Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Sunday afternoon's clash with the San Diego Chargers at FedExField:
With a backdrop of 81 years of rich football tradition, the Washington Redskins hosted their fourth annual Alumni Homecoming game, welcoming more than 130 former players, coaches and executives to partake in the festivities.
The Redskins wore their throwback uniforms from last season, while wearing a stripeless version of their current helmets. The pregame ceremonies were a touching moment for both the players, alumni and fans, but once the alumni exited the first, it was gametime and the current squad was on display.
The Redskins have never won a homecoming game, and look to break that streak today. They also need to turn it up a notch, embracing the schedule that has them playing two games in four days. It was a similar stretch vs. Philly and Dallas last season that turned the year around for them.
Can they do it again? Either way, it starts today.
They say that the luckiest people in the world are those that work the hardest, and while that may be true, sometimes it just boils down to…luck. Take for instance, the flip of a coin, which has a roughly 50-50 chance of landing heads or tails. Today, it landed in favor of the Redskins twice, which gave them the option of starting with the ball first in the second half and the ball first in overtime. Winning the overtime coin toss was the ignition point for the offense, who looked on-point in overtime, marching the length of the field for the game-winning touchdown. Sometimes luck is just luck. Then it takes heart, willpower and determination to make the most of it.
PLAY(S) OF THE GAME
There were a number of big plays in the game, but none finer than the defensive stand at the end of regulation to force a game-tying field goal attempt and force overtime. Officials overturned a touchdown awarded to Danny Woodhead before the stand. It seemed to be an unlikely touchdown call at the time, but was unlikely to be overturned given the obscure camera angles. It was however, setting the Chargers up with 1st-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line. On first down, the Chargers sent diminutive running back Danny Woodhead up the gut for a crushing stop. On 2nd-and-goal, Phillip Rivers overthrew tight end Antonio Gates for an incompletion. On 3rd-and-goal, Rivers slung it into a crowd in the end zone, also incomplete. This forced a field goal, off of one of the best defensive
PLAYER OF THE GAME
One touchdown wouldn't be good enough. Two put him in consideration. But three touchdowns today, including the game-winning plunge makes fullback Darrel Young today's player of the game. The seldom-used playmaker came through in a huge way today, scoring twice on 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard line in regulation and once from the 4-yard line in overtime. Young is the consummate teammate, turning in a superb game as Alfred Morris' lead blocker. But his work with the ball in his hands is what made the difference in this game and he got it done for all of Redskins Nation today.
Receiver Pierre Garcon has stepped into a leadership role this season and has been much more of a mouthpiece in the locker room. Ever candid, Garcon has given frank assessments of the passing game in recent weeks and set about making it better today. Taking over the game in the second quarter, he finished the day with seven receptions for 172 yards, averaging nearly 25 yards per reception. His monster overtime catch, plus the 15-yard penalty levied against the Chargers set up the Redskins' win. That is the dominant, go-to playmaking ability that this team needs, and that's what he did today.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--A close consideration for player of the game, Redskins running back Alfred Morris has been the key to their success since his arrival, providing the benchmark for success with his workload. When the Redskins feed him the football 20 times in a game, the team is 9-1 in those games. This was Morris' first 20-carry game (25) of the season and he was good for 125 yards.
--Pierre Garcon gets the accolades as the team's top receiver and tight end Jordan Reed is the sensational story, but one of the Redskins' best receiving options this season has been third-year receiver Leonard Hankerson. Coming off of his first 500-yard season last year, Hankerson already has 300 yards in eight games this season, putting him on pace for career numbers in all categories. More importantly, the once shaky-handed receiver has become one of the surest on the team and consistently bails his quarterback and offense out in tough spots. His 23-yard reception in the third quarter on 3rd-and-9 put the Redskins in the red zone and set up an eventual touchdown. In his all-important third season, Hankerson is showing that he's a piece that belongs long-term.
--Redskins fans are watching something special develop with the mercurial rise of rookie tight end Jordan Reed. Earning the start today, Reed was involved on three plays, two catches and his first career rush, all good for first downs. Head coach Mike Shanahan has said that Jordan Reed was coveted because of his innate ability to get open. Reed has quickly become Robert Griffin III's favorite target and he continues to produce and convert first downs.
--Cornerback E.J. Biggers got the start in the secondary today, playing a bit of a hybrid role as a corner/safety. On the Chargers' third drive of the day, he broke off his route and wandered into no-man's land, where Phillip Rivers hit him right in the chest for his fourth career interception. It was his first turnover as a member of the Redskins, and helped set up the Redskins' first touchdown of the day.
--The Redskins took the momentum with Biggers' turnover and put the Chargers on their heels with big plays down the field. First it was receiver Leonard Hankerson with a 23-yard reception to the right. Next it was a 26-yard rumble through defenders by running back Alfred Morris, which put the ball down at the 5-yard line. One 5-yard plunge later, the Redskins were celebrating the first touchdown of the day. Maintaining the momentum off turnovers has been a struggle this season, but the Redskins are starting to look like the opportunistic team that won the NFC East last season.
--With Morris' touchdown, the Redskins scored their 62nd points off turnovers this season. The defense has been outstanding with takeaways this season, and has scored on five turnovers of their own for 35 of those points. The offense did its part to shrink that margin today by scoring their 27 points off turnover.
--Tight end Niles Paul is typically the up-man on kick returns, but took the second-half opening kickoff back 24 yards to the Redskins 26-yard line for one of the best returns of the season. The coaching staff has committed to Joshua Morgan since benching Chris Thompson earlier this season, but Paul may in fact be the best option in the battle for field position.
--After failing to score at the end of the first half, the Redskins got the ball first in the second half and made the most of it, taking it 74 yards in five plays for the game-tying touchdown. The Redskins leaned on big plays by Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon, with Moss carrying for 18 yards and Garcon catching a 38-yard bomb for his second-longest reception of the year. Moss followed up for the 50th rush of his career, which set the Redskins up with 1st-and-goal. Three plays later, fullback Darrel Young plunged one yard for the Redskins' second touchdown of the game.
--Robert Griffin III looked like the resourceful offensive technician Redskins fans came to expect last season, throwing for a crisp 23-for-32 for 291 yards. More importantly, he ran well and picked up timely yards on the ground, including a critical 3rd-and-8 in the third quarter. Having no receivers open, Griffin III rolled out to his right and followed his receiver, who was blocking the corner. As the safety closed in, Griffin III had only five yards and needed to pick up the first to salvage the drive. Showing no hesitation, he launched himself over the safety, picking up the first down. This is the type of play that Griffin III showed before his knee injury, and this is the type of play that the Redskins need from their star quarterback in the clutch. This first down preserved the drive and led to the game-tying touchdown.
--Coming into today's game, fullback Darrel Young had just 26 career carries with one touchdown in the mix. Today, he had five carries, with three of them ending in touchdowns. Young is a bit of unused playmaker in this offense, but his first career multi-touchdown game came at the perfect time to spark an offense in need of a battering ram. Great job by Young, and a much-deserved spotlight for the big-time team player.
--Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has had his struggles in the first half of the season and certainly took his lumps with three batted passes in the first half with a pick-six in the mix. But what he was able to do this week that he wasn't able to do last year was find ways to sustain drives and keep all of his playmakers engaged. On the opening drive that ended with a blocked field goal, Griffin III hit five different receivers, mixing it around and keeping the drive alive. Combined with his own playmaking ability on the ground and outside of the pocket, Griffin III was a winner today.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--With two talented offenses, it was clear that the battle for field position would be an issue in this game, and the Chargers jumped out to a monster lead in that category. For the first two drives of each team, the Chargers average starting position was the 18-yard line, while the Redskins started both drives at the 1-yard line. On the first drive, the team was able to march 85 yards down the field. On the second one, they did not. More, below.
--With the way things have been going for the Redskins this season, it is disappointing to leave points on the field, particularly following a 99-yard drive to start the game. Rather than walking away with a touchdown, which they should have had in the Chargers red zone, the Redskins settled for a field goal. Then, with the low trajectory, Chargers defensive end Lawrence Guy got a hand on it, leaving the Redskins with no points to show. To add insult to injury, this was the Chargers' first blocked field goal in 11 years.
--Lawrence Guy struck again on the second drive, batting a pass from the end zone that bounced off the back of a teammate and into the outstretched hands of a teammate for a Chargers touchdown. In two drives, Guy cost the Redskins 10 points with an outstretched arm. Meanwhile, the Redskins should consider running the ball to get Griffin III out of his own end zone.
--Just when it seemed like blocking couldn't get worse, the Redskins had two batted passes during the final drive of the first half, but still managed to get the ball in long field goal range. Kai Forbath lined up for his second field goal attempt of the day and had it…you guessed it, blocked. Low trajectory on a long kick is understandable, and he would not be the first kicker to attempt a long boot and have it blocked. But considering it was the second blocked kick with three batted passes in the first half, it was an understandably frustrating moment. That's 13 points lost on trajectory in the first half.
--The Redskins went without a major penalty last week, a streak that got ended with cornerback DeAngelo Hall's personal foul on an interception return in the second quarter. This penalty wiped out a 15-yard return that would have given them the ball near midfield. The Redskins ultimately turned the turnover into seven points, but these types of penalties can kill drives and turn games around for the opponent.
Veteran receiver Santana Moss has reached the point in his career where most receptions put him higher up franchise and NFL lists, either for yards, touchdowns or receptions. Today, he tallied his 700th reception, a feat that put him as the ninth active player to reach that milestone. Another impressive benchmark for the grizzled veteran who clearly still has lots of playmaking left in the tank.
The Redskins have little time to celebrate their victory, as they will take the field in Minnesota in just four days' time. This will be a test of will, as the Redskins have little time to rest, much less gameplan for the Adrian Peterson-led Vikings. The incentive is a mini bye week after the contest, which will not have the Redskins on the field until the following Sunday. This is a challenge that the Redskins need to answer if they wish to keep their postseason hopes alive, and is certainly a squad capable of making it happen.
There have been times this season where some fans would consider wearing brown paper bags on their heads in frustration. Today, those same fans would need brown bags to calm hyperventilation.
Although it had a different meaning and different storyline, this game was reminiscent of the Baltimore Ravens game in Week 14 last season, the last time the Redskins went to overtime with an opponent. Just like last time, the Redskins found a way to win, coming alive in overtime for a thrilling third victory of the season.
The Redskins need to recover quickly as a gritty, physical Vikings opponent lies four days away. The Redskins have the personnel to match up well with Minnesota, but it stands as another tough road test this season.
On the surface, today was just one victory, one building block towards the postseason goal. But given the frustration of the season, particularly last week, the Redskin badly needed this win, and they went out and got it.
They executed effectively within the gameplan and the leaders stepped up for a big team victory. At 3-5, the Redskins enter a favorable part of the schedule and have a chance to make a run. It starts Thursday and continues one game at a time from there. Big win today.