The bye week that was supposed to cure so many ills for Washington seems to have benefited only Robert Griffin III — and not enough at that. Sunday night, Griffin and his teammates looked like they had never had the week off — although in fairness, lots of folks look that way after returning from vacation. We just don’t look it on national TV.
Griffin’s improved running was the highlight in an otherwise rerun-style 31-16 loss to the Cowboys. In fact, Griffin looked so much more mobile that I kept waiting for the close-up camera angle on his knee to see if the doctors and trainers had found him a smaller brace. But no, it appeared to be the same contraption he finds cumbersome, so if he managed to run so well — 77 yards is the total, but not the whole story – then that is a positive sign for his recovery.
Is it a positive sign for this team? Well, of course, and this team needs all the positive signs it can get. But the running game was supposed to benefit once Griffin was a threat to take off with the ball again. Instead, Alfred Morris struggled for everything he got — except the 45-yard touchdown run. That must have been a Shawshank moment for a guy who had been penned in most of the game.
The problem with the renaissance of Griffin’s leg is that it hasn’t yet spread to the rest of him, specifically his ol’ decision-maker. He’s still overthrowing receivers — it was strange to see him complete only 6 of 15 passes thrown Pierre Garcon’s way, like watching a friend’s marriage fall apart. You can tell something’s wrong, but what?
But his biggest problem isn’t when Griffin throws the ball, it’s when he doesn’t. He continues his habit of holding on to the ball too long at times. This is such a teachable moment it’s ridiculous, and yet it continues to happen. At the end of the first half, he waited to throw until the last minute — beyond the last minute, as it happened — and was hit pretty hard. He landed awkwardly on his right knee, then his head hit the ground with a thud. The good news for Washington was that he got up; the bad news was that the officials ruled he was down before he released the ball so the risk was all for naught.
That was telling but not costly. But the fourth quarter was a different story. Dallas had a 24-16 lead, but about 10 minutes remained, so the game wasn’t out of reach. On a second-and-19 play, Griffin again stood in the pocket and waited and waited for an open man — on his own 4-yard line. He was sacked and the ball was knocked loose. Dallas recovered and scored two plays later. On the next series, Griffin threw an interception at the Dallas 23. Then the game was out of reach.
In the first few weeks of the season, when Griffin was tentative and his footwork was almost nonexistent, it was natural for him to stand in the pocket and look for help. Sunday night, he was Fred Astaire compared with Weeks 1-4, and not just when he headed down the field (and out of bounds). Even in the pocket, he was moving, his footwork much more nimble than it’s been this season. And that’s a good sign in a 1-4 season in which good signs are few and far between.
Griffin’s fumble was costly, but compared withthe special teams play it was a thing of beauty and a joy forever. If this season were a Dr. Seuss book, it would called “Oh the Penalties You’ll See!” First, the sheer volume — 12 for 104 yards— is breathtaking. And the variety! On a punt, Washington was called for a five-yard illegal motion violation. No big deal, usually. But the Cowboys made them punt again, and Dwayne Harris went 86 yards for a touchdown the second time. During Harris’s run, Washington committed yet another violation — a 15-yarder for unsportsmanlike conduct after special teams coach Keith Burns blocked the path of the official down the sideline. Wow.
Missed tackles, inability to convert in the red zone (0 for 3) and poor special teams play — sound familiar? Washington dominated nearly every other statistical category — including third-down conversions — and lost by 15 points. The problem is not just Griffin, or Burns or injuries. The problem is everywhere, and the team is out of vacation days. The coaches will have to fix this on the fly if they hope to even make a little noise in the dreadful NFC East. That’s not much of a goal, but right now, this isn’t much of a team.
Quit looking for complex answers. As in a lot of horror stories, the call is coming from inside the house.
For more by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.
More on the Redskins:
Outsider: A closer look at the loss to Dallas
Photos: Scenes from AT&T Stadium