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Late Rally Falls Short, Spoiling Robert Griffin III’s Return

The quarterback’s forgettable return from knee surgery and the defense’s regrettable performance against a new-look offense led to the Eagles claiming a victory over the Redskins in the season opener.

BY ZAC BOYER

LANDOVER, Md. – The message was brief, and the quarterback hammered it home with conviction.

Griffin III

“This game isn’t about one person,” Robert Griffin III shouted to his teammates, all of whom surrounded him shortly before kickoff. “It’s about you, and you, and you. It’s about all of us together as a team.”

Griffin struggled in his return from surgery and the defense was frustrated by an innovative offense as the Eagles defeated the Redskins 33-27 before 82,743 in the season opener at FedEx Field.

The quarterback completed 30 of 49 passes for 329 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but he looked like a player who hadn’t been on the field and faced a live defense in over eight months.

Eased back into practice during training camp and held out of the preseason entirely, Griffin took a while to work into the flow of the game. Early on, his mechanics were sloppy and his reads were inconsistent, causing several of his passes to sail high or sink low.

It didn’t help that the Redskins couldn’t string drives together to work out the rust – or to keep the Eagles’ offense off the field.

That new-look, no-huddle, up-tempo offense had no problem racking up plays and churning out yards. They ran 76 plays, including 53 in the first half, and gained 445 total yards, including 265 on the ground.

They used the read option extensively, freezing linebackers, opening up holes and creating one-on-one matchups downfield. They also extended the line of scrimmage, often lining receivers up near the sidelines to take advantage of a variety of screen passes.

And, with a frenetic pace that often led to a snap with 20 seconds remaining on the play clock, they were able to effectively run the Redskins’ defense, especially its front seven, off the field early.

“You can’t go against a team with a high-tempo offense and gain three first downs [yourself] and expect your defense to play well in the first half,” Mike Shanahan said.

The Eagles were foiled on their first drive when quarterback Michael Vick’s lateral pass was batted down by outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and picked up by cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

Without any offensive players in pursuit, Hall was able to carelessly jaunt 75 yards into the end zone, marking the fourth consecutive season opener in which the Redskins’ defense scored a touchdown.

The Redskins then turned the ball over on their next three possessions, one of which led to a 25-yard touchdown pass from Vick to DeSean Jackson and another resulting in a safety when Alfred Morris couldn’t handle a pitch from Griffin in the end zone.

Philadelphia had built a 26-7 lead at the half, with Vick throwing one touchdown pass to Brent Celek and running three yards for another. And despite the break, the second half started off as poorly as the first ended: Griffin threw his second interception on the opening drive, with cornerback Cary Williams diving in front of a low pass intended for Pierre Garçon on an out route.

“We feel as an offense our job is to score when we operate at a high level, and we didn’t operate at a high level in the first half,” Griffin said.

LeSean McCoy, who finished with 184 yards, ran 34 for a touchdown on the ensuing possession to stretch the lead to 33-7. The Redskins cut into the lead late in the third quarter when Alfred Morris ran five yards for a touchdown, and Griffin then found Leonard Hankerson with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.

But the onside kick attempt, with 1:14 remaining, was recovered by the Eagles. Their offense, as was the case much of the game, was left standing on the field.

A version of this story appears in Tuesday’s edition of The Free Lance-Star.

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