With a new starting quarterback, rebuilt right side of the offensive line and overhauled defense, the retooled Washington Redskins opened their 2015 season Sunday at FedEx Field. But a host of familiar problems — interceptions, ill-timed penalties, a special-teams gaffe and gassed defenders down the stretch — produced an all-too-familiar result.
The Redskins fell to Miami, 17-10, before a crowd of 76,615 whose loyalties were split. Washington loyalists cheered as the home team bolted to a 10-0 first-half lead. But burgundy jerseys gave way to an eruption of teal as thousands of raucous Dolphins fans exulted in the 17 unanswered Miami points that followed, turning FedEx into what visiting quarterback Ryan Tannehill called “probably the best road showing” he’d ever seen.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins, who supplanted Robert Griffin III as the Redskins’ starter on Aug. 31, completed 21 of 31 throws for 195 yards and one touchdown, but again undercut his proficiency in moving the offense with two interceptions.
Coach Jay Gruden acknowledged the many missteps but insisted that even in defeat, the new-look Redskins showed encouraging signs to build on. Among them:
With Alfred Morris shouldering the load (24 carries for 107 yards), the Redskins’ offense gained 161 rushing yards against one of the NFL’s most daunting defensive fronts.
First-round draft pick Brandon Scherff, tasked with blocking the game’s most feared defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh, drew praise from Gruden, Cousins and Morris alike for his stout work. The offensive line allowed just one sack.
Gruden included Cousins’s performance among the positives, too, noting the offense’s production (the Redskins outgained Miami, 349-256) and attributing the interceptions to terrific play by the Dolphins’ secondary.
And rookie linebacker Preston Smith made two big splashes on a single play, sacking Tannehill and prevailing in the wild scramble to recover the ball he’d forced out.
That’s largely where Washington’s feel-good narrative stopped.
With the score knotted at 10 apiece early in the third quarter, the Redskins’ offense took over on the Miami 40. It couldn’t muster a single first down and was forced to punt.
“That’s the most disappointing thing,” Gruden said of the failure to exploit the turnover. “We had the momentum. We went three and out and punted it right back to them.”
That stretch summarized the Redskins’ afternoon, which started with so much promise and fizzled down the stretch.
“We battled, and we came up short,” said Cousins, whose record as an NFL starter dropped to 2-8. “I guess we’re all pretty tired of that around here. We’ve done that too many times. Eventually, the tables need to turn; the tide needs to turn. We need a day like today to end up having us be on top at the end.
“All we know is to go back, be hard on ourselves, be hard on one another, challenge one another, have a great week of practice and come back with the right mind-set next Sunday.”
Miami dropped Cousins for an eight-yard loss with a sack on the Redskins’ opening series. But tight end Jordan Reed proved tougher than his injury-prone reputation suggests in breaking a series of tackles for two first downs. Kai Forbath nailed a 45-yard field goal to cap a 12-play drive that put the Redskins up, 3-0.
Washington’s defense stood tall when it got to work, holding the Dolphins to three-and-out.
The Redskins’ next offensive series was costly, with wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who had sat out the preseason with a shoulder injury, straining his left hamstring while running down a deep ball. Jackson never returned and is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam.
Pierre Garcon (six catches, 74 yards) proved tougher. But the drive stalled on the Miami 27. This time, Forbath’s field goal attempt, from 46 yards, sailed wide.
The defense forced the Dolphins to punt again.
Backed up on a third and 18, Cousins uncorked a throw to Reed. There was a miscommunication between them on the play, and cornerback Brent Grimes stepped in front of Reed for an interception. Again, the Redskins’ defense came up big, stuffing the Dolphins on fourth and one to prevent a score.
Washington’s offense took over at the 12, and Cousins orchestrated a 17-play drive that involved a medley of new faces. Rookie running back Matt Jones bulldozed on some carries and bounced like a pinball on others. Recently acquired tight end Derek Carrier caught his first pass as a Redskin. Reed and Garcon came up with tough catches. Morris got them to the 1, only to be knocked back to the 4, as chants of “Let’s Go Redskins!” rang out.
Finally, Cousins lofted a nicely arcing ball into Reed’s hands for a touchdown that put the Redskins up 10-0 with just under two minutes remaining in the half.
The momentum changed in a hurry after veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall went down with a rib injury.
David Amerson took over, and Tannehill feasted on the third-year cornerback. Tannehill threw at him six times and finally beat him with the seventh throw, a three-yard strike to Rishard Matthews that made it 10-7 shortly before halftime.
After Smith’s forced fumble midway through the third quarter, the Redskins’ defense that had been so stout against the run seemed to lose its punch.
Tannehill marched the Dolphins into scoring position. Hall, back in the action for the Redskins, saved one touchdown and combined with linebacker Perry Riley Jr. to spoil a would-be touchdown scamper by the quarterback. So the Dolphins settled for a 22-yard field goal that tied it.
The Redskins replied with a penalty-strewn mess of a drive, called twice for holding and once for a personal foul in a three-play series.
The futility was made worse when the special teams unit allowed Miami’s Jarvis Landry to run back the subsequent punt 69 yards untouched for what proved the game-winning score.
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