Mike Shanahan likes to brag that the Redskins have better kinds of players than the ones from the team he inherited in January 2010. No more selfish types like former defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. No more oddballs like former running back Clinton Portis.
Instead, the coach has brought in such sterling citizens as defensive linemen Barry Cofield, Steven Bowen and Adam Carriker and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. Shanahan believes that his Redskins have character, not characters.
And yet, two games into Shanahan’s third season, the Redskins have committed a ghastly 23 penalties for 223 yards, some incredibly stupid.
“The game was out of hand from early on,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall, the most combustible veteran Redskin, said after Washington blew a 21-6 second quarter lead and lost 31-28 yesterday in St. Louis. “It was tough to try to keep your composure. It was real chippy.”
The last of the Redskins’ mistakes against the Rams was the most costly. Receiver Josh Morgan had just made a good play when he angrily and foolishly threw the ball at Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan. That 15-yard blunder pushed Billy Cundiff’s potential 47-yard game-tying field goal attempt with 78 seconds remaining into an unmakeable 62-yard try that the kicker pushed way right.
“There was a lot of chirping, but you cannot lose your poise,” Shanahan said. “You lose your poise like that and too often it’ll cost you games.”
No kidding, Mike.
Morgan’s hot-headed decision brought back the memory of a receiver whom he watched as a Redskins fan growing up in the District. Remember Michael Westbrook ripping off his helmet for a 15-yard flag, moving Scott Blanton’s field goal attempt back too far in a 7-7 overtime deadlock with the Giants in 1997, a season in which the Redskins missed the playoffs on the final day?
“I’ve never been in a game like this,” Shanahan, a 28-year NFL veteran said with a bit of exaggeration about the constant chirping and pushing which the replacement officials couldn’t control. “The game was a little bit out of control. You don’t like to see that. Obviously, everybody wants the officials back. Hopefully that can happen in the near-future.”
But in the meantime, the Redskins have to be more mature. When even NFL Man of the Year candidate Lorenzo Alexander gets whistled for a horse-collar penalty, you know that the Rams got under the visitors’ collective skins.
Just listen to 33-year-old receiver Santana Moss, the senior Redskin in his eighth season in Washington.
“As players, no matter how much you’re taught not to respond to it,” Moss said after the game. “It’s hard. … If you ain’t a punk, you ain’t going to lay down. When those guys throw hands, what are you going to do?”
Added tight end Fred Davis, who was suspended along with left tackle Trent Williams, for the final four games of 2011 after multiple failed drug tests, “(The Rams) were doing a lot of dirty stuff after the play. In those situations, sometimes your emotions get the best of you.”
Maybe, Fred, but if your emotions get the best of you against a team like the Rams, who aren’t in your division and are 10-51 against the rest of the league over the last five seasons – but 3-2 against Washington – how are you and your teammates going to keep your emotions in check in tight situations against NFC East rivals Dallas, New York and Philadelphia?
As if Shanahan doesn’t have enough of a challenge in fixing a punt team that had one blocked in each of the first two games, now the 60-year-old coach has to give lessons in keeping one’s cool as if the Redskins were a bunch of high school kids.
Then there’s coordinator Jim Haslett’s defense that was torched for 616 yards (458 by the Rams) and 46 points in the last 67:23 after limiting the Saints to 194 yards and 10 points through the first 52:37 of the opening 40-32 upset. Making matters worse yesterday, end Adam Carriker might be done for the year with a knee injury while Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo re-injured — for the second time in a month — the left pectoral that required surgery in January and cornerback Josh Wilson suffered a concussion.
Funny how just two games into the season, 22-year-old rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III – whose passer rating slipped from a league-leading 139.9 to a merely very good 111.6 yesterday — has suddenly become just about as reliable a player as the Redskins have.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin