Lofty Expectations Settling After Loss To Lions
The Redskins expected regular-season success to be a formality as they marched to the playoffs, but a loss to the Lions, their third to start the season, has tempered expectations.
BY ZAC BOYER
LANDOVER, Md. – Forget, for a moment, what the Redskins have – or have not – accomplished this season, and think back to the hopes they had when training camp began eight long weeks ago.
Sure, questions swirled as to the readiness of Robert Griffin III, who had only recently been cleared to participate as he recovered from surgery on his right knee. But every starter except one was returning from a year ago, when the Redskins qualified the playoffs for the first time in five years, and the question was not if, but how far, they’d advance this season.
Those hopes aren’t completely dashed, owing to the collective ineptitude of the other three teams in the Redskins’ division. They are, however, requiring a serious adjustment after only three weeks.
The Lions, who had not won a road game against the Redskins in 22 attempts and 77 years, did so for the first time on Sunday when they emerged with a 27-20 victory at FedEx Field.
That dropped the Redskins to a hapless 0-3 for the first time since 2001. At that point, the numbers are stark: Only three teams have qualified for the postseason since 1990, when the NFL adopted the current 12-team playoff structure.
“A lot of guys, you can see the disappointment,” outside linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “It’s not what we envisioned, going 0-3 at the beginning of the season.”
The Redskins face innumerable problems in every phase of the game, but perhaps none more glaring than what Griffin has faced on offense. Until Sunday, the unit showed a glaring inability to sustain drives, mostly because the injury has reduced a once-dynamic quarterback to a mere pocket passer who has not been a threat to run.
Yet when he finally did against the Lions, gaining a modest 37 yards on six attempts, the stubbornness that landed him in such a predicament again manifested itself. Griffin scrambled for 29 yards early in the fourth quarter but, with the Lions’ safeties closing in, chose to dive and not slide, jarring the ball loose as he landed on the grass.
The fumble led to a turnover, snipping the Redskins’ chance at breaking a 17-17 tie score at halftime into something more favorable. The Lions would make a field goal on the ensuing drive, yet again forcing Washington to play catch-up.
“Knee down, elbow down, but it’s the rule,” Griffin said. “It can be a sucky rule, but it’s still one of the NFL rules, and they said it’s a fumble. It’s unfortunate. I’ve just got to make sure if I dive forward, hold onto the ball, and if I slide feet-first, it’s not a fumble.”
The Redskins committed only two turnovers on the afternoon – Griffin threw an interception in the red zone on the first drive of the second quarter – but they were costly. So, too, were the penalties; they twice extended a Lions’ drive with errors in the first quarter and wiped out a pair of large gains in the second quarter.
That amplified the Lions’ performance. Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 25 of 42 passes for 385 yards and two touchdowns, including an 11-yard strike to Calvin Johnson with 3:56 remaining for a 27-17 lead.
Johnson finished with seven catches for 115 yards, while running back Joique Bell, playing for the injured Reggie Bush, ran for 63 yards and a first-quarter touchdown.
Griffin completed 32 of his career-high 50 attempts for 326 yards, making him the first Redskins quarterback in the Super Bowl era to surpass 300 passing yards in each of his first three games. He looked much more fluid and comfortable in the offense than in recent weeks, throwing passes on rollouts and improvising when necessary in the backfield.
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall returned an interception 17 yards just over five minutes into the game for the Redskins’ first points, while running back Alfred Morris finished with 15 carries for 73 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
They were the first points on offense for the Redskins in the first half this season, ending one streak of slow starts.
“That’s tough,” Morris said. “That’s a tough pill to swallow. But … we’re still in this thing together. It’s still a long season. We’ll try to get a win before we go into the bye week with Oakland. We’ll see what happens.”
➤ A version of this story appears in Monday’s edition of The Free Lance-Star.