The win was important for a number of reasons. The team had seen potential game-winning drives come up short in each of their last two games, and finally proved itself capable of coming through in the clutch. That drive will do a lot for the Redskins’ confidence, and gives them a sense of accomplishment as they end the first quarter of the season on a positive note and with a .500 record.
The next four games feature the 4-0 Atlanta Falcons, the Minnesota Vikings, the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Wins will be hard to come by during that stretch, so a loss to Tampa Bay would have put Washington’s hopes of putting together a respective record.
Here are five observations from last night’s win.
1.) Robert Griffin III is clutch — You knew the kid was talented, and he had shown he was capable of moving the ball late in games. But what Griffin did against the Buccaneers under extreme pressure — with the radio in his helmet having gone out, the game on the line, only one time out (which was needed for a field goal try) – was impressive. Running the Redskins’ no-huddle offense and calling plays on his own, Griffin moved his team right downfield. He completed three consecutive passes, and then ripped off a 15-yard run and spiked the ball. Kory Lichtensteiger jumped offsides, moving the ball back five yards, but Griffin remained calm (teammates said he acted just like he did on the opening possession of the game) and completed a seven-yard pass to Santana Moss in the middle of the field, setting Cundiff up for a 41-yard field goal. In addition to that poise, Griffin put up impressive numbers again, completing 26 of 35 passes for 323 yards, and rushing for 43 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. The other aspect about his performance that stood out was, after running a lot of option plays and shot-gun and pistol formation schemes in the first three games, Griffin got the job done in a more traditional-style offense. He looked just as comfortable in that attack as he did running the schemes that the Redskins implemented from his Baylor days. You keep thinking that eventually, Griffin will have a rookielike performance. But not yet.
2.) Maturity from Williams — In the past two years, Trent Williams has suffered knee injuries and gone on to miss two games both times. He was in bad shape this week. He could barely move even on pre-practice warmup jogs. He even said Friday that he couldn’t have played that day. Williams wasn’t moving much better Sunday morning, but he said he felt like he owed it to his team, to the city of Washington and to his quarterback to play. He felt like he needed to play if he is indeed to take the next step in his development and play like a true franchise left tackle. “I told my coach, I felt like I needed a full 16-game season under my belt for me to be what this team needs,” Williams said. And Williams came out and played the entire game, and at first glance at a high level. As Coach Mike Shanahan said, the performance told him a lot about Williams. He may have finally come of age.
3.) Morris thrives — Mike Shanahan felt like he found a diamond in the rough in Alfred Morris — the sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic — and each week, Morris makes Shanahan look like a very smart man. He put up 113 yards and a touchdown on the Buccaneers defense that through three games had allowed only 142 yards total. He averaged 5.4 yards a carry and continued to show an ability to pick up yards after contact. The Redskins are gradually putting together the building blocks of a winning offense with a franchise quarterback, left tackle, playmaking receivers and now, a workhorse running back. Interesting note, although the Donovan McNabb experiment failed miserably, the Redskins got a sixth-round pick for him from Minnesota. What’d they do with that pick? They spent it on Morris. So, McNabb gave the Redskins something after all.
4.) Garcon’s impact — The wide receiver made his return from injury and had only one catch for 20 yards on two targets. But he helped his team in other ways. He recovered Griffin’s fumble at the goal line for a touchdown, he commanded attention from the defense, and teammates like Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan often ran free underneath, making big key grabs to move the change. Garcon also gave the Redskins a physical blocker. He committed two penalties (offensive pass interference and unnecessary roughness), but he disputed the second. If his foot can heal completely in the coming week or two, his impact will be felt at a larger scale.
5.) Concern on defense, special teams remains — Redskins strong safety Brandon Meriweather again injured his left knee without even playing a game. This time he collided with Aldrick Robinson in the injury pregame. Meriweather would’ve made his season debut, but instead will have an MRI on his knee and could miss more time. It’s not good news for a secondary that continues to struggle to slow teams. The Redskins did do much better against Tampa Bay as a whole. Through the better part of three quarters, they avoided giving up any big plays or a passing touchdown. Then they fell apart. By the time the game ended, Tampa Bay had two 100-yard receivers. For the first time all season, the Redskins avoided letting a quarterback pass for 300 yards or more (Freeman had 299 passing yards). But the defensive backs remained frustrated. A surly DeAngelo Hall, who had an interception, said the performance from the secondary was just average, and that they have to do better. Madieu Williams also was annoyed by his unit’s inability to put together a complete performance. The Redskins know that their struggles against the league’s worst-ranked offense aren’t a good sign. Next week they face the high-powered Atlanta Falcons, led by Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones. As far as special teams go, Billy Cundiff came through in the final seconds of the game, but his three misses — the 41-yarder and 31-yarder in particular — are disturbing. He says he still needs to get his timing with Sav Rocca and Justin Snow down. That was the problem on the first miss, and on the 31-yard miss, Cundiff said, “I just choked.” That’s not good. The Redskins’ instability at this position continues. Can Cundiff tighten things up and do better from here on out? Or is this going to be an ongoing problem?