Initial Thoughts: Giants 27, Redskins 23

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Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 27-23 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday:

I’m still in disbelief about how open Giants WR Victor Cruz was for the winning 77-yard touchdown. Just…wow. A touchdown was the only way the Redskins could have lost the game in that situation. It was the only outcome that absolutely could not happen. But there was Cruz, two yards clear of CB Josh Wilson and three clear of FS Madieu Williams when he caught QB Eli Manning’s pass.

The priority of preventing a touchdown in that situation – leading by 3 with 1:13 remaining – is elementary stuff. Williams, a nine-year veteran, knows that. So what happened? Why did he not respect Cruz’s speed and the possibility of a go route?

He didn’t provide much insight after the game. “They made a play,” Williams said. “We didn’t execute as well as we’d been doing throughout the game, and credit to them.”

Williams and Wilson double covered Cruz. Williams didn’t drop immediately after the snap like S Jordan Pugh did on the other side. He was at the Giants’ 34-yard line at the snap and at the 40 when Cruz ran past him. Wilson played Cruz with inside leverage, Williams shaded him to the outside, and Cruz simply sprinted between them.

Even if you believe coordinator Jim Haslett or defensive backs coach Raheem Morris should have had Williams dropping deeper into the secondary after the snap, the bottom line is that Williams cannot get beat deep under any circumstances, and it’s up to him to ensure that.

Let’s take a step back, though. The secondary problems probably are too complex to narrowly classify. It’s a combination of personnel limitations and coaching, as it usually is. Don’t forget pass rush ineffectiveness, either. When the Redskins make changes to the secondary in the offseason, they can look back at this play and clearly see their need for increased speed on the back end. Neither Wilson nor Williams were going to recover once Cruz ran past them. They were cooked.

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Losing TE Fred Davis is a cruel injury added to the insult of this defeat. Not many offenses can withstand losing their best playmakers. Davis falls into that category because of his athleticism as a pass catcher and his improved run blocking. He isn’t a perfect blocker by any stretch, but his commitment to blocking and his technique have gotten better. He’s a big reason why the Redskins are a much better running team this year. They will badly miss him.

It’s even more of a shame for Davis that this happened in his contract year. He was playing good ball, and he seemed to be following the rules after last year’s drug suspension. In other words, he was positioning himself for a nice payday. Instead, his recovery will impact his options going forward. He’s only 27, so it’s fair to expect him to come back fully fit, but, as coach Mike Shanahan says, you never know.

Re-signing Chris Cooley is the logical move to replace Davis. Cooley knows the playbook, which is something Mike and Kyle Shanahan value because they want such in-season transitions to be as smooth as possible. Plus, management wants him to be part of the organization. Even if Mike Shanahan doesn’t play Cooley over Logan Paulsen or Niles Paul, Cooley would come back at a much lower salary than he was scheduled to make this season. His heart still is in playing for the Redskins. As long as he is in good enough physical shape to fit in on an NFL field, it’s the right move.

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NT Barry Cofield spoke after the game about how the team is at a crossroads because of the nature of this loss and because of Fred Davis’ injury. His words indicate how deeply this loss cuts.

“You get to pointing fingers, especially this early in the season, it’ll be a disaster,” he said. “We’ve got to stick together.

“We’re still in the race. It’s another gut check game. We had one early (against St. Louis) where we lost some guys. You can go one way or the other. You can bounce back. You keep playing hard. You keep practicing and be a pro…and plan to win, or you can feel sorry for yourself. Pittsburgh won’t feel sorry for us, and no team ahead of us will. It’s up to us which was the season goes.”

Cofield spoke with urgency, which I believe is appropriate. We’re going to find out a lot about this team in the aftermath of this loss. It’s easy to blame the defense or the secondary, in particular. It would be easy to accept letdowns in play because of injuries.

I get the sense that the locker room is equipped with enough leaders and players with good character to withstand any threats to team harmony and cohesion. QB Robert Griffin III is a unifying force, and the Redskins have a chance to win any game he’s playing in. That in itself a major step forward from previous years.

Getting the quarterback in place has changed everything on offense. And if that’s Washington’s only accomplishment this season, it might be enough to consider the year a success.

***

Robert Griffin III deserves tons of credit for overcoming two second-half turnovers and positioning the Redskins to win. His outside-shoulder throw on the 30-yard touchdown to WR Santana Moss with 1:32 to play was brilliant.

“Perfect throw,” Moss said. “Perfect touch. Put it in the air where I could run to it.”

Griffin’s explanation of what he saw on the play is proof he already is operating at a high level on his pre-snap reads. He recognized a matchup he wanted in an advantageous a route against the defense he was presented with.

“They were one high safety,” Griffin said. “We had a good play against that look, but rarely do you throw a seam route hot the way we did on that play. I saw one high safety, the safety rolled the other way, and I’ve got Santana Moss one-on-one against a rookie (CB Jayron Hosley). I’m a rookie myself, but you have to take advantage of that.”

And how about Griffin’s playmaking ability on fourth-and-10 from the Washington 23 with the game on the line? His poise while pressured by DE Jason Pierre-Paul was crucial to keep the play alive near the sideline, and Griffin has such a good feel for how to buy time. If the Redskins had won, that 19-yard completion to TE Logan Paulsen would have been iconic.

“I’m pretty mad at the football gods for putting him in the NFC East,” Giants DE Justin Tuck said. “To face that guy twice a year is going to be a headache. He takes away from your enthusiasm for the game a little bit.”

That’s a quite a compliment.

***

Griffin and TE Logan Paulsen said Griffin’s third-quarter interception was a miscommunication between them. Would that have happened if TE Fred Davis were still healthy and in the game at that point? Impossible to say, but you have to wonder.

Griffin’s fumble on the next possession resulted from his failure to secure the ball after faking an inside draw. DE Jason Pierre-Paul was aggressive attacking Griffin on the play. It was reminiscent of how Cincinnati’s ends prioritized defending him in on zone read runs in Week 3.

“I saw right away that he had the ball,” Pierre-Paul said. “I just did my best to try to tackle him.”

Griffin’s protection of the ball was one of his greatest accomplishments through six games. He turned the ball over only three times. He’s usually very careful throwing the ball. He held it as long as possible – maybe even too long – on several throws against the Giants. He had TE Niles Paul behind the defense on one play but didn’t pull the trigger. As he builds experience, he’ll get more confident in trusting what he sees and getting the ball out on time.

***

Another defensive breakdown stands out besides the game-winning touchdown. The Giants extended their first touchdown drive by converting third-and-10 from the Washington 21. QB Eli Manning threw to RB Ahmad Bradshaw in the right flat. Bradshaw is shifty and tough to bring down in space, but the Redskins had ILB London Fletcher there in coverage. Can you think of a defender Washington would rather have had in position to make the tackle?

Fletcher hesitated, though, and Bradshaw ran away from him and got the first down. What happens when your best player can’t make a play? If your top guys can’t make those important tackles, you’re going to lose.

Fletcher left the game in the second half with a slight hamstring strain. He wouldn’t speculate on his availability for next Sunday against Pittsburgh, saying: “It’s a long way to Sunday.”

***

The Redskins entered the game second in the NFL with a plus-9 turnover ratio. They lost Sunday’s turnover battle, 4 to 2. Washington fumbled five times and lost three; New York never put it on the ground.

***

Giants QB Eli Manning won two Super Bowls by engineering late game-winning drives, so it’s no surprise he exploited the Redskins’ defense with the game at stake. He redeemed himself after throwing two interceptions, including one in the red zone.

“When his back is up against the wall is when he does his best work,” New York coach Tom Coughlin said.

“He’s like Joe Montana now,” Redskins NT Barry Cofield said. “He’s just unbelievable. He was good when I was here, but he’s unbelievable right now. He had no quit in him. The team has no quit because they just have so much faith in him and they’ve got playmakers on the edges. If you’re not up two scores with less than a minute, you can’t rest. He did it again.”

 

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