Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Sunday Night's matchup vs. the New York Giants at FedExField in Landover, Md., presented by GEICO.
This is not where either team expected to be, heading into the final month of the regular season and struggling for relevancy.
For the Washington Redskins, December was supposed to be the home stretch of the first title defense in 13 years. For the New York Giants, it was a bounce-back year from last year's falter, looking to get back to the level of play that brought them a Super Bowl two seasons ago.
Instead, both are playing for their playoff lives, as the window of opportunity closes in the NFC East. For the Redskins, it's an opportunity to win their first prime-time game in five opportunities and their first division game of the season.
Veteran leadership assured fans and the media this week that the team still had a lot to play for and would not fold. They put that statement on the line tonight on Sunday Night Football.
A year ago, the Redskins were known for fast starts and tough finishes, before turning it around and playing 60 minutes down the stretch of the season. This season, the team has struggled to start fast on offense, not appearing in the last two games until the fourth quarter.
That trend was smashed tonight, as the Redskins came out in the turbo offense, marching 77 yards down the field for an Alfred Morris touchdown. Robert Griffin III was sharp on the drive, going five-for-five for 57 yards, while the offense remained balanced with nine runs.
It was the first time the Redskins had scored a touchdown on the opening drive all season. After starting ice-cold all season, the Redskins came out of the gate red-hot.
PLAY OF THE GAME
With the Giants dictating the momentum of the fourth quarter and the Redskins needing a big play, they got it from a cornerback Josh Wilson, who combined with Rob Jackson on a 12-yard sack of Eli Manning. The play brought up 3rd-and-a-mile and an eventual punt that set the Redskins up to make some headway against a four-point deficit.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo continues his reign of terror, surging through the line on the first play of the game and dropping Eli Manning for a nine-yard loss. This is the type of game-changing plays that Orakpo is capable, but came up short on early this season.
He did it again in the third quarter, dropping Eli Manning for an eight-yard loss from the Giants 12-yard line, setting up fourth down. Now fully recovered from his offseason pectoral surgery, Orakpo has at least a full sack in four-straight games for the first time in his career. This is reminiscent of his rookie season in 2009, when he finished with a Pro Bowl nod. The same could be in the cards if he continues his streak down the stretch.
Perhaps this would be better labeled the "unseen hero." Morris had a rough statistical start to the game without fullback Darrel Young or backup Niles Paul in the lineup, but he ground it out in the early going, including a one-yard touchdown plunge to put the Redskins on the board. After that, he picked up an 11-yard gain, boosting his numbers, and then disappeared from the game-plan.
He had just two carries in the second half, finishing four yards short of the 1,000-yard plateau for his second-consecutive season. That is where he will remain going into Week 14.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--Despite lacking fullback Darrel Young for a second-straight week, the Redskins committed to the run with Evan Royster filling in at lead blocker and Alfred Morris reprising his role as playmaker. On the opening touchdown drive, the Redskins went with a very unbalanced five passes and nine runs, attacking the Giants depleted front-seven.
--Quarterback Robert Griffin III got his weapons going early, hitting Pierre Garçon, Logan Paulsen, Alfred Morris, Fred Davis, Joshua Morgan Nick Williams, Santana Moss and Roy Helu Jr. in the first three drives of the game. The Redskins dug deep in the playbook, getting carries for Griffin III, Morris, Helu Jr., Royster and even Aldrick Robinson in the early going.
--Logan Paulsen is a conservatively-utilized secret weapon in this Redskins passing attack. With so many other targets, defenses can't help but leave him open, much as they did on the third Redskins' possession in the red zone. As he has in the past, Paulsen floated open in the middle, hauling in the 19-yard touchdown, his second of the year. With Jordan Reed out of the lineup for the third time this season, the Redskins needed someone to step up at tight end, and who better than the lumberjack?
--The turbo offense is something the Redskins have used sparingly this season, but had big success with tonight. The turbo offense suits a roster jam-packed with speed on the offensive side of the ball, as it exposes deficiencies in the defensive scheme. Kyle Shanahan should consider this strategy more often.
--Special teams coverage played with pride tonight, as Reed Doughty set the tune in the early going, viciously planting Giants returner Michael Cox at the 20-yard line on the opening kickoff. Cox finished with four returns for only 69 yards, a 17.3 yards-per-carry average.
--The Redskins got the ball back with 0:35 remaining in the first half and two timeouts in their pocket. Sticking with the aggressive gameplan, they were able to march down to the Giants 40-yard line with 0:01 remaining and the clock stopped. With the Redskins lining up four receivers, the Giants blitzed, forcing Griffin III from the pocket. Keeping it safe, Griffin III tucked the ball and ran 20 yards, padding his stats and keeping the ball safe. The Redskins would have liked to have scored on that drive, taking a lead into halftime with the Giants receiving first in the second half. But the flip-side to that is going in with a tie, which is quite the achievement this season.
--Griffin III completed 94.1 percent (16-of-17) of his pass attempts in the first half, the best first-half completion percentage by a Redskin since Mark Brunell completed all 14 first-half passes (100 percent) en route to completing a team-record 22 consecutive passes at Houston on Sept. 24, 2006. That was an NFL record at the time, which has since been broken.
--Not enough credit has been given to safety Brandon Meriweather, who has been a model of consistency since returning from his one-game suspension in Week 8. He has not been flagged or fined for an illegal hit since then, making good on a promise to clean up his game. On top of cleaning up the laundry, Meriweather has also provided a steady threat in the secondary, intercepting his second pass of the season tonight. This is a secondary that plays bigger and bolder with No. 31 on the field, as he sets the tone for the whole crew.
--It was a solid statistical night for Robert Griffin III, who rushed for a season-high 88 yards, surpassing his 84 yards in Week 7 vs. Chicago. Sure, that number was padded by a meaningless 20-yard rush to close out the first half, but he looked more comfortable cutting and exploding than he has all season.
--In the passing game, Griffin III tallied more than 160 yards, putting him over 3,000 yards for the season. He is the fifth quarterback in Redskins history to tally back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons, joining Sonny Jurgensen (1966-67), Joe Theismann (1983-84), Mark Rypien (1991-92) and Jason Campbell (2008-09). He also becomes the fourth NFL player since the 1970 NFL merger to throw for 3,000 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons, joining Peyton Manning (1998-99), Cam Newton (2011-12) and Andy Dalton (2011-12).
WHAT WENT WRONG
--Even though the Redskins capitalized with a pair of touchdowns in the first three drives and Robert Griffin III was on an early roll, the team still failed to take high percentage shots downfield. During the second drive of the game, Griffin III either missed or ignored Aldrick Robinson all alone near the goal line—twice. There may be a logical reason why Griffin III instead went underneath to an outlet receiver, but the team left quick-strike points on the field and could have legitimized the deep threat for the rest of the season. When the Giants defenders are willing to spot a free receiver downfield, it is incumbent on the offense to take advantage.
--The Redskins got mauled by a number of big runs early, as both Andre Brown and Peyton Hillis busted off 20-plus-yard runs in the first half. The Redskins' lead helped nullify the running threat by building a lead, but the Giants averaged 7.2 yards per carry in the first half.
--For the second-straight week, the Redskins were exposed by a tight end, as Brandon Myers got open for a 22-yard touchdown to close out the first half. The Redskins have done well in this area so far this season, but cannot afford to let playmakers run free. Rather than holding the Giants to a field goal, the Redskins lost the lead, going into halftime tied at 14.
--The injury bug bit again as safety Reed Doughty was ruled out at halftime with a concussion sustained in the first half. This is Doughty's second concussion this season, the first of which kept him out of the Denver Broncos game. His absence leaves a hole on both defense and special teams, as Brandon Meriweather shifts to strong safety and Bacarri Rambo goes in at free safety.
--With a tough three-game stretch on the sod at FedExField, Redskins receiver Pierre Garçon expressed his frustration after falling down on a hard cut in the third quarter. The play came on a busted drive with three penalties enforced against the Redskins, bringing up 4th-and-a-mile. But it was a frustrating moment for one of the team's top playmakers, whose value is increased by his agility. After that play, he was never the same receiver in this game, including a game-ending reception-turned-fumble.
--His frustration first boiled over on the following drive, as the Redskins got the ball at the Giants 12-yard line and were unable to capitalize with a touchdown. On third down, Griffin III threw short for Garçon, who booted the dead ball out of bounds in frustration. That was an uncharacteristic move for the veteran, who let the passion get the best of him. That can't happen.
--Two other veterans, Santana Moss and DeAngelo Hall, also lost their cool in the second half, drawing the team's first egregious personal fouls in several weeks. Moss was flagged on the opening drive of the second half, negating a reception by Logan Paulsen. On replay, it appears that he verbally objected to a holding call against him on the play, drawing the ire of the official. Hall was flagged later in the quarter for reasons unknown, but after a Giants completion that put them at the doorstep of the Redskins' end zone. This was a game full of frustrations, but the Redskins need the veteran leadership to set the tone—especially two former captains.
--The Redskins have had enough frustrations this year that they cannot afford to leave points on the field. They did just that with their second opportunity of the second half, taking over possession in the red zone. From there, the Redskins sabotaged themselves for a second-straight drive, netting -3 yards and kicking the field goal. Points are good and it gave the Redskins a second-half lead. But it was four points fewer than they expected from that point on the field.
--The Redskins were lousy on third down tonight, converting only five-of-14 attempts. A bright spot in that regard, however, was that quarterback Robert Griffin III was six-for-eight in such situations for 62 yards and a touchdown. He just wasn't able to do it alone.
--Credit Sav Rocca for getting the punt off at all following the bad snap, but the partially blocked boot gave the Giants prime field position in the second half. In a situation where the Redskins needed a spark in the battle for field position, this was a disappointing turn of events.
--Tight end Fred Davis has been put in a position to seize a spot in this offense at several junctures this season and tonight was another failed opportunity. Filling in for the injured Jordan Reed (concussion), the Redskins turned to Davis in crunch time, and he dropped a sure catch that would have converted a first down on the final drive. Instead, the Redskins are forced to go short to Garçon on fourth down, who secures the catch before having it stripped for a fumble. Giants take over with no way to stop the clock and that's how the ballgame ends.
--Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III started the game 12-for-12 for 111 yards, tying a personal high for consecutive completions to start a game, dating back to Thanksgiving in Dallas last season.
--The opening drive touchdown was the offense's first since hosting Baltimore in Week 14 of the 2012 season, nearly one full year ago.
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan on being knocked out of the playoffs on December 1:
"That's disappointing. There's one reason why you play the game and now you're out of it."
The Redskins close out their three-game home stand welcoming the world-beater Kansas City Chiefs to town. This is an NFC East reunion as former Eagles head coach Andy Reid returns to face the Redskins, and the final leg of Mike Shanahan's tour of the AFC West. Even with three-straight losses, the Chiefs' ticket to the playoffs is all but punched, while the Washington Redskins have the opportunity to play spoiler in an otherwise disappointing season.
Once again, it was a tale of two halves for the Redskins, but it was a reversal of the season trend. Rather than showing up at halftime, the Redskins were firing on all cylinders out of the gate. But rather than getting stronger as the game wore on, the Redskins got frustrated and beat themselves.
Ironically, things unraveled for Washington while they still had the lead in the second half. Rather than sticking together and closing out a gritty division win, they simmered in personal frustrations and lost the game.
Tonight's loss seals a January-free fate for this team, as they can only hope to regroup, recoup and build for a strong finish heading into next season. The Redskins get another crack at the Giants in Week 17 and will host the Cowboys in a rematch of a loss earlier this season.
The Redskins have still have plenty to play for, but most of them can be reduced to personal goals and team pride. The Redskins will look to build toward a more prosperous 2014 with next week's game against the Chiefs.