NEW ORLEANS — When the Redskins returned for the second half in Monday’s 43-19 blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints, cornerback Josh Norman wasn’t on the field for the team’s first defensive series — with coach Jay Gruden opting to play rookie Greg Stroman instead.
Gruden said afterward the decision to bench Norman was “my call there” and did not elaborate if it was related to performance, or for disciplinary reasons.
But Norman had a rough game, getting mixed up in coverage that allowed Saints receiver Tre’Quan Smith to break free for a 62-yard touchdown. He also committed a costly holding penalty to extend the Saints’ first drive, which resulted in a Mark Ingram rushing touchdown.
Overall, Norman was part of a Redskins defense that allowed a season-high 447 net yards.
“It was my decision early on,” Gruden said. “We talked about some things at halftime and had to cool him down a little bit. Everything’s fine, but he’s going to be back to normal and he’ll play the rest of the year.”
Norman has had a rough start to the season. In Week 3 against the Green Bay Packers, he wasn’t on the same page with safety D.J. Swearinger and receiver Geronimo Allison caught a wide-open 64-yard touchdown, similar to the one against the Saints.
Norman deflected questions about Gruden’s decision to bench him, saying it was his coach’s call.
Until Monday, Washington’s defense had limited teams to no more than 21 points in a single game this season. But Saints quarterback Drew Brees went 26-of-29 for 363 yards for three touchdowns.
Brees had a record-setting night against the Redskins, passing Peyton Manning to become the NFL’s all-time yardage leader. The veteran quarterback set the mark on the Smith touchdown — which Gruden called “an absolute embarrassment.”
“That’s one of the issues we’re talking about and that’s something that we have to get corrected,” Gruden said. “That can’t happen in pro football. You don’t see that happen in pro football. We’re together too long. We run the same coverage for too many times. We’ve got to coach that better. We’ve got to make sure that never happens again.”
After benching Norman for the first series to start the second half, the cornerback returned for the rest of the game.
This wasn’t the first time that Gruden elected to sit one of his starting cornerbacks. Last year against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Redskins coach benched former starter Bashaud Breeland for Quinton Dunbar.
But it’s one thing to bench Breeland, a player with an inconsistent track record. It’s another to sit the star the team signed to a five-year, $75 million deal in 2016.
Asked if he was feeling as “sharp” this season as he normally does, Norman said he was ‘feeling fine.”
“I’ve been doing everything I’ve been asked to do, and doing it to the best of our abilities,” Norman said. “We truly are. At the end of the day, that’s just what it is. I want to be making plays … I want to be an effective player. I’m doing what I’m asked to do.”