ST LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 16: Wide receiver Josh Morgan #15 of the Washington Redskins is penalized after committing a personal foul in the last minute of the game resulting in a fourth and long scenario against the St. Louis Rams at Edward Jones Dome on September 16, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
In a game that seemed to have it all, here are our five takeaways from the Redskins 31-28 loss to the Rams Sunday.
One week after one of their most impressive wins in recent memory, the Redskins found themselves on the wrong side of a back-and-forth affair with the St. Louis Rams, dropping them to 1-1.
Here are the five takeaways from Sunday's action-packed game:
1. Lack of poise, composure doomed the Redskins: This game was needlessly chippy. It was one fracas after another, with Redskins and Rams players almost trying to one-up each other to get in the other's head with each shoving match. It was bound to cost one someone big, and it wound up being the Redskins.
Which brings us to Joshua Morgan. His fourth quarter penalty showed an alarming lack of self-awareness. What's worse, the defensive player who incited the foul was not just any cornerback; it was Cortland Finnegan, someone who's been known to get into offensive players' heads. Provoking this kind of behavior is what he does. Finnegan's in-game attitude is no secret, and even Morgan himself acknowledged as much earlier in the week when he spoke with the Washington Post:
"You don't want to be the second guy because the second guy is going to get caught," Morgan said. "[Finnegan]'s going to come at you and he's going to be the first, second and third guy. You've got to remind yourself not to be that fourth and fifth guy, and throw your hands up and walk back to the huddle."
And yet, he couldn't keep his composure when Finnegan tried to rattle him in a critical spot.
Composure has always been the word that Shanahan uses when talking about these type of situations. He has noted repeatedly that officials will usually never flag the instigator of these incidents, but the retaliator. That's exactly what happened, and Morgan's penalty was one of the many reasons why the Redskins left St. Louis with a loss.
2. The officials didn't cost the Redskins the game, but.....: Let's be clear: The Redskins did not lose this game because of the officiating. In the end, they simply did not make the plays they needed to in critical situations.
But some of the mistakes from the replacement officials were quite glaring. They missed some relatively routine calls -- the hit on Fred Davis comes to mind -- and it cost both teams opportunities to extend drives.
In addition to some questionable calls (and non-calls), the officials were not able to stop the game from getting out of hand. You have to wonder if the players even feared (or even respected) the replacement officials, because after each play, Redskins and Rams players would continue to get into it with each other. It seemed the refs had zero influence on stopping the fracases, and compounding that with their missed or questionable calls made it an ugly, ugly affair.
3. The Redskins strongest unit let them down: Coming off an impressive performance against the explosive New Orleans Saints offense, it seemed the task of stopping Sam Bradford and the Rams would prove to be a bit easier.
That wasn't the case.
Jim Haslett's defensive gameplan was a far cry from last week, opting for more zone coverage against the Rams receivers instead of man. The problem for the Redskins this week was that they simply were not able to generate enough pressure on Bradford, and he picked the zone defense apart.
Bradford not only had time to make plays downfield, but the Redskins pass coverage was shoddy, and tackles were missed in the open field often. It all contributed to an ugly statline for Washington: 452 yards allowed to go along with 31 points. No one's confusing The Rams offense with the 2007 Patriots, so Sunday's performance was certainly a cause for concern. It's rare that the Redskins offense has to bail out the defense, but it seemed like that would be required if the Redskins were to pull Sunday's game out.
4. Injuries: As if the Redskins frustrating day on defense wasn't enough, they also had to deal with three starters going down.
Adam Carriker suffered an apparent knee injury, with Shanahan saying that "it doesn't look good" after the game. That's a huge blow if Carriker is out for considerable amount of time. He had carved out a nice niche in Haslett's defense, and was hoping to build on the career year he had in 2011, where he finished with 5.5 sacks.
The hits kept on coming later in the first half, as Brian Orakpo re-aggravated his shoulder injury from the preseason. What's unfortunate is that even if Orakpo is able to get back on the field in the next few weeks, there's no guarantee his shoulder will stay pain-free the rest of the season. More details about Orakpo's injury will come out during the week, but the hope is that the shoulder injury isn't a chronic issue for a player who was expecting to take a big step forward this season.
Finally, Josh Wilson, arguably the Redskins defensive back, went down with a mild concussion in the second half. He'd had a solid game up to that point, scoring a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage after a Danny Amendola fumble, and making a touchdown-saving tackle on a long Daryl Richardson run.
Given Sunday's performance, it's tough to tell how the Redskins defense will be able to rebound moving forward. Add in the injuries suffered, and you have to wonder if there will be shootouts every week.
5. RGIII plays well enough to help the Redskins win, but the supporting cast doesn't: Robert Griffin III didn't light it up as much as he did last week against the Saints, but he did more than enough to help the Redskins win. Throwing for 209 yards, throwing for a touchdown and rushing for two more, he helped catapult Washington to 28 points, which most thought would have been enough to secure the victory.
He did have his rookie moments, however. He threw a critical interception just before halftime to the aforementioned Finnegan, and missed a few throws later in the game. But to ask more of Griffin at this point might be a little unreasonable.
When Mike Shanahan spoke about Griffin shortly after drafting him in April, he consistently stressed having a good supporting cast. The coach said it's not fair to put all the pressure on a first-year passer, and he needs to have those around him contributing at a high level. That means having players like Aldrick Robinson taking advantage of the deep pass threw to him late in the fourth quarter. Or having the defense holding the opposition to less than a 58% conversion rate (7-for-12) on third down, or having the special teams not allow a punt to be blocked for the second consecutive week. Those mistakes have nothing to do with the quarterback position, but are important all the same.
Each week, the focus will be on Griffin's performance, and rightfully so. But in order for the Redskins to become a consistent team -- especially this season -- it'll be up to those around him to elevate their game, and not put it on the shoulders of a first-year passer.