Initial Thoughts and Observations: Lions 27, Redskins 20

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ANALYSIS/OPINION

If you were to create a scenario from scratch to induce panic amongst Washington’s football faithful, you couldn’t do much better. How about a home loss to the Lions – something that’s never happened in 76 years - that led to an 0-3 start with a historically bad performance by the defense? That’ll do.

But – here were are. The Redskins looked better on Sunday. That’s like saying it’s great the Titanic is taking on water at a slightly slower speed. Jack Dawson is still going swimming in that ice-cold water in a few minutes and Rose can’t do a damn thing about it unless that gaping hole in the side of the ship is fixed.

“The food ain’t gonna taste that good tonight,” defensive back DeAngelo Hall said. “Still trying to wrap my head around what we can do to get better.”

Last week players were resolute after a blowout loss at Green Bay. They would figure out their issues – tackling amongst them – and were in no way about to throw in the towel. That resolve is much harder to hold at 0-3 with all three losses coming to NFC foes. And players this time were more likely to throw out phrases like Pierre Garcon’s “this is a job.” That quote is always my go-to sign for a team in trouble.

Still, there is another game to be played next week against the Oakland Raiders. There’s nothing to do but grimly soldier on here. That’s not exactly what you’re looking for heading into Week 4, but again – here we are.

“You can’t hold your head down now because you still got to go out there and show up next week,” wide receiver Santana Moss said. “So what? We lost. We 0-3. That don’t mean we got to stop playing. We all get paid to go out there and do. Now is about time to go out there and just win for a change. It was closer this time, but close don’t get you a win.”

Maybe the only saving grace is a game against the woeful Oakland Raiders next Sunday. Yes, it’s on the road and yes it’s not like the Redskins can count on anything at this point. But win that game and they have two weeks to prepare for NFC-East leader Dallas, which itself is only 2-1.

Hey, when you’re swimming alone in the freezing north Atlantic you latch onto any little bit of optimism. The Redskins now know they are also one more loss from oblivion, a shocking start for a team that legitimately believed it could defend its 2012 division title. They don’t need to dwell on it.

“We got to keep playing. We ain’t gonna turn in,” offensive lineman Trent Williams said. “It’s an 0-3 start. We got 13 games left. A lot can be done in 13 games.”

***

The Redskins weren’t really all that into playing the what-if game when asked about the fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Robert Griffin III to wide receiver Aldrick Robinson that was overturned by replay.

I don’t know. I didn’t see it,” Moss said of the play. “I really don’t know, honestly. We didn’t know nothing about it. We didn’t score so I can’t talk about something that we didn’t have.”

The game was tied 17-17 at the time. For his part, Robinson said he could tell his teammates weren’t buying his argument that he kept his left hand under the ball at all times. They were looking up at the same giant scoreboard he was. Was that going to be a turning point for Washington?

“Yeah, if he catch it,” Williams said curtly. “If it’s ruled a catch, [heck] yeah. A touchdown would have did a lot for us in that instance. But it was a tough catch to make. That’s how the ball rolls sometimes.”

***

It’s hard to say the Redskins did a good job on Lions star wide receiver Calvin Johnson. He had seven receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown late in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach.

Still, Hall was matched up with Johnson for much of the day. He had a 17-yard interception return for a touchdown and in the second quarter batted down another pass in the end zone that was ticketed for Johnson. Hall stomped his feet and let out a roar. A few moments earlier he and Johnson went nose-to-nose jawing after a play.

“It was all right. The ultimate goal is to get a win,” Hall said. “It’s not about me and him, back and forth, me trying to beat him, him trying to beat me. You know, he wants to win. That’s what he got. I wanted to win when I strapped up and I went out there today. That’s what you want – to get a win. Very disappointed we didn’t do that.”

Detroit found other ways to get Johnson open. They lined him up in the slot and forced Washington to use Josh Wilson or one of its safeties to make a play. The Redskins mixed in some zone looks at times and had some defensive miscommunications.

On one play late in the second quarter, Hall undercut a route and didn’t turn around in time to find the ball, but safety Brandon Meriweather was too deep to help. That play went for 20 yards. Johnson caught a pass for 26 yards to begin that drive, which ended seven seconds into the second quarter with a touchdown pass to tight end Joseph Fauria.

“I just wanted to go up there and be physical with [Johnson], play as close to him as possible,” Hall said. “You give him too much space, as you saw a couple times, and he’s gonna make a play.”

***

Middle linebacker London Fletcher is the NFL’s active leader in consecutive games played. But even the sturdiest of players needs a breather now and then.

Fletcher left the field several times during his team’s disappointing 27-20 loss to the Detroit Lions at FedEx Field on Sunday afternoon. He was replaced by reserve Nick Barnett, who had yet to take the field this season. That’s not a common sight even as Fletcher reaches his football old age at 38.

“Just simply made to keep me fresher,” Fletcher said. “It was something I decided I wanted to do to let [Barnett] get a few plays and keep me fresher. They rotate running backs to keep them fresher so I decided to rotate the middle linebacker.”

Fletcher then flashed a smile. The longtime veteran couldn’t have enjoyed watching from the sidelines. He has now started 203 consecutive games and appeared in 243. That ties him with Bill Romanowski for the most by a defensive player since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.

So Fletcher is not one to cede playing time lightly. But after a couple of difficult weeks for the Redskins defense, he was also open to any idea that would help. Did it work at all? Did he feel better?

“I did,” said Fletcher, who recorded his first sack of the season on the game’s first offensive play. “I thought it helped me just throughout the course of the game.”

***

Wrote a full story on Robinson’s recalled touchdown - check out a great photo of that play by our photographer Andrew Harnik here - and Griffin slide/fumble that proved costly in the fourth quarter. But here’s a cutting-room floor quote from Redskins coach Mike Shanahan on Griffin’s decision:

“I’ve had quarterbacks who have gone headfirst all the time who want to protect themselves and get the extra yard. They feel more comfortable doing that than sliding so a lot of guys do it different ways. It kind of comes second nature to you.”

Shanahan didn’t have an answer for what Griffin was thinking on the play and said it is a difficult one to simulate in practice.

“We’ll work on it and hopefully we’ll have a little bit more ball security when [Griffin] gets put in that situation. Next time he’ll do a normal slide instead of going headfirst.”

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