Maybe it’s time for a new statistic for quarterbacks: career concussions. Robert Griffin III suffered his first Sunday in his fifth NFL game, which isn’t good news for the Washington Redskins. You’d rather he had his first 400-yard performance in his fifth game or his first four-touchdown day, not his first bell-ringing. After all, one concussion is almost certain to be followed by another and possibly another.
So file the Redskins‘ 24-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at FedEx Field under Life Flashing Before Mike Shanahan’s Eyes. His prize rookie quarterback has had his first serious brush with, well, not quite disaster, but concussions are always scary moments. Griffin spent considerable time on the ground, gathering himself, before walking groggily to the bench, uncertain of either the quarter (third, 6:00 remaining) or the score (the Redskins were about to go ahead 10-7 on 23-yard Billy Cundiff field goal).
That left the team’s fate in the hands of another rookie QB, Kirk Cousins, and a defense that has been anything but reliable this season. Not a recipe for success, even though a major breakdown in the Atlanta secondary enabled Cousins, on his fourth pro pass, to throw for a 77-yard touchdown to Santana Moss.
No, this game was yet another reminder that, five games into Shanahan’s third season, the Redskins still aren’t good enough. Or to put it another way, on an afternoon when they scored two unlikely TDs — on Ryan Kerrigan’s 28-yard interception return and the aforementioned defensive brain cramp — they still couldn’t beat the Falcons, who are 5-0 but, lest we forget, still haven’t won a playoff game under Mike Smith. We’re not talking about a powerhouse here, just a nice NFC club.
Kerrigan’s score, incidentally, was the third this season by the Washington ‘D’ and the Redskins have lost all three games. That’s hard to do. Indeed, Lorenzo Alexander said, “That’s probably the most glaring stat. When you score on defense, you can almost always say you’re guaranteed to win. We’ve just gotta play better in the fourth quarter and not give ‘em any breath at all.”
It would certainly help. But that’s hardly all that ails this team. With Brian Orakpo done for the year, for instance, offenses are able to devote more attention to Kerrigan. And against Atlanta, outside of his touchdown, “I didn’t have any [QB] hits, any sacks or anything,” he said. “That’s very disappointing. I’ve gotta have a better week of practice, [do a better job of] getting off blocks and making plays.”
Not that he was alone. The Redskins barely mussed the hair of the Falcons‘ Matt Ryan, who’s far from the most mobile quarterback in the league. In fact, they sacked him just once in 53 dropbacks. Granted, Kerrigan and Co. didn’t give up the big plays that have been killing them, but they did let Ryan stand back there and dissect them with a lot of shorter tosses to Tony Gonzalez (13 catches, 123 yards, one TD) and Julio Jones (10-94-1). It was a different kind of poison the Redskins chose, but it was lethal nonetheless.
Which all goes back to Not Being Good Enough. As hard as it is to lose when your defense scores a touchdown, it’s even harder to win when you convert only one third down (in nine attempts), allow your opponent to run 33 more plays (81-48) and, for good measure, miss a 31-yard field goal try that would have given you a 10-0 lead late in the first half.
As Shanahan put it, “We had opportunities to kind of put it away; especially early I thought we had momentum.” “Put it away” might be overstating it a bit, but he was totally right that “it comes back to haunt you” when you don’t get more out of the first 30 minutes than they did (seven points, courtesy of Kerrigan).
Speaking of the coach, his willingness to expose Griffin to some heavy hits these first few weeks has been questioned here and elsewhere — and rightfully so. I mean, the kid is only the future of the franchise. You don’t want him getting scuffed up too much.
That said, what happened on RG’s concussion-causing play can’t be second-guessed. It was Just Football — and Robert being Robert. He bounced out of the pocket on third and 3 from the Atlanta 3, trying to figure out a way to get the ball in the end zone, and was unfortunate enough to run into 244-pound linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (specifically, Weatherspoon’s right shoulder). Could have happened to any quarterback.
Griffin didn’t have his best day by any means (10 of 15 for 91 yards, 82.9 rating), but it was interesting to note the difference in the Atlanta defense after he exited. With Cousins, a pocket passer, on in relief, the Falcons were “able to change their scheme and pin their ears back,” Alfred Morris said. That is, they could put pressure on the QB without having to worry too much about him taking off for a long gain. They also could clamp down more on Morris (18 carries, 115 yards), because Kirk, unlike RG3, wasn’t apt to run a keeper or a bootleg (never mind the option).
And of course, Cousins was making his NFL debut, which had as much to do with his two late interceptions — which effectively finished off the Redskins — as anything. “Trying to do too much,” he said. At any rate, it was another game that was there for the taking if they were just a little better. Which raises the question: When, oh when, are they going to be just a little better?
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Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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