Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins' first taste of divisional action in 2012 didn't disappoint in terms of excitement, but they still went home with a bitter loss.
Here are our five takeaway's from Sunday's Redskins-Giants thriller:
1. Turnovers and mental mistakes doom the Redskins: Playing on the road -- and in a divisional game no less --it's all but a requirement to play mistake-free football. But the Redskins shot themselves in the foot throughout the game, and it started from their very first series on offense.
Josh Morgan looked like he was going to give the Redskins an early 7-0 lead with a catch-and-run touchdown, but the score was negated by an illegal motion penalty by Fred Davis. They had to settle for a field goal, and the penalty wound up costing them four points. What was the final score? New York 27, Washington 23 - a four point difference.
Then there were the four second-half turnovers. The Redskins offense had chances to either tie the game late or go ahead, and instead they shot themselves in the foot. In all, three fumbles and a Robert Griffin III interception kept the Redskins from distancing themselves from the Giants before the game's frantic final minutes.
2. What happens now at tight end?: Just when it looked like the Redskins couldn't get bitten any harder by the injury bug, they did. Early in the first quarter, tight end Fred Davis went down a torn achilles, meaning the Redskins will lose their best all-around tight end for the rest of the season.
What happens now at this position will be intriguing, to say the least. As soon as Davis came out of the game, speculation began as to whether or not the Redskins would reach out to street free-agent Chris Cooley. It was later confirmed by the Washington Post that the Redskins did indeed reach out to Cooley in an effort to bring him back. It's an obvious solution - why not bring back a veteran that has great familiarity with the scheme, his role and the personnel on offense?
Even with Cooley back, however, the Redskins are still not in an ideal situation. That's not to say that he doesn't have value, it just speaks more about the talent they're losing in Davis. The fifth year veteran was having his best all-around season, being the team's most targeted player on offense, in addition to showing great improvement as a blocker.
And even though Cooley's return will undoubtedly be mentioned a great deal this week, and Logan Paulsen has been an admirable fill-in, the guy who must now step up, in my opinion, is Niles Paul. When Mike Shanahan decided to convert Paul to a tight end, he made comparisons to Shannon Sharpe, the Hall Of Fame tight end who made the same transition from wide receiver to tight end. That's high praise. And now that Davis is done for the season, Shanahan's belief in Paul's skillset looms larger than ever before. Will he, Cooley and Paulsen be able to collectively replace the level of production they are losing in Davis' absence? Time will tell.
3. The secondary strikes again, and at the worst possible time: What can you say about the Redskins secondary that hasn't already been said? It's clear that they've struggled for the majority of the season thus far, and it doesn't appear things will get better anytime soon.
After playing so-so throughout most of the game, the secondary chose a bad time to get fooled. Indeed, giving up a 77-yard go-ahead score with just over a minute to go in regulation-- and right after your team reclaimed the lead -- is bad. Real bad.
On the game's decisive play, it was as simple as Giants wideout Victor Cruz running a go route against Redskins double coverage. For whatever reason, free safety Madieu Williams was fooled, biting on an out route. Once Williams fell for the wrong route, Cruz was able to split him and Josh Wilson and took it upfield. From there, he was open by a stunningly wide margin, and it was simply a game of pitch-and-catch between him and Eli Manning for the score.
Fans have been quick to blame Jim Haslett for most of the the defensive breakdowns this season. But at some point, you have to look at execution. Haslett had Williams and Wilson double-teaming Cruz with the game on the line, and they still couldn't get it done. Had Williams not been fooled on the play, perhaps Cruz doesn't become as open, and maybe Manning doesn't attempt that throw. You can't blame Haslett for that.
But whether you believe it's scheme or execution, the net result is that the Redskins' defensive backfield is still the team's most glaring weakness, and one they may not be able to overcome this season.
4. RGIII might be the team's MVP... : There's no doubt that this was a tough loss to take for the Redskins. There are no moral victories in the NFL, especially for veterans who want to win now rather than take a long-term view of things.
That being said, it's hard not to look at Robert Griffin III's performance Sunday as some sort of consolation, and what it could mean for the Redskins down the road. Griffin wasn't perfect, and even struggled at times in the second half, but he shined during the game's most critical moments.
On the 77-yard drive that gave the Redskins the (brief) lead, Griffin showed off all the skills that make him such a unique talent. He displayed his ability to keep a play alive, miraculously finding Logan Paulsen on fourth-and-10 while eluding the grasp of Jason Pierre-Paul. He showed off his raw speed, countering a Giants blitz by taking off down the right sideline for a 24-yard run. Last, but not least, he showed off his accuracy, throwing an absolute perfect arching pass to Santana Moss for the go-ahead 30-yard touchdown.
At this point, it's not a stretch to say that Griffin - a 22 year old rookie quarterback - is the Redskins' best player right now. The organization hoped they'd see this type of play from Griffin, though they probably didn't think they'd see this much this soon.
All you have to do is read the transcript of what Giants defenders were saying after the game to get a sense of what kind of impression Griffin left with his performance.
"That guy is flat-out unbelievable," Osi Umenyiora said. "I am not going to lie. Best quarterback we have played this year for sure."
"I am pretty mad at the football gods for putting him in the NFC East," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "To face that guy twice a year is going to be a headache."
When's the last time a Redskins offensive player struck fear in opposing defenses like this? Comments like these let the Redskins know they might be onto something with their new QB.
5. ... but he shouldn't have to be at this point: Griffin's success has presented Washington with a great irony - they need their rookie quarterback to play at a high level, something most teams with first-year passers don't have to see right away. And while RGIII's been able to deliver more times than not, it's no way to live if you're the Redskins. Not yet, at least.
This past offseason, Mike Shanahan said he studied every rookie quarterback who had a winning record over the last decade, and found a similar formula: A good running game, a good turnover ratio, and a top-five defense. In other words, there needs to be a supporting cast that a rookie quarterback can lean on, not the other way around.
The Redskins spent two seasons prior to Griffin's arrival trying to build a foundation so that when a young quarterback does take over, he's not asked to do it all. And yet, so early into his career, it seems as if Griffin carries a great burden to have to get it done - or else.
And that's why this season has been such a roller coaster for the Redskins. It's clear that they have something to work with at the game's most important position, but what about everywhere else? A good quarterback - even an elite one - can't mask all of the warts on a roster. So until Redskins players not named Robert Griffin III can perform on a consistent basis and take the load off their rookie quarterback, it's hard to envision them being anything more than a .500 team this season.
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