goal in the half, but trailed 10-6 at halftime. Sunday marked the fifth straight game that the Redskins have failed to score a touchdown in the first half.

On the second play of the third quarter, rookie outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan got to Moore for his second sack and forced fumble of the game, and defensive end Stephen Bowen recovered at the Dolphins 24-yard line.

The Redskins picked up four yards on a reception by Torain, but on the next play another holding penalty — this time on left tackle Trent Williams — pushed Washington back to the 30. Grossman completed three straight passes to move the team to the 5-yard line, but his fade route to Fred Davis in the corner of the end zone led the tight end out of bounds, and on came Gano for another field goal, one that cut the score to 10-9.

The kicking duel continued, as Miami went 70 yards in 11 plays, but also had to settle for a field goal and went up 13-9.

“Two times we were down there, we had two holding calls. One obviously kept us from going in, the other one we had a chance,” Shanahan said. “But you got to make those plays.”

Two possessions later, the Redskins faced yet another golden opportunity, but in keeping with the theme of the game, blew their chances again.

Orchestrating the best drive of the game, Grossman got the ball at the Redskins 41 after a 22-yard punt return by Brandon Banks and moved the ball to the Dolphins 10-yard line. Grossman made his best throw of the day to get there, firing a 22-yard strike down the center of the field to rookie Leonard Hankerson, who had a career day with eight catches for 106 yards.

But on the very next play, Grossman threw his worst pass. He tried to force a throw over the middle to Hankerson on a crossing route, but Miami linebacker Karlos Dansby read the play perfectly and plucked the ball out of the air.

“I’ve got to be more careful with the ball, first down in the red zone, crucial point in the game,” said Grossman, who has thrown 11 interceptions in six games. “But at the same time, we hadn’t scored and I was trying to put one in there at a critical point in the game.”

Dansby returned the interception 14 yards to the Miami 19. Fueled by the clutch takeaway, Miami’s offense put together an authoritative 10-play, 81-yard scoring drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown run by Bush. Bush also scored from a yard out in the first quarter.

Washington inched into field goal range once more, but Gano — kicking into the wind again — missed from 49 yards out.

So Washington departs Miami having scored only 20 points in the last two weeks combined and averaging only 10.6 points during its five-game losing streak.

“We haven’t had a big play,” Grossman said. “We haven’t had that breakout play that gets you 60, 70 yards at a pop. Whether it’s running the ball or throwing the ball, we need more explosive plays, and our red-zone efficiency needs to be better.”

After the loss, Shanahan said he believed Grossman did well despite his two interceptions, the first of which came when Hankerson slipped on a pass route. But the coach wouldn’t say if Grossman would remain the starting quarterback.

“Well we’re still going to do the same thing” as last week,Shanahan said. “We’re going to look at the scenario, what gives us the best chance to win, and make the decision based on that.”

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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