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Washington Redskins Week 1 Postmortem

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So what did we learn in RGIII's return to the field? Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images.
So what did we learn in RGIII's return to the field? Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images.

Week 1 of the NFL season has a way of serving massive amounts of humble pie to actual and self-proclaimed NFL experts (fantasy and otherwise). We know what we know; we may or may not know what we don’t know.

Then there’s the believe-it-or-not preseason to smudge it all together. Eventually, the first 16 real games are played across a fabulously expanded weekend. It’s an annual occurrence that is wildly entertaining but brutally unkind to the football I.Q. of most “experts.” Now that 2013’s opening weekend is in the rearview, we can pretend like nothing surprised us. I’ll do just that with my takeaways from the ‘Skins-Eagles game.

To The Victor Go The Spoils

Before launching into a psychotic diatribe on the catastrophe that was Washington’s 2013 debut, I will appropriately start by applauding the Philadelphia Eagles. Wow, that was impressive. The first half looked like Oregon versus, well, just about anyone.

The Eagles were energized and played with an adolescent abandon. Any team in the league would have struggled to match the Birds’ intensity and pace. Surely the ‘Skins knew it was coming; we all knew it was coming. But did we really expect the Showtime Lakers in pads? I didn’t — and neither did the sleepy ‘Skins. The Eagles, a 2012 afterthought, are a must-see team the rest of the season.

Surreal Start: Dallas vs. Giants II

From Washington’s perspective, the first half was a big hot mess. I admit to laughing at the professional football mockery the New York Giants were on Sunday night. The Giants were so bad that head coach Tom Coughlin, a guy that’s been around awhile, declared at halftime that it was the worst half of football he had ever seen.

If he was watching Monday Night Football, he may have seen something even more offensive.

Alfred Morris fumbled. Robert Griffin III threw a gross interception. And the two of them botched a simple toss in their own end zone in a misguided tribute to the Week 1 star: the safety. The Eagles even paused their pinball machine offense ever so briefly to cough up a deflected backward pass for a ‘Skins defensive score. Hmmm … what exactly were the ‘Skins doing during all those OTAs, training camp practices and four preseason games? RGIII’s cute little Adidas commercial “blew up” last season. If there’s any dynamite left, I suggest doing the same to Week 1.

Starting Robert Griffin III Was A Mistake — I think

Let’s be honest: Kirk Cousins could have won that game. RGIII looked like the same guy that was scrapped off the FedEx Field turf last January — in other words, a shell of his healthy self.

I’m on record as stating he should have been benched for the first four weeks of the season, and his performance Monday night did little to make me reconsider that position. He looked as shell-shocked as Rocky Balboa did during his first fight against Clubber Lang.

RGIII’s footwork was atrocious (Cutler-like), he missed open receivers, threw late to others, and channeled his inner-Rex Grossman while carelessly throwing into blanket coverage. Worse than that, he played scared and the anxiety he obviously felt about returning infected his teammates and coaches. The whole lot of them looked constipated. That’s a poor formula to compete against a team jacked to open a fresh can of whoop-ass. How poor? Well, when you’re down 26-7 at half and feel lucky…

So starting RGIII was a mistake, right? I think so. How’s that for a spineless statement. Let me try again. Yes, I think it was a mistake, but like RGIII said he could see “the mistake” in remaining in the playoff game against Seattle, I can see the benefit of playing him against Philly. Having now seen RGIII’s fragile psychological state, it’s unlikely that he was going to clear his head until he played — no matter when that occurred. If he comes back a better player next week, I’ll give Shanahan some credit for rolling the dice. If he’s still a rust bucket or gets reinjured, I’ll be serving grilled Shanahan kabobs post-game.

Effort And A Man Named Jordan

A long time ago I went on a date with a very attractive woman. She asked me to take her home long before the night was supposed to be over. When recounting the evening with a friend a few days later, I described it as a disaster. He disagreed. His words of solace were “at least she went out with you.” It was a fair point then and one I’ll apply to this game. What were Washington’s bright spots amid the rabid flock of Eagles? I came up with two things: the team’s effort and rookie TE Jordan Reed.

Despite the Eagles’ offensive onslaught and the ‘Skins prized offense messing its pants on national TV, the ‘Skins played for four quarters. In the second half, RGIII found some semblance of rhythm and the defense adjusted well enough to hold Philly to a single touchdown. In the waning seconds, the ‘Skins were an onside kick recovery away from having the ball down six with a minute to go.

Doesn’t it seem like all NFL games end this way? 

And then there’s rookie TE Jordan Reed. The kid looked lost at times in the preseason, but escaped a game-day deactivation and caught five passes. With RGIII likely limited in whatever games he plays this year, the ‘Skins will need more from the rebuilt superhero’s supporting cast, and Reed could emerge as an unexpected asset.

Long-Term Worries

I’ll close with two broader thoughts.

First, lost in the Eagles’ blindsiding of the ‘Skins were the number of carries (31) LeSean McCoy had and the hits Michael Vick absorbed. As fancy as Chip Kelly’s debut was, he will not be able to use McCoy and Vick to this extent for 16 games. And unlike his Pac-12 schedule, there are no quasi bye weeks in the NFL. Every game is a fight — a test of a player’s physical and mental strength and survival skills. It will be interesting to see how Kelly tweaks his approach to preserve his offensive assets or if he does so before it’s too late.

Regarding the ‘Skins, offensively, they looked like a cast of strangers. It seemed senseless considering the team returned all 11 starters from last season, but in some ways they were first-time acquaintances. This cast only knew itself with RGIII behind center. Monday night, Robert, just Robert, was behind center. The guy that gave the offense its identity, RGIII, was absent and likely will be for the entire season. Robert can’t do all the things that RGIII did. What can he do? What will he be this year? We — Robert, his teammates and the sports world — are about the find out together … on the fly.