TAMPA, Fla. — All smiles following a victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team he coached for the previous three seasons, Washington Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris marveled about Robert Griffin III's ability on the game-winning drive.
"RG3 did some magical things," he said. "That offense we got is pretty good."
It is one of the best in the NFL stat for stat. But even after Sunday's emotional 24-22 victory, Morris and the Redskins defense know there's much work to do.
After battening down the Buccaneers' passing attack into the third quarter, the Redskins fell into the same troublesome pattern of allowing big plays that cost them a couple of games in recent weeks. That left defenders with a sour taste.
"We can't win letting leads like that go. We've got to buckle down and finish games off," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "That has to be our identity. We have to go out there and play for 60 minutes and keep hitting, keep hitting offenses in the mouth. We kind of let up a little bit, and we'll keep working on that trying to get better."
Hall termed the defensive performance "average," but perhaps inconsistent would more apt. The Redskins held Tampa Bay to 132 yards and six points in the first half before allowing 241 yards in the second.
Over that time, a 21-6 lead turned into a 22-21 deficit, requiring Griffin and the offense to construct a last-ditch drive to set up Billy Cundiff's redeeming field goal. Cundiff, who missed his first three attempts, said it should never have reached that point.
He's right, but not just about his misses. Instead, holes began to open on defense. Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman overcame an inaccurate start and proceeded to pick apart the secondary.
"We played well that first half. Those guys got going in the second half. I told these guys they were really good wideouts, Mike Williams, getting Vincent Jackson, [Tiquan] Underwood came in and did a nice job for them today," Morris said. "They made a push at the end. But we were able to hang in there, hold them at the end there to a field goal."
Salvaging a victory speaks to what coach Mike Shanahan called finding a way to win. Bending but not breaking in the final minutes contributed to that, but the second half should provide plenty of film which the Redskins can learn from.
What seemed to work in the first half hinged on good coverage and some excellent pressure from outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who had a sack and brought the heat on Freeman to help on Hall's interception. With Brian Orakpo lost for the season and the defensive line not built to rush the quarterback, the onus is on Kerrigan to be a difference-maker, which he was Sunday.
"I knew our secondary was going to make the quarterback hold on to the ball long. So I just knew I had to keep rushing, keep fighting," he said. "I knew if my initial move didn't work, I had to go to my counter and keep rushing."
When the Buccaneers adjusted to block Kerrigan better, Freeman had more time. All of a sudden, receivers had separation, and Raymond James Stadium came alive.
"They were making plays. That's all there really is to it. We still played, I thought, pretty solid throughout most of the game," Kerrigan said. "They're professionals; they're going to make plays, too, and they got good skill players. We weren't going to hold them down completely."
As Freeman led his offense on second-half touchdown drives of 85 and 79 yards, the Redskins' trend of allowing big plays returned.
Freeman to Williams for 65 yards against cornerback Josh Wilson set up the first touchdown, and Freeman to Jackson for 54 yards and then 22 against Hall set up the second.
"They caught the ball; they made plays," Hall said. "I gave up a couple. But they just made plays. Good throws, good catches. They made plays."
Given this secondary's propensity to give up big plays, it looked like a setback following a strong start. The Redskins were without Cedric Griffin, bothered by a hamstring injury and safety Brandon Meriweather, who reinjured his knee in a pregame collision with Aldrick Robinson. Rookie cornerback Richard Crawford also cited some cramping by Wilson that cost him some snaps late, even acknowledging "that's not an excuse."
"It's almost like we're not making the plays. We've just got to make them," he said. "We're there, we just got to make them, come down with them. That's all it is."
The Redskins' defense made enough plays to allow the offense a chance to win the game. But that doesn't mean there isn't reason for concern.
"They just made great catches, [Freeman] made great throws," Crawford said. "On any given day, I feel like we'll make those plays next time."
With Matt Ryan, Roddy White and the Atlanta Falcons coming to town next, there's a sense of urgency for the defense to start making those plays more consistently.
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