Reporting David Elfin
The Redskins were on the brink yesterday in Oakland. Winless against the soft portion of their schedule, the defending NFC East champions fell behind the long-laughable Raiders 14-0 less than 12 minutes into the game.
Coordinator Jim Haslett’s defense — which came in having surrendered an NFL-record 1,464 yards in the first three games to Philadelphia, Green Bay and Detroit — had just allowed a 10-play, 81-yard touchdown drive on which rookie cornerback David Amerson got burned for the critical 34-yard completion to Denarius Moore.
How was Washington going to rally to avoid being 0-4 heading into its Week 5 bye with games against defending NFC champion San Francisco, defending division champions Atlanta and Denver, 2012 wild card Minnesota, and Chicago (a 10-game winner in 2012) still ahead? That’s not even mentioning two dates apiece with NFC East rivals Dallas and the New York Giants, the rematch with the Eagles, a contest with unbeaten Kansas City and another with potent San Diego.
After all, the punchless offense had scored all of 13 non-garbage time points against the Eagles, Packers and Lions all of whom ranked behind the Raiders in points and yards allowed.
“We came out of the gates a little slow and we needed our defense to step up for us and they did that,” said quarterback Robert Griffin III.
And how. The NFL’s most porous defense rose up and sacked Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn – who had gone down once filling in for the concussed Terrelle Pryor – six more times, returned his interception for a score, forced him to fumble, and stopped him cold on a critical late sneak.
Amerson exacted revenge by picking off Flynn’s pass intended for Moore and taking it 45 yards to the house to narrow the gap to 14-10 after Griffin and Co. had used the no-huddle that had bedeviled Washington’s defense in Weeks 1-3 to produce a field goal.
Outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo each sacked Flynn twice as did nose tackle Barry Cofield, giving Washington such a trio for the first time in 20 years. Backup backer Darryl Tapp made it seven sacks. Kerrigan forced Flynn’s fumble which Cofield recovered. And inside linebacker London Fletcher led all tacklers with 10, including the critical stop on Flynn’s sneak, while breaking the post-merger defensive record by playing in a 244th consecutive game.
All told, the Redskins held the injury-riddled Raiders to 298 yards, just 44 on the first six possessions after halftime. By that point, Griffin had found top receiver Pierre Garcon for a 5-yard touchdown and Roy Helu, who took over when ace running back Alfred Morris was kayoed with bruised ribs, had scored for the first time since Week 13 of 2011 to round out the 24-point comeback that provided the 24-14 victory.
“It wasn’t perfect, but we just found a way to win,” said defensive end Stephen Bowen. “We gutted it out. That’s what we did last year; we just found ways to win games and that’s what we’ve got to keep doing, just build off of this.”
There won’t be much building off a victory over a talent-challenged Oakland team that began the day minus five injured starters and lost its running back and fullback during the game. But there was surely relief on the Redskins’ long plane ride home knowing that they enter this week’s bye on a high with plenty of time to regroup from their sorry September and prepare for the 12-game marathon to come.
“We had to come out of here 1-3,” Griffin said. “Now guys will be able to enjoy the bye week a little bit more and then we come back and we’ll have to get on a winning streak [like last year’s 7-0 post-bye tear] to get back to where we want to be.”
But as Griffin noted, neither he, the hard-running Morris, Garcon – whose 29 catches put him on pace to break Hall of Famer Art Monk’s 29-year-old franchise record of 106 – nor the resurgent defense is what the Redskins really have going for them at 1-3.
That would be the NFC Least which went winless yesterday outside of Washington’s triumph. Dallas, which blew a 21-10 lead in San Diego, leads the division at 2-2, a game ahead of the Eagles, who were pounded by Denver, and the Redskins. New York is winless after getting smacked by the Chiefs but can tie Philadelphia at 1-4 by extending the Eagles’ losing streak to four on Sunday. If the Cowboys lose Sunday to the rampaging Broncos, the Redskins would play at Dallas on Oct. 13 with a chance to take over first place in the Least, which is 2-10 against the rest of the league (Washington over Oakland and Dallas over St. Louis).
“Nobody wants to be 1-3 … but we have to make the best of our situation,” said Griffin, whose offense has been outscored by its defense 21-13 during the first 41:44 of each game. “It’s a good situation for us right now, seeing the way our division has played out. If we come back after the bye and get a win we’re right back in first place. All you have to do is win the division to get into the playoffs.”
Which is all that matters.
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.