Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Sunday afternoon's contest between the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders at the O.co Coliseum:
It's difficult to consider a season hanging in the balance in Week 4, but the Redskins come in at 0-3 and in desperate need of a win with the bye week on the horizon.
But the turbulent NFL has been full of surprises this season and the Redskins have seen that there is no sure thing. No easy opponents, especially going from coast-to-coast.
Going into the season, this game had the makings of a trap game for a successful, yet overly-confident Redskins team. Now that the Redskins sit at 0-3, it has the makings of a must-win contest in order to gain a foothold in a topsy-turvy NFC East.
In other words, just win, baby.
Once again, the Redskins came out of the tunnel, took the field, and found themselves behind by two scores before anyone noticed. But unlike the first three games, the Redskins turned on the jets, scoring 24-unanswered points.
Give the defense huge credit for locking the Raiders down, keyed by the pick-six by rookie cornerback David Amerson. The Redskins have scored defensive touchdowns two other times this season, but this changed the tide of the game, opening things up for the burgundy and gold.
PLAY OF THE GAME
The Redskins finally had a number of worthy plays to choose from, but the highlight play of the day goes to the individual efforts of Robert Griffin III and Roy Helu Jr. on a play in the fourth quarter.
Operating just on the Raiders side of midfield, Griffin III took the snap and had pressure closing in from all sides. Tucking the football, he rolled out to his right and found Helu Jr. sprinting past his linebacker down the sideline. Hitting him in stride, Helu Jr. did the rest, hurdling a defensive back and picking up 28 yards to put the Redskins back in the red zone.
A play that may have ended in a sack any other game this season turned into the biggest gain of the day, reminiscent of last year's offense.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Without question, nose tackle Barry Cofield stole the day in Oakland, coming in full-time in the second half and tallying a career-best two sacks of Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn along with a fumble recovery. His push straight up the middle consistently crushed the pocket in the second half, taking Flynn completely out of the game.
Cofield has been a solid force this season despite operating without one of his hands (broken). Chris Neild was lost with a calf strain leaving Cofield as the only second-half option at nose tackle. Playing like a man on fire, he helped lead the comeback efforts in Oakland.
Robert Griffin III has been the face of the franchise, for better or for worse since his arrival last season. It seems strange to call him an under-appreciated hero today, but he deserves credit for his finest performance of the season. Yes, he threw for a season low in yards (227) and passed for only one touchdown, but he managed to stay upright (one sack) and protect the football; no turnovers for the first time all season.
That's the performance the Redskins needed in a rough-and-tumble road win, and that's exactly what No. 10 delivered.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--The Redskins running game took contributions from Alfred Morris, Roy Helu Jr. and Robert Griffin III, but put in a solid performance with 122 yards on 32 carries. With Robert Griffin III's 31 pass attempts today, the Redskins' offense was finally balanced and effective, which led to the first victory of the season.
--He may not show up in the highlights package, but Leonard Hankerson continues to impress this season, catching four receptions for 49 yards, including the team's first first down of the day. When the Redskins have needed a go-to receiver, Hankerson has shown skill and precision, using his size to get open and pick up yards after the catch. Another solid performance today.
--Welcome to the NFL, David Amerson! The rookie cornerback has been exposed in coverage at times and maligned by the media, but he made his first game-changing play of his career with a second quarter interception-turned-touchdown that closed the score to 10-14. In addition to the accurate diagnosis of the play, Amerson returned it 45 yards, beating the speedy Raiders receiver in a foot race. Flynn is the type of quarterback capable of making big mistakes and the Redskins were actually able to take advantage on that play.
--Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan continued his tear this week, collecting his team-high fourth and fifth sacks on a pair of blitzes up the middle. He beat former teammate Tony Pashos all day long, who started the day at right tackle. The first sack drew an audible "ooh!" from the fans, while the second one forced a fumble, recovered by nose tackle Barry Cofield. This was his 21st career sack and eighth career forced fumble.
--He was joined in the sack parade by Brian Orakpo, who collected his second sack of the season, dropping Flynn for a four-yard loss. He and fellow outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan have combined for seven sacks in the first four games of the 2013 season, putting them on pace for 24 this season.
--Riding the ferocious power running of Alfred Morris, the Redskins marched down the field late in the third quarter. The drive cost Morris in the game, as he left with what was diagnosed as rib bruises at the time. The Redskins managed to finish the drive off with a five-yard touchdown pass from Robert Griffin III to Pierre Garçon. It was his second touchdown catch of the year, highlighting another strong day for the team's top receiver.
--Roy Helu Jr. initially struggled to get going, but was paramount in the team's fourth-quarter scoring drive that put the Redskins up by two scores for the first time all season. On the drive, he had a 28-yard reception that ended in the hurdle of his defender and put the Redskins in the red zone. He finished off his efforts with a 14-yard rush up the gut for the cushion touchdown.
--The Redskins collected seven sacks today for the first time since playing at Philadelphia last season. They relied on Barry Cofield, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, who each tallied a pair of sacks, and Darryl Tapp, who tallied his first sack as a Redskin. This was the type of performance the Redskins needed against a suspect line and a wide-eyed quarterback. Going into today, the Redskins had only one second-half sack all season. With today's performance, the team now has six.
--Give kicker John Potter credit, who has come in and booted four-straight field goals and consistently kept the ball out of the hands of opposing returners. Statistically speaking, he has one of the best coverage units in the NFL at his disposal, but the surest way to keep the returner from making the play is to keep it out of his hands. He is likely to be out of work when Forbath returns, but his service in Washington should warrant another look from the Redskins or other teams down the road. He is much more than a kickoff specialist.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--The Redskins defense came into today with a goal of taking away Raiders running back Darren McFadden. In failing to do so, the Redskins opened up the Raiders playbook and allowed the silver and black to sustain drives early. The Raiders have a talented offense of the raw variety and can be contained by being disruptive and stopping the run. Before the Redskins knew it, it was already 14-0 in the first quarter. The Redskins had much better success against Rashad Jennings, who needed 11 carries to reach 28 yards vs. McFadden's 29 yards on five carries.
--The Raiders dictated the day on special teams, with kicker Sebastian Janikowski keeping it out of kick returner Joshua Morgan's hands and forcing touchbacks. On punt coverage, the Raiders got on the board with a jail-break blitz of Sav Rocca that resulted in a blocked punt and a Raiders touchdown. On punt returns, the Raiders managed to win the battle of field position, backing the Redskins up to the 10-yard line early. On another punt attempt, the Raiders ran a fake with Taiwan Jones taking the direct snap that yielded 19 yards and a Raiders first down.
--Opposing defenses have had good success blitzing the Redskins offense this year and today was no different. Quarterback Robert Griffin III had defenders in his face for most of the day, as he rolled out, back-pedaled and threw the ball away a number of times. If not for his own physical escapability, the Redskins would have weathered a number of first half sacks that he was able to prevent.
--The Redskins had more struggles on third down, converting only twice in the first half, both on a drive midway through the second quarter. But finding themselves in need of a spark, the Redskins went for it on fourth down near midfield, even burning a timeout in the process, gambling that the play would not backfire. It did. Robert Griffin III dropped back looking for Santana Moss and Logan Paulsen to the left. He never saw safety Charles Woodson, who came on a tear from the right side of the line, untouched. He drilled Griffin III for a 10-yard loss and the turnover on downs.
--Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is an undeniable pass rush talent, but dropping a would-be interception in the first quarter left the Raiders offense on the field in the red zone. On the very next play, the Raiders took advantage with their first touchdown of the day. These are the type of plays that don't appear glaringly in the final stat report, but given his reaction to the play, he understands the magnitude of the miss. Fortunately, he had the opportunity to overcome the missed opportunity later. Something to file away for the bye week.
--Even when things went right early today, the Redskins were unable to capitalize for long. Tight end Logan Paulsen started today in place of Fred Davis and caught his longest pass of the season, a gritty 33-yard pass that would have gone for the Redskins' longest play of the day. Unfortunately, as he battled for more yards, he was spun around by what looked like an egregious facemask pull that was not called. As Spun around, the Paulsen was stripped of the football, turning the ball over to the Raiders at midfield.
Until today, the Redskins did not have a second-half lead in a football game since Week 17 of last season, when they beat the Dallas Cowboys 28-18. Taking the lead on the Pierre Garçon touchdown, the Redskins capped off a huge comeback win on the road for their first victory of the season.
The Redskins head into the bye week at a very relieved 1-3. Since 1990, 22 teams have made the playoffs after starting the season 1-3, but only one team had made it after an 0-4 start. The Redskins have two weeks to prepare for the annual rivalry game in Dallas, where they will look to win for the second year in a row. First, however, the Redskins will rest and regroup, enjoying the perks of a bye week before a long stretch run to the playoffs.
The monkey is finally off their backs.
The Redskins said they needed a win by any means necessary, and they stayed true to their word this week. Facing an inexperienced starting quarterback and suspect offensive line, the Redskins defense imposed their will, finishing the day with seven sacks, three turnovers and a touchdown.
Even though the Redskins will not play for another two weeks, a win like this can serve as a catalyst for the rest of the season. The Redskins didn't bring their A-game, but they clawed back and won anyway. That gives the Redskins the opportunity to build momentum while registering the take-home lessons necessary to improve.
Key contributors including Roy Helu Jr., David Amerson and Leonard Hankerson provided the spark, and leaders like Barry Cofield, Robert Griffin III and Pierre Garçon did the rest.
Any win is a good win at this point and the Redskins will get back to work on building a winning streak against Dallas in Week 6.