Washington Notches Their First Win, Sustains Flickering Hope

Created on Sept. 30, 2013 9:32 AM EST

Ugh. The Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders squared off on Sunday, but a reenactment of Super Bowl XVIII it was not (at least on the part of the Raiders). It was a game made infamous by blocked punts, missed field goals, sacks and a slew of turnovers — a bounty of buffoonery befitting the Bad News Bears … or any Steve Spurrier or Jim Zorn led ‘Skins squad. The ‘Skins, once again, came out of the gate like a shoeless racehorse saddled with a grossly overweight jockey, and before the suds had settled on the first beer (or with roughly 5 minutes remaining in the first quarter for the clean and sober), it was 14-0 Raiders.

At that point, the state of the Washington Redskins was more perilous than that of the federal budget. The first three weeks of the season left every inch of ‘Skins headquarters saturated with gasoline and packed with TNT. A loss to the Raiders would have been the match and hand on the detonator that would have sent the entire thing up in flames. Robert Griffin III’s post-surgery commercial asked us to “blow up” last season; a 0-4 record heading into the bye week would have blown up 2013 before October. 

Fortunately for the ‘Skins faithful, the schedule gods smiled on the burgundy and gold. There are few better cures for an 0-3 team than the Oakland Raiders, but one comes to mind: the Oakland Raiders on a short week (they played in Denver last Monday night), absent starting QB Terrelle Pryor and missing RB Darren McFadden (who was hurt early in the game) for much of the afternoon. Outside of a date with Jacksonville — with Blaine Gabbert behind center — the resistance doesn’t get much more futile than that. After the ‘Skins shook off their habitual early-game hangover, they did enough on offense and Oakland QB Matt Flynn (the current generation’s Rob Johnson award winner for players earning millions on a single-game performance) was bad enough to allow the ‘Skins to escape The Black Hole (of football) with a win only a mother and anyone associated with the ‘Skins would love.

That might be all you can bear to hear about this affair, but if you dare to seek more, I promise to make it entertaining. Laugh with me so that we don’t shamefully weep and leave tear-smeared eye-black on each other’s shoulders. It’s time for the good, bad and philosophical thoughts from Week 4.

The Bad

I have to admit, I lost track of Rashard Jennings. His NFL claim to fame is being the longtime fantasy football handcuff for Maurice Jones-Drew owners. Well, apparently he traded the NFL’s actual black hole of Jacksonville for the self-proclaimed black hole of Oakland. Either way, he’s spent his NFL career in virtual anonymity. The ‘Skins tried their best to make Jennings instantly famous. Jennings had 15 carries and eight catches for 116 yards from scrimmage. The ‘Skins made the journeyman running back look like Jim Brown … or like Joique Bell last week. Memo to fantasy owners: start Demarco Murray against the ‘Skins in Week 6.

The special teams weren’t special; they weren’t even decent. An egregious, matador-esque blocking breakdown led to a blocked punt and an early Oakland touchdown (just what a team on the road and struggling to manufacture points needed). For a cherry on top of the ill-tasting sundae, the “teams” surrendered a first down on a fake punt in the second quarter.  Longtime special teams coach Danny Smith is in Pittsburgh. Wonder if he wants to return? 

I’m forty years old, weigh around 180 pounds, have a reconstructed ACL, and am fresh off back surgery … and I not only stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but also just ran through the Washington defense, breaking five half-heated tackling attempts on my way to pay dirt. That might sound nuts, but if you watched the ‘Skins defense on Sunday, it’s a “no flipping way” scenario that would somehow seem possible. So needless to say, the tackling continues to be a problem, and if this ‘Skins team has any designs on doing anything other than yielding a high first-round draft pick to the St. Louis Rams, they better start getting opposing players on the ground.

The Good

Robert Griffin III continues to take marginal strides. RGIII made a few plays against the Raiders, particularly a scramble in the fourth quarter where he broke containment and hit Roy Helu Jr. for a 28-yard gain. Helu Jr. scored a play later to give the ‘Skins a 24-14 lead with seven minutes remaining. RGIII probably doesn’t make that play a week ago; in Week 1 against Philadelphia it wouldn’t have even occurred to him to attempt such a thing. Griffin also had a clean day from a turnover perspective. That was the norm in 2012; it’s news (good news) in 2013.

The ‘Skins have three players that continue to impress: Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon and Ryan Kerrigan. Morris, who suffered a rib injury late in the game, was his typical self. He runs so hard and he always seems to lean the pile forward for an extra yard or two at the end of his runs. His style lacks any flair so it’s easy to take him for granted. If you do, shame on you.

Garcon continues to play much bigger than he is. He runs angry and with purpose. He has consistently provided the offense something it has desperately needed during RGIII’s comeback that feels more like a “phase-in”: an edge.

Ryan Kerrigan is the best player on defense and it’s not really close. Sunday offered another two sack, one forced fumble performance, bringing his total in each ever-important category to five and two, respectively.

There are two honorable mentions. First, rookie CB David Amerson contributed a huge pick-six that may have been the play of the game. Down 14-3 early in the second quarter, Amerson picked off a Flynn pass and took it to the house for a momentum changing play that got the ‘Skins back in the game and cured the heartburn afflicting the D.C. region. Who needs Tums when you have David Amerson? The second oh-by-the-way (or OBTW for those cooler than the writer), goes to Helu Jr. Pinch hitting for the injured Morris, Helu scored a huge touchdown late in the game and was stellar in the passing game. I touted Helu’s abilities in the preseason, and he’s done nothing to change my mind. He needs a regular role in the offense.

The Philosophical

I’m going to keep this really, really short. Much has been made of RGIII’s choppy return, the ‘Skins defense’s historical stink-a-tude (not a word but an accurate description of performance) and the team’s unexpected 0-3 start.

But all is not lost.

RGIII is getting better. A return to 2012’s form isn’t imminent, but it shouldn’t be. Like any hedonist, “to hell with tomorrow” good time, 2012’s RGIII wasn’t sustainable. More importantly, the NFC East is bad, even more than expected. Assuming Dallas loses next week to Denver, the 2-3 Cowboys might face the 1-3 ‘Skins in two weeks for the division “lead.”  Theoretically, the 1-3 Eagles could win the next two and nestle into the NFC East perch, but they just lost 52-20. 52-20! That’s a Saturday, non-conference score. Such is life in the NFC East in 2013.

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