Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Sunday afternoon's Week 9 game against the Carolina Panthers at FedExField:
The 2012 Redskins carried the expectations of 80 years of tradition into this afternoon's game against the Panthers, playing in front of more than 150 Redskins Alumni and their families. The storyline to watch was Robert Griffin III vs. Panther's quarterback Cam Newton, but the game ended up being a much more balanced approach by both teams, starting on defense and highlighted by impressive rushing attacks.
The Redskins needed to develop Griffin III's targets in the passing game, spreading the ball around to some of the reserve players. Receiver Aldrick Robinson and tight end Niles Paul showed serious promise last week in Pittsburgh, while Logan Paulsen had a breakout game against the Panthers a season ago. Most importantly, the Redskins defense needed to create pressure and come up with some key stops on third down to get the ball back to the offense.
Despite a lopsided halftime score, the game was not decided until Panthers receiver Armanti Edwards broke free in the secondary for an 82-yard catch and run. Edwards was stopped short of a breakaway touchdown, but the play broke the Redskins' back, setting up a decisive Cam Newton touchdown. With the Redskins' struggles on offense, it proved to be an insurmountable lead.
PLAY OF THE GAME
For the first time in his NFL career, running back Evan Royster crossed the goal line for a touchdown, with under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. For Royster, it was the culmination of years of work, as he earned his spot in the starting roster last season only to be injured in training camp. After playing injured for much of the season, Royster is approaching full strength and showed it with today's performance. It was a score that had little meaning in the outcome of the game, but it gave the Redskins their only touchdown and gave the offense an opportunity for a late comeback.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Even in a game where his passer rating was 74.2, Robert Griffin III deserves credit for keeping his team competitive in today's game. Griffin III was the subject of legal and late hits throughout the day, but maintained his composure and protected the football. Even after failing to reach the end zone for the first 58 minutes of play, Griffin III nearly led his second fourth-quarter comeback, but ran out of clock. Games like this don't provide happy memories, but should give him game tape to learn from moving forward.
Redskins receiver Joshua Morgan has gradually developed from a third and fourth-option to a top target in the Redskins' passing attack. He has shown reliable hands, which made him the target of Griffin III's fourth-and-three in the second quarter, but also the ability to get behind the defense, like he did on the very next play for a 13-yard gain. With receivers like Aldrick Robinson capable of taking the top off the defense, Morgan is a perfect complement for short and intermediate routes. He finished the day as the team's leading receiver with six receptions for 46 yards.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--Rookie running back Alfred Morris turned in another dominant start this week, rushing 10 times for 54 yards in the first half, keying an offense attack that struggled to sustain drives. Even sharing carries with Evan Royster for the first time this season, Morris averaged 5.8 yards per carry and remains the team's most-formidable runner.
--After having his career breakout game against the Carolina Panthers last season (three receptions, 34 yards), Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen continued his steady 2012 production this afternoon. As the team's top blocking and receiving option at tight end, Paulsen's presence in the lineup cannot be understated. Look for Paulsen to take the next step in the coming weeks and provide the Redskins with a true one-two punch when Davis returns next season.
--Redskins kicker Kai Forbath set a high standard with his first NFL kick, a 50-yard conversion against the Vikings in Week 6. In the three games since, Forbath has remained a perfect seven-for-seven, including four-consecutive games with conversions from 45 yards or longer. Forbath and the kicking unit still need work on onside kicks, but the scoring opportunities have been a big improvement over Billy Cundiff.
--After being relegated to reserve duty this week, receiver Leonard Hankerson came through with several clutch reception to kick-start the offense in the second half. His 25-yard reception put the Redskins in field goal range, setting up a Forbath conversion for the Redskins' second score of the day. After a Pittsburgh game with several unfortunate drops, Hankerson came through with two catches on two targets for 42 yards.
--Redskins cornerback has been a defensive back without a position this season, being moved between the outside, slot and safety positions to find the best matchup each week. This week, Hall contributed with a pair of tackles, the defense's only pass defensed in the first half, and a touchdown-saving special teams tackle on the Panthers' first kickoff of the second half.
--Redskins punter Sav Rocca had his best game of the season today, punting three times for an average of 45.7 yards, including two kicks downed inside the 20-yard line. Rocca continues to battle the effects of a torn meniscus in his kicking leg, but put up one of his best performances as a Redskin.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--It has been a recurring storyline throughout the season, but the Redskins defense continued to struggle in the fourth quarter. After giving up just 101 passing yards through the first three quarters, the Panthers moved the ball 90 yards on three plays to start the fourth quarter with a decisive touchdown. After the secondary gave up an 82-yard catch and run to Armanti Edwards, cornerback Josh Wilson was flagged for pass interference in the end zone, his second of the day. The play set up first-and-goal on the 1-yard line, and an easy touchdown plunge for Cam Newton.
--Shanahan-coached teams are known for their discipline, but the Redskins came into today as the third-most penalized team in the NFL and had another bad day. Committing 13 penalties for 97 yards and three Panthers' first downs, the Redskins accounted for their own demise. At a time when the Redskins are struggling to move the ball or stop the opposition, penalty yards are the kiss of death. Whether it is a matter of focus, technique or discipline, the Redskins need to correct these mistakes after the bye week.
--Although the offensive statistics were above average today, the Redskins offense struggled to sustain drives for the second-consecutive week, managing only two field goals on the afternoon. Part of that can be attributed to the loss of outlet receivers Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis. Part of that can be attributed to a rookie quarterback still adjusting to veteran defenses. The Redskins need to find more targets for Robert Griffin III, in the interests of limiting his contact and getting the ball out faster.
--After feeding the rock early, Redskins running back Alfred Morris got only three carries in the second half as the Redskins abandoned the running game. Some of that can be attributed to the 11-point deficit at the half, but with Morris averaging 5.8 yards per carry, there is really no excuse not to utilize his services.
With his nine-yard rush in the third quarter, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III went over 500 rushing yards on the season. With running back Alfred Morris already at 717 coming into the game, he and Griffin III become the first rookie quarterback-running back tandem in NFL history to each rush for 500 yards in a season.
The Redskins get some much-needed rest next week, getting one of the final bye weeks of the season. With the Redskins nursing injuries on offense, defense and special teams, the time off comes at the ideal time before the final stretch of the season. The Redskins return to host Philadelphia after the bye week for the third-consecutive season, in search of their first win after the bye under head coach Mike Shanahan. After that, the Redskins travel back on the road, playing a Thursday Thanksgiving game against the Cowboys and hosting a Monday Night Football at home.
Head coach Mike Shanahan used the word "disappointment" multiple times in his post-game address to the media, referencing the Homecoming atmosphere and missed opportunities on both sides of the ball. The Redskins will have two weeks to mull this defeat during the bye week, and will need to find answers before beginning the heart of the division schedule.
This is the point in the season where rookies begin to hit a wall, having never played this many games in a single season. The Redskins need youngsters like Griffin III and Morris to remain productive down the stretch of the season, and need veterans to take over the leadership on the field. Shanahan told the media that this is the point of the season where veterans take over teams, and the Redskins will need to make that happen after the bye week.