Reporting David Elfin
WASHINGTON (CBSDC) - The Eagles were in town for “Monday Night Football” so the Redskins, a game back of their NFC East foes, thought they’d make a splash by announcing a contract extension for their ex-Philadelphia quarterback that night.
After some pregame jawing and shoving, the visitors soared to a quick 35-0 advantage and cruised to a 59-28 triumph. Washington, 4-4 coming into that game, went 2-5 after that defeat.
Mike Shanahan and Co. might have learned not to mess with the Eagles’ collective psyche from that 2010 debacle in Landover, but all the hype – outside of Philly, that is — before last night’s MNF opener in the same stadium was about the ballyhooed return of Redskins franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III from knee surgery eight months to the day.
The rebuilding Eagles, 4-12 in 2012, were going to play the roles of the Washington Generals to the defending NFC East champion Redskins’ Harlem Globetrotters.
Not so fast. Actually, make that very fast. First-year Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly’s no-huddle, hurry-up offense averaged just 18 seconds per play while generating 176 yards on its first three series. If not for Ryan Kerrigan niftily deflecting a lateral at the Washington 10-yard line that DeAngelo Hall took 75 yards the other way for a touchdown, the Redskins would have trailed 17-0 after just 6:01.
At halftime, the Eagles had 21 first downs, 322 yards and 26 points. Washington’s offense had three, 75 and zero. A series apiece into the third quarter, Philadelphia led 33-7. Griffin had been intercepted twice and fumbled for a safety while managing just 64 yards on a combined 16 passes and runs.
The Redskins’ three touchdowns in the last 15:06 only made their final 33-27 defeat look respectable.
Washington’s defense was the guinea pig for the rest of the league in regards to what Kelly, 46-7 the past four seasons at Oregon, was going to unveil. Watching hours of tape, punishing Buffalo’s fast-paced attack in preseason, and practicing against Pat White, the poor man’s Michael Vick, clearly wasn’t the same as facing Philadelphia’s quarterback and his equally swift teammates LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, who combine for 258 yards and two touchdowns on 30 touches before Kelly eased up on the throttle in the second half.
“Once you get tired, the mind goes at times, so guys start missing assignments … and missing tackles,” Redskins outside linebacker Brian Orakpo said after his first regular season game in nearly a year.
“That offense is definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with in this league,” added cornerback Hall, one of several Redskins who suffered from cramps even though it wasn’t a particularly steamy evening. “It wasn’t the pace, but definitely the number of plays.”
The Redskins won’t have to confront Kelly’s Green Machine again until Week 11, by which time other defenses will presumably have provided some idea of how to deal with it. And of course, as was the case last year, defense wasn’t going to be Washington’s strength, especially with strong safety Brandon Meriweather (groin) and left ends Adam Carriker (quadriceps) and Jarvis Jenkins (suspension) unable to play.
However, Redskins fans have to be worried about Griffin and the offense. Facing a Philadelphia defense with six new starters and which had switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme, Washington had as many turnovers as first downs during the first 32-plus minutes and was held scoreless until only six seconds remained in the third quarter. Its first three series ended with the ball in the hands of the Eagles, courtesy of a fumble, an interception and a safety.
All four of Griffin’s completions over 12 yards came in the final 16 minutes. He threw the first of his career-high two interceptions into triple coverage, showing some of the effects of such a long layoff from competition. He was later called for intentional grounding. Until the final two minutes, the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year had been sacked more often (three times) than he had run for more than a two-yard gain (twice).
Alfred Morris, who broke the franchise rushing record as a rookie in 2012, fumbled on his first carry and managed just 45 yards on 12 attempts. Fred Davis, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss and Darrel Young all failed to hold onto catchable passes.
The special teams also didn’t present well in their debut for assistant Keith Burns after nine years under Danny Smith. Kai Forbath, 17-for-18 on field goal tries as a neophyte in 2012, was wide right from 40 yards. Rookie Chris Thompson was a disappointment on returns.
Washington now has to go to Green Bay on a short week to face a talented Packers team ticked off that it was edged at defending NFC champion San Francisco in its opener. The Redskins could well be looking at an 0-2 hole with dates at AFC favorite Denver, defending NFC South champion Atlanta and all of its division rivals still to come along with visits from the potent 49ers, New York Giants, Dallas and Chicago.
As Shanahan said, “It’s a 16-round fight. We lost the first round.”
However, sometimes one game can really make a difference. Griffin’s record-setting debut in the shocking 40-32 opening victory at New Orleans last September gave the Redskins, 15-33 over the previous three seasons, confidence that 2012 wasn’t going to be more of the same. They went on to win the NFC East for the first time in 13 years.
Was last night’s performance by the guys in burgundy and gold a similar harbinger? If so, Washington fans, who have suffered through a stunningly mediocre summer with the Nationals, might be about to double their heartache.
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 three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin