The Washington Redskins get a day to savor the dramatic victory they earned over the Minnesota Vikings at FedEx Field Sunday night. And what a win it was.
The team managed to snap its eight-game home losing streak, but more importantly, the Redskins got a much-needed victory before beginning a tough, two-game road stretch. The victory kept the Redskins relevant in the NFC East, where the Giants own a 4-2 record, the Eagles – like Washington – are 3-3, and the Cowboys are 2-3. The Redskins head to New York this coming week, so getting a win under their belt in advance of what figures to be a tough test was extremely important.
Here are five observations from Sunday’s game:
1.) Griffin dazzles again – He’s only six games into his NFL career, but Robert Griffin III is making a strong case that he is one of the most electrifying players in the NFL. Showing not an ounce of fear the week after he was knocked out of the game with a concussion, Griffin made plays with his arm and with his legs and did what big-time players do: Make plays when they need to be made. After a slow start, Griffin led his team on a 17-0 scoring run in the second quarter, and commanded another scoring drive in the third. For a few minutes in the fourth quarter, it appeared as if the Redskins would let another game slip away. As the Vikings cut the lead to five with more than three minutes left on the clock, fans at FedEx Field began holding their breath, beat writers began scrambling to find ways to re-write their stories – from a Redskins win to a collapse – and then Griffin ripped off the biggest play of his young career with a 76-yard touchdown run on third-and-6. Redskins players said it again last night: with Griffin on their side, they always have a chance. It’s been a long time since the Redskins have been able to deliver a knockout punch, and Griffin did just that, surprising his teammates and fans once again. London Fletcher giggled at the podium when asked about the star quarterback. The usually stoic Santana Moss let down his guard after the game and grinned while admitting that he didn’t even watch the end of Griffin’s touchdown run. He saw him turn the corner and dash upfield and said he turned to the Vikings bench and said, “Yeah, take that!”
2.) Haslett pushing buttons – Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has lost top pass-rusher Brian Orakpo, one of his top run-stoppers in Adam Carriker, and his anticipated starting strong safety in Brandon Meriweather. The coach has spent the last three weeks experimenting with ways to help his unit mask its deficiencies and overcome those injuries. Sunday, Haslett was at his best, mixing and matching personnel, drawing up stunts that confused the Vikings and making adjustments on the fly. Early on, the Vikings moved the ball at will, and Haslett made tweaks in the red zone and forced the visitors to settle for three field goals. In the second quarter, thanks to the Redskins’ aggressive attack and improved tackling, the Vikings mustered only 14 yards. Washington finally got pressure on the quarterback, and never surrendered a big-gain passing play. Haslett’s creativity was evident in the packages that featured special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander as a pass-rusher, and the “One-man Gang” led the team with 1.5 sacks. Determined to get the most out of the players at his disposal, the defensive coordinator used Alexander on 27 of the 81 defensive snaps, Rob Jackson on 42, rookie Keenan Robinson on five, newly-signed Mario Addison on 11 and Chris Wilson on two. The platoon, as well as the efforts of the usual starters along the front seven executed at a high level, recording a season-high four sacks as well as nine hits on the quarterback. Haslett’s mixing and matching extended to the secondary as well, where Madieu Williams held down his spot at free safety, playing 81 of 84 snaps, and Reed Doughty played 44 at strong safety, splitting time with Jordan Pugh (36 snaps) and DeJon Gomes (six). Haslett said last week that he was going to use all four and get the most out of them, shuttling them in and out depending on the situation. Ponder did throw for 352 yards, but didn’t have a pass longer than 23 yards, and also threw two interceptions. Torched by Tony Gonzalez last week, the Redskins faced another athletic tight end in Kyle Rudolph, but they limited him to six catches for 56 yards and a touchdown.
3.) Williams vs. Allen – Left tackle Trent Williams said he was up for the challenge of fending off sack-monster Jared Allen, but acknowledged that it would be no easy task. The third-year pro didn’t surrender a sack to Allen all game. The only sack Allen recorded was on a play when tight end Logan Paulsen was caught in a mismatch with Allen. The Redskins coaches did a good job of keeping Allen off balance with fakes and misdirection, but Williams also did a good job of using his athleticism and strength to stay in front of Allen when matched up one-on-one. There were a couple times when Williams wasn’t as physical as he needed to be in bumping Allen on run plays before moving on to the next level in the zone blocking scheme, but on a day when keeping Griffin upright carried the highest of priorities, Williams delivered. He wasn’t ready to pat himself on the back, however. He said he needed to watch film, and that he was sure there were times when he wasn’t perfect. He also said that tougher challenges lie ahead. He was referring to the fact that the Redskins still face the Giants and their pass-rushers and DeMarcus Ware down in Dallas over the next 10 games.
4.) Moss comes through – On a day where the Redskins were again without anticipated go-to-guy Pierre Garcon, it was veteran Santana Moss that proved himself a security blanket for Griffin, catching all four passes that came his way – three of them for first downs – for 46 yards. Moss hasn’t complained about his reduced role, but has prepared himself and made plays when given the opportunity. Sunday he proved himself to be as clutch as ever. His 13.9 yard-per-catch average is his best in the last five years.
5.) Two key blocks – Griffin was showered with praise – and rightfully so – for his 76-yard touchdown run, but two blocks were critical on that big play. All of the blocks were important, yes, but without two in particular, the touchdown likely would not have come. On the first, Minnesota middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley was blitzing up the middle and running back Evan Royster, who was lined up to Griffin’s left, ran to the right, picked up Brinkley at the line, and kept him from getting to the quarterback. Griffin slipped by and then dashed to the outside. Wide receiver Josh Morgan then laid a block that sprung Griffin up the sideline and off to the races. It’s the little things that make the difference on big plays, and the Redskins got it right at the game-clinching moment.