GREEN BAY, Wis. — Amid wads of used-up training tape, orange slices scattered on the carpet and piles of white jerseys streaked with green, Alfred Morris found reason for optimism.
“I think we executed a lot better this week,” the second-year running back said.
Yes, those words actually left Morris‘ mouth.
Never mind the 38-20 embarrassment the Redskins absorbed Sunday afternoon on Lambeau Field’s soggy tundra.
Forgot about the comedy of self-inflicted mistakes that included seven head-scratching penalties.
Erase the stream of missed tackles that would shame a Pop Warner coach.
Don’t mention the 480 passing yards rolled up by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, good for 25th-best in NFL history.
A few minutes later, Morris reemphasized the point as teammates scurried out of the locker room: “We executed a lot better in this game compared to Philadelphia.”
The 60 minutes of unfocused football told a much different story. The debacle wasn’t about the Packers taking advantage of one lopsided matchup or picking on an uncomposed rookie.
The Redskins own the NFL’s second-oldest 53-man roster, but made mistakes you’d expect from a group not stocked with veterans. Two forgettable games into the season, they aren’t a disciplined football team.
Not when Niles Paul is flagged for head-butting one of the Packers.
Not when Nick Sundberg — the long snapper — is penalized for unnecessary roughness.
Not when Will Montgomery drew flags for a peelback block and an offensive facemask.
No team can hope to come into sold-out Lambeau Field and entertain hopes of victory when such mistakes become routine and, after the game, shrugged off as an expected adjustment to the new season.
The penalties were only the start. The out-of-control play during Brandon Meriweather’s brief appearance in the first half symbolized much of the problem. The strong safety missed the season-opener because of a groin injury and the Redskins hoped his hard hits would shore up the perpetually flimsy secondary when he started Sunday.
Instead, Meriweather locked onto Packers running back Eddie Lacy after a 10-yard run in the first quarter. The safety lowered his head — violating every shred of common sense or NFL regulation regarding tackling — and aimed at Lacy’s earhole to initiate a helmet-to-helmet collision.
Actually, collision is too gentle of word. The slow-motion replay of the hit that violently snapped Lacy’s head around is sickening.
No flag emerged, despite the NFL’s oft-stated focus to crack down on such play in the face of over 4,600 former players suing the league over head injuries. Lacy, unsurprisingly, left with a concussion.
But Meriweather’s hit parade wasn’t over. Already infamous for a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit on Todd Heap in 2010, the safety targeted running back James Starks by the Packers’ sideline early in the second quarter. Helmets collided again. This time, though, Meriweather went limp as he tumbled to the ground. Players and staff frantically waved for help. Redskins medical personnel sprinted across the field.
When Meriweather finally stood up, two staffers guided his unsteady steps to the locker room where a concussion was diagnosed.
The safety didn’t abide by one of football’s most basic principles. See what you tackle. Keep your head up. That mirrored the rest of his team’s undisciplined effort.
On one play, David Amerson, at least owning the excuse of being a rookie, blew the coverage, then shoved Jordy Nelson to draw a pass-interference flag, but couldn’t prevent a 37-yard grab.
“Another Packer first down!” the Lambeau public address announcer said.
The refrain became common.
Not long after, Starks jetted through missed tackles, common as cheese curds Sunday, for another touchdown.
Jermichael Finley danced out of three would-be tackles on another play.
The afternoon went like that.
Much time, of course, remains in the season. But problems of the sort that plagued the Redskins on Sunday are not the building blocks of competitive football teams, never mind ones entertaining postseason hopes. Ill-advised penalties and shoddy tackling and out-of-control play undermine seasons, no matter the health of Robert Griffin III’s knee.
But the same bluster that followed the season-opening loss to the Eagles — remember defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s thin-skinned response last week to anyone who dared question that defensive effort? — remained in the Lambeau Field visitor’s locker room.
“We’re not too far off,” Trent Williams said. “I know it doesn’t look pretty.”
The problems aren’t complicated, which hints at their seriousness. Right now, the Redskins struggle with the game’s basic elements.
For a team with playoff aspirations, nothing is positive, nothing is better about that.