Finding themselves badly in need of a win after two woeful performances to open the season, the Washington Redskins on Sunday couldn’t stop the slide and remained winless, falling, 27-20, to the Detroit Lions at FedEx Field.
The Redskins, after struggling mightily on both sides of the ball in the first two games, showed improvement. But a first-half interception and a fourth-quarter fumble by Robert Griffin III — both to kill potential scoring drives — and a reversed touchdown call later in the final quarter proved too much to overcome.
With the loss, the Redskins fell to 0-3 for the first time since 2001, when the team opened the year with an 0-5 record. That Marty Schottenheimer-coached team rebounded to finish with an 8-8 record but didn’t advance to the postseason. And this Redskins team is venturing dangerously close to a similar position. Since Buffalo in 1998, no team has made the playoffs after opening the year 0-3.
“No one wants to start the season off 0-3. That’s tough,” said running back Alfred Morris, who rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. “That’s a tough pill to swallow. But like I said, we’re still in this thing together. It’s a long season, but we’re going to try to get a win against Oakland [on Sunday] before we go into the bye.”
The Redskins, in front of a FedEx Field crowd announced at 80,111, had won all 21 of their previous home games against the Lions since they moved to the District in 1937. But neither history nor home-field advantage played in Washington’s favor because of a collection of self-inflicted wounds.
“We had too many mistakes at crucial times — of course the fumble and the interception earlier in the game,” said Griffin, who completed 32 of 50 passes for 326 yards and an interception and had six carries for 37 yards and a fumble. “We just got to make those plays to win the game. We actually put ourselves in position to have a good shot at winning the game and putting it away. We just didn’t come up with it, so, once again, I’m proud of the way our guys fought, and we’ve just got to clean it up.”
After giving up 33 and 38 points in their first two regular season games, the Redskins were better defensively. But Griffin and an offense that has yet to rekindle last season’s explosiveness demonstrated again that they have yet to work out the kinks.
Initially, it appeared Griffin had found a way to shake off his two turnovers and provide the key plays. With his team trailing 20-17 with 9 minutes 15 seconds left in the game, Griffin unleashed a high-arcing pass 57 yards through the air and into the arms of wide receiver Aldrick Robinson in the end zone.
Robinson fell to the ground as he hauled in the pass, and although a touchdown initially was called, the replay showed the ball touched the ground and rolled around before bouncing back into Robinson’s grasp, referee Ed Hochuli explained.
The Redskins came back onto the field, and Griffin fumbled on second down but recovered the ball on the aborted play. Two plays later, the team punted.
The Lions — denied by Washington’s defense on two previous trips into the red zone — provided their final scoring drive after that. Quarterback Matthew Stafford threaded a pass through four defenders and into the hands of wide receiver Calvin Johnson for an 11-yard touchdown that gave Detroit a 27-17 lead with 3:56 left.
“I figured somebody would be right there to bang me right when I caught it,” Johnson said. “I figured the safety would try to come down in there, but Matt whipped it in there.”
“They had a great call on them and we just did a good job of making a play,” said Stafford, who completed 25 of 42 passes for 385 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
The Redskins managed to reach the Detroit 3-yard line but failed to score on three straight attempts and had to settle for a 21-yard John Potter field goal to cut the score to 27-20 with 1:40 left.
Washington got the ball back once more but had little time to work with. A Hail Mary attempt by Griffin to Pierre Garcon with time running out fell to the grass. The Redskins trudged to the locker room in a daze, with last season’s NFC East title seemingly in the distant past.
The Redskins entered the game needing an improved effort from a defense that had surrendered a league-high 402 rushing yards in the first two games while also struggling against the pass and allowing 50 first-half points.
Linebacker London Fletcher opened the game with a sack on the first play. Then, for the second time this season, the Redskins’ defense got a touchdown from cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Charged primarily with covering all-pro wide receiver Johnson, Hall perfectly read a poorly thrown slant pass from Stafford, picked it off and scored from 17 yards out. (Hall scored on a 75-yard fumble return for a touchdown in Week 1). The play gave the Redskins a 7-0 lead with 9:31 left in the first quarter.
Griffin began displaying an improved comfort and feel in the pocket and confidence in his legs as he rolled out and extended plays before finding open receivers for receptions.
But a potentially impressive first-quarter drive ended in an interception after Griffin tried too hard to make a play. Rolling to his right and scanning the field for an open receiver, Griffin neared the sideline when Detroit defensive end Willie Young got a hand on him and started to pull him down from behind. But Griffin tried chucking the ball downfield to Pierre Garcon. Lions cornerback Chris Houston jumped the route, however, and picked off the sideline pass.
The Redskins finally got their first first-half scoring drive of the season when Griffin completed three of five passes — including an 18-yard throw to Santana Moss — to put his team on the 30. Morris then took a handoff, bounced outside, turned the corner after receiving a block from Reed on the edge and raced the rest of the way untouched for his second touchdown of the season.
The first half ended with Detroit up 17-14, and the Redskins tied the game with a 43-yard field goal from John Potter roughly three minutes into the third quarter.
The score remained knotted at 17 for the remainder of the third quarter, and Washington appeared poised to take its first lead early in the fourth quarter. But another turnover killed those hopes.
On first and 10 from the 50-yard line, Griffin got flushed from the pocket and took off downfield, zigzagging his way through traffic. Reaching the 30 and with defenders converging upon him, Griffin dove head first, but as he hit the ground, the ball came out and bounced another five yards forward before safety Glover Quin recovered it. Had Griffin slid feet first, he would have been down as soon as he hit the ground.
The Lions outscored Washington 10-3 down the stretch and secured the win.
“We have to eliminate some of those mistakes in the football game,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “We had the opportunity to do it and get it done. But you can’t make those mistakes that we had and expect to win. We have to play cleaner and be more consistent.”