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STEVE DeSHAZO: Hot start can’t hide what’s bad with ’Skins

LANDOVER, Md.—The inflatable vinyl replica helmet through which the Washington Redskins usually run onto FedEx Field during pregame introductions malfunctioned Sunday night. It was a fitting metaphor for a season that saw the air come out of the team’s playoff hopes weeks ago.

Yes, the Redskins put on a better showing against the New York Giants than they had six nights earlier in a lackluster 27–6 loss to San Francisco. But the caliber of opponent was markedly inferior, as well. And their 24–17 defeat was no less distasteful, because it left Washington with a 3–9 record, an 0–4 mark against the mediocre NFC East and official elimination from the NFC playoff race.

Perhaps it was holiday traffic that contributed to a late-arriving crowd, or maybe fans just couldn’t bring themselves to watch a couple of underachieving teams. But the tardy missed the Redskins’ best moments of the game.

Outscored by a combined 88–30 in the first quarters of its first 11 games, Washington marched smartly downfield for its first opening-possession touchdown of the season. Robert Griffin III, criticized for his erratic passing all season, was 5 for 5 on the 14-play, 73-yard drive and completed his first 12 passes overall, tieing the best streak of his young career.

But in what has become a recurrent pattern, the Redskins showed little staying power or consistency.

They squandered a 14–0 lead. They earned penalties for tossing a flag at an official (Santana Moss) and kicking a ball after an incomplete pass (Pierre Garçon).

Then there was long snapper Kyle Nelson, who put himself in double roster jeopardy with one of the worst special-teams plays in a year full of them. Nelson dribbled a four-hop snap to Sav Rocca, whose emergency rugby-style kick was deflected. Compounding his offenses, Nelson was called for holding on the play, putting the Giants in excellent field position to score the go-ahead touchdown.

Mike Shanahan didn’t help matters with a specious challenge of the spot on a New York first down that was clear to anyone with a TV monitor (including, presumably, Shanahan’s coaches in the box).

Griffin had his most productive running night of the season, with 88 yards, and one of his more efficient passing games (24 for 32, a 101.8 passer rating). Still, he showed neither the explosiveness nor the instinct on his runs that characterized his sizzling rookie year. Without the speed to outrun defenders on his reconstructed right knee, he veered toward the sideline when he had lanes to cut upfield.

Griffin did surpass 3,000 passing yards for the second straight season, but many of his yards have come in desperation mode, with the Redskins hopelessly behind. On Sunday night, he had a chance for some redemption and a signature moment in an otherwise forgettable season. A game-winning touchdown drive would have provided some measure of satisfaction and temporarily quieted the critics.

Taking over at his own 11 with 8 1/2 minutes to play, Griffin threw for one first down, but was sacked (one of four on the night by Justin Tuck) and misfired on passes to Pierre Garçon and Aldrick Robinson. That gave the ball back to Eli Manning, who led the Giants on a four-minute game-clinching field goal drive.

Griffin got the ball back with 2:32 left and no timeouts. But drops by Logan Paulsen, Garçon and Fred Davis derailed any chance for a dramatic comeback, and the Giants’ Will Hill stole the ball from Garcon after a reception with 1:21 remaining to seal it.

Sunday’s result put a neat bow on a season that started with plenty of hot air, but ended with everyone in Washington feeling deflated.


Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443