Initial Thoughts and Observations: Redskins 45, Bears 41

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Analysis/Opinion

It was a game the Redskins had to have. And so, staring 1-5 in the face and the end of any realistic playoff hopes, quarterback Robert Griffin III pulled a game-winning, fourth-quarter drive out of his back pocket.

Roy Helu’s 3-yard touchdown – set up by five Griffin completions to move the ball down the field over the final 3:57 – helped lift Washington to a 45-41 victory over the Chicago Bears.

There’s no reason to get too excited yet. The Denver Broncos, after all, are waiting next week in the Mile High City. That’s about as unlikely a place to win as any in the league. All the more reason the Redskins needed to beat the Bears and improve to 2-4.

“I don’t know about saved the season,” defensive end Chris Baker said. “It’s just one win. We still got to win the rest of them out.”

Indeed, teammate Barry Cofield estimated Washington needs to win 95 percent of the rest of its games. He and Baker were obviously playing the hyperbole game. But there was really no realistic way this team could make a playoff push without beating Chicago at home. And especially not when starting quarterback Jay Cutler went out with a groin injury in the second quarter. Reserve quarterback Josh McCown hadn’t taken an NFL snap since 2011.

In the end, the Redskins did just enough to improve to 2-4 and keep hope flickering. Dallas (4-3) took over first place in the NFC East with a 17-3 win at Philadelphia (3-4) on Sunday. Washington still has a game left with each team.

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Okay – special teams has now given up a touchdown in three consecutive weeks. That’s impossible to spin. We hope to talk with special teams coordinator Keith Burns this week and get his take on it. Devin Hester’s 81-yard punt return in the second quarter was just the latest calamity.

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan insisted that his team spent all week working on kicking balls out of bounds or hanging them up. Later in the game, there were pooch kicks that gave Chicago decent field position, but kept the ball away from Hester for the most part. Coverage was good – save for that one play. Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln? But reserve tight end Niles Paul, a key special teams contributor, agreed with Shanahan. Hester entered the game with 18 special teams touchdowns for a reason. He left with 19.

Paul beat the Bears gunner on Hester’s touchdown. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize he was being double teamed and got knocked out of bounds. He scrambled to his feet and lunged at Hester, but grabbed a bit of jersey, got stiff armed and nothing else.

“[Devin Hester] is the best in the game. He made a good play,” Paul said. “But if you noticed on special teams it was a different vibe out there, it was guys flying around, getting to the ball, making tackles, 11 guys to the ball. That’s what you want. So it was a disappointment when he had a big return on us, but if you look at everything else we made some plays on special teams.”

The other special teams issue was an onside kick Chicago recovered in the fourth quarter. Only an offside penalty saved Washington there.

***

Brian Orakpo is not exactly known for his hands. In his five-year career, the outside linebacker had yet to have an interception.

That changed in a big way in the second quarter. Orakpo took his first career interception 29 yards into the end zone to break a 10-10 tie at 13:38 of the second.

It was Orakpo’s first career touchdown, too. And while the Redskins gave that back on the punt return by Hester later in the quarter, it still set the tone defensively. At least during a solid first half.

“I didn’t know what to do when I got to the end zone,” Orakpo joked afterwards. “It was a phenomenal feeling. I’ve been trying to get my Ryan Kerrigan on with all the picks he’s got. And Rob Jackson. Trying to catch up a little bit.”

Orakpo was referring to his fellow linebackers, who have made a habit of similar plays the past few seasons. Orakpo did receive a little help on the throw from Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler.

Teammate Reed Doughty was covering Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and helped break up the pass. The ball tipped into the air and Orakpo snatched it and took off down the right sideline. He went into the end zone untouched. Nose tackle Barry Cofield also helped force a throw from Cutler with pressure up the middle.

“I still would rather get the sack. I don’t care about his touchdown,” Cofield deadpanned. “I thought it was a hold and then the back picked me up. But if you’re able to get in the quarterback’s face it makes his life more difficult and [Orakpo] made a great play tracking that ball…His first one since maybe Pee-Wee when he snuck one in. He’s definitely not known for his hands.”

That’s not far from the truth. Orakpo said he has actually never scored a touchdown or had an interception at any level. Not middle school, when he first started playing football, high school, college or the NFL. It was a good time for one.

***

Bears were without starting quarterback Jay Cutler for most of the final three quarters of Sunday’s game.

Cutler was hurt with 9:47 left in the second quarter when he was sacked by Baker and rolled over on the turf twice. He left the game with what was called a groin injury. It was Baker’s first career sack.

“It felt great to get your first sack,” Baker said. “I was disappointed that [Cutler] got hurt. It also felt good that you took someone out, but you never want someone to get hurt.”

McCown, an eight-year NFL veteran, came into the game for the Bears, who had just 28 passing yards in the first half. McCown had not taken a snap in a regular-season NFL game since 2011 with Chicago, yet engineered four scoring drives in the second half, three of them for touchdowns.

“That’s not the first time that’s happened to me. That’s happened a couple of times in my career where the back-up comes in and he sparks the team, plays well,” Cofield said. “You can’t let your guard down…You’ve got to keep playing your best football. And, obviously, we missed some tackles and we didn’t play our best in the second half and he made us pay.”

Baker claimed that McCown’s scrambling ability didn’t change much defensively for Washington given that Cutler can use his legs, too. But the results were certainly better.

“As a general fan watching the game you might be like ‘Oh, wow, the starting quarterback’s down. We’ve got a great shot now of really blowing a team out,” Orakpo said. “But you don’t practice against the guy. We didn’t even really know who the second quarterback was going into the game. So when [McCown] came in we didn’t really have a great scouting report on him and we didn’t realize how mobile he was.”

***

The injury update for the Redskins includes Doughty, the starting strong safety and special teams ace. He suffered a concussion on the unsuccessful onside kick attempt by the Bears midway through the fourth quarter. Well, it actually was successful. It was just called back because of an offside penalty. But Doughty was a casualty on the play. He was not allowed to speak with reporters after the game.

Defensive end Stephen Bowen, meanwhile, left the game in the third quarter with a right knee injury. He did not return to the game, either.

Make sure Doughty gets his share of the credit for the pass breakup that led to Orakpo’s second-quarter interception return.

“I was in coverage and I had nothing really to work,” Orakpo said. “[Doughty] made a hell of a play on the ball and I just happened to be there, running to the ball, chasing it and it fell right into my lap. I was able to take it to the crib.”

***

He’s had a bad ankle, but yet another sign that tight end Fred Davis is on his way out at the end of the season is…he didn’t actually play on Sunday. Davis participated in practice on Wednesday and Thursday and was listed as probable on the injury report. But the Redskins made him inactive anyway.

“We put another guy out for special teams who we thought was going to give us the best chance to win,” Shanahan said. “It’s always tough to deactivate someone, especially when you know that they’re a good football player. Since Fred doesn’t help us a lot on special teams, we thought we’d go with a guy on special teams. And a guy like [Trenton] Robinson came in and did a good job for us today.”

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