By Grant Paulsen

Coaching

— Jay Gruden will get pummeled for Washington’s poor finishes to both halves, I’m sure. But I don’t really know what he was supposed to do about the Redskins’ failure to stop Drew Brees in the second quarter, or the awful penalty that cost the Redskins at the end of regulation.

— The loss was brutal and the collapse was substantial. You can’t squander a 15-point lead in the final 186 seconds. When you do, coaches get blamed. I just don’t know exactly what Gruden did wrong. The one thing I do take umbrage with was the decision to run it three times, including outside on a 3rd-and-a-foot, on Washington’s second to last drive of the game. If the Redskins pick up a first down before the two-minute warning, they probably win. They didn’t throw it on any of those three plays. That was more curious to me than going off tackle needing a half-yard.

— Washington was clearly ready to play and played very hard against a superior opponent. As has been the case most of this season, the Redskins got off to a fast start and seemed to move the ball with ease while operating on the game-opening script Gruden prepared mid-week.

— I loved Gruden going for the 4th-and-6 in the first half. Washington converted with a 25-yard completion. I also thought his fake punt call, while at his own 15, was his gutsiest of the season. It also worked and resulted in an eventual touchdown.

— It’s hard to manage that many issues with Gruden’s play-calling with the Redskins moving up and down the field without incident most of the day. The offense stayed balance, ran the ball effectively, dissected New Orleans’ secondary and hung 30 points for the second time in two weeks. And they did it sans Jordan Reed, Terrelle Pryor, two starting offensive linemen and despite losing Chris Thompson in the game.

— Greg Manusky made some solid in-game adjustments to keep the Saints from scoring over the span of five drives in the second and third quarters. But Sean Payton gets to make adjustments too, and he was able to slice and dice Manusky’s Redskins in the game’s final three minutes. A gassed Washington defense had no answers.

Offense

— Washington scored a season-high 31 points. The last time they scored more points was in Week 16 last season in Chicago.

— The Redskins’ 456 yards was the club’s second-best output of the season so far. The only time the Redskins gained more yardage was against the Oakland Raiders back in Week 3.

— The running game netted 4.7 yards per carry, a marked improvement from the club’s pace for much of the season. There were four rushes stopped in the backfield, but a few rushes that went for big gains helped balance out the average.

— Washington went 3-for-3 in the red zone and 2-for-2 in goal-to-go scenarios. Scoring touchdowns rather than settling for field goals is one of the reasons why the Redskins almost knocked off the Saints.

— Kirk Cousins delivered his strongest performance of the season, out-performing Drew Brees for much of Sunday’s shootout loss before committing a costly late error (more on that mistake in a moment). Cousins completed 69 percent of his passes for 322 yards and 3 touchdowns in an interception-free road game in a loud dome, one of the toughest stadiums to visit in football. He was playing without his favorite target (Jordan Reed) and lost his second favorite target during the game. That didn’t keep the veteran passer from lighting up the Saints.

— Cousins’ best plays included: A 4th-and-6 completion on a perfectly thrown looping deep ball to Vernon Davis on a 25-yard completion. The throw was released as Davis was breaking from his route, even with a defender, and couldn’t have been placed better. Cousins also delivered a strike while being blown up in the pocket on a 40-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Grant to beat a zero-blitz, which has given the former Spartan fits this season. Another adult throw came on a 50-50 ball Cousins flicked downfield for Josh Doctson, giving him a 50-50 opportunity to Moss a defender for a 32-yard reception. Cousins also scrambled for a six-yard first down carry — and got an additional 15 yards on a personal foul — while leaving the pocket on a 3rd-and-2. He really played like an elite-level passer in one of his best games since taking over as the starter.

— As good as he was, Cousins will draw criticism for his handling of the end of the Redskins’ final regulation drive. He was in the middle of orchestrating a gorgeous march down the field for what would have been his NFL-leading fourth game-winning drive. The Redskins had a 1st-and-10 from the New Orleans 34. Cousins took the snap and slung a pass directly out toward the sideline as his two receivers on that side of the formation ran downfield. Was he trying to stop the clock? Was there a miscommunication? Did they not get an audible he called at the line to check out of a run? None of those questions have been answered yet. What is known is that the throw was ruled an intentional grounding, costing Washington 10 yards, a 10-second runoff and a down. That was essentially the end of regulation. Cousins was sacked moments later as the clock hit zero.

— Intentional grounding apparently required imminent pressure, which wasn’t present. Cousins threw the ball almost as soon as he got it. I thought it looked like he was trying to throw a bubble screen that Jamison Crowder did not know was coming. Regardless, the penalty was crippling. The drive derailed and an otherwise potentially legendary toe-to-toe performance against Brees was tainted.

— Samaje Perine made the most of a golden opportunity. The rookie turned a rare start and the second 20-carry game of his season into his first 100-yard game and a coming out party. Perine racked up 117 yards on 23 physical attempts, showing good body lean while keeping his legs churning and making decisive cuts and flashing patience. He got stronger as the game went along.

— Chris Thompson was lost for the remainder of the season with a broken fibula. He was blocking for a scrambling Cousins when he got rolled up on along the sideline. The injury will be a devastating blow to Washington’s stellar passing attack. Thompson is a matchup nightmare for defensive coordinators. He was having a remarkable season, leading the Redskins in both rushing and receiving.

— Jamison Crowder is looking like his old self. He really came up big after Thompson was carted off, making the majority of his seven catches on the Redskins’ final couple of drives. Crowder tallied 72 yards, serving as Cousins’ most reliable option on the fourth-quarter drive that got Washington into field goal range prior to the intentional grounding call.

— Josh Doctson had a four-catch, 81-yard first half and didn’t have a ball thrown his way after halftime. I’m not sure why he was no longer involved. I’d be upset, but the Redskins moved the ball with ease and scored touchdowns without throwing to him, so it wasn’t much of a factor.

— Doctson made a ridiculously impressive leaping 32-yard catch while well-covered, stealing a football from a waiting, out-stretched cornerback. He also did a nice job catching a smoke-screen that he turned up field for a first down. He can play and he continued to show that throwing it to him will lead to good things on Sunday.

— Vernon Davis’ day was mixed. His 25-yard catch on a 4th-and-6 highlighted a 67-yard performance. But Davis also dropped two passes that proved very costly in the second half. Both would have resulted in first downs and the second of them came on the first play of overtime and led to a sack on a play-action pass on second down.

— Ryan Grant got wide open on a 3rd-and-7, against a zero-blitz on busted coverage that was more scheme created than anything. He also caught a pass on a nice bootleg on the opening play of the second half, on a good read by Cousins to turn down an open Davis underneath, to get a bigger gain further down the field. Grant ran a good route on the play.

— Niles Paul was used as a receiver, split out wide working against a defensive back, for the first time in a long time. He was targeted and caught a slant. I liked that look. Paul was a wide receiver in college and has decent hands, and is quick enough to beat linebackers and safeties. I think Washington should do more of that.

— It looked like Paul missed a block on a vital 3rd-and-1 late in the game, leading to Perine being stopped for a loss and the Redskins having to punt to the Saints. New Orleans soon tied the game and Paul got blamed by a lot of fans for the gaffe. He took to social media to tell people they were wrong, and that he executed his assignment on the play. I’ll take his word for it, although I don’t love the practice of guys using Twitter to clear their name with fans. Who cares what people who are not in your locker room think?

— Jeremy Sprinkle caught a touchdown for the first time in his NFL career. He was wide open. Another well-designed play by Gruden in the red zone. Don’t look now, but the Skins have gotten pretty good at turning trips inside the 20 into points.

Defense

— The Redskins allowed 535 yards and 34 points. Yielding those totals will very rarely allow you to win.

— DJ Swearinger’s interception on the third play from scrimmage was impressive. He was playing deep-center field and covered a lot of ground to make a play on the sideline after baiting Brees into a deep shot on a 3rd-and-16. I’m not sure why Brees attempted the pass.

— Ryan Kerrigan tallied 1.5 sacks on a day that saw him make an impact as a pass-rusher. The Redskins didn’t get to Brees as often as they would have liked, but they were able to hit him as he threw several times. Preston Smith and Junior Galette both got close to racking up sacks on a couple of occasions.

— Zach Brown had his most pedestrian game of the season, finishing fifth on the team with five tackles. He did make a tackle-for-loss and break up a pass as well. He was in some type of walking boot after the game, a few days after missing practice time. He’s clearly playing through some type of pain. Sunday was the first time he didn’t look like his All-Pro self.

— Bashaud Breeland delivered Washington’s three hardest hits of the game, all on Alvin Kamara. He played a physical brand of football, helping out against the run and launching himself into pass catchers at full speed. He also broke up a team-high three passes in a strong showing.

— Josh Norman bounced back from a poor outing against the Vikings. He gave up a couple of receptions to Ted Ginn down the field, but nothing back-breaking. He also made a touchdown-saving tackle on a long Mark Ingram run in the second half. Norman led the Redskins with seven tackles — not ideal considering he spends his time in the deep secondary.

— Martrell Spaight’s day was a mixed bag. He missed two tackles early, then he had a great first-half drive, hitting Brees and breaking up a pass in a three-play span. He’s fast and still somewhat inexperienced, but he looks like he has some tools to be a decent inside linebacker. He finished the game with seven tackles and a tackle-for-loss. He made two big stops in the running game in the second half.

— D.J. Swearinger was fantastic again. His interception was his third in two games. If you count his pick on a two-point attempt in Seattle, Swearinger has 4 interceptions in the last nine quarters he’s played. He’s smart and a great leader, and on top of that he is physical and he doesn’t miss many tackles.

— Montae Nicholson was missed when he left the game with a concussion. When he isn’t on the field, Washington’s secondary suffers a major drop in speed, which reared its head against Minnesota a week ago before becoming an issue in the second half in New Orleans. Who would have thought the mid-round pick would be such an important member of the Redskins’ defense this quickly?

— Preston Smith made two huge plays, providing textbook contain on both occasions to setup major losses. He blew up an end-around and also forced Brees into a check down that lost eight yards on another occasion.

— I liked Kendall Fuller’s game. It looked like he had made the game-winning interception, but he was flagged for grabbing a receiver’s facemask before making a play on the ball. He also made a nice tackle to keep the Saints from a first down on 3rd-and-10 before the end of the first half.

Special Teams

— Nick Rose continued to impress. He made his only field goal attempt (from 38 yards) and connected on all four of his extra-point tries. He also booted the ball out of the back of the endzone when asked to.

— Tress Way boomed punts of 60 and 51 yards on a day that saw him average 49.6 per boot. His day would have been even better had Joshua Holsey pinned New Orleans at the one-foot line when Way delivered a perfect pooch punt, but Holsey’s heel was on the goal line, gifting the Saints a touchback.

— The Redskins cost themselves a shot at three points on a Stacy McGee false start when the field goal unit was preparing to attempt a 51-yard kick. Jay Gruden then elected to punt instead of attempting a 56-yard field goal.

— The Saints racked up 38 yards on just two punt returns. That’s way too much punt-return yardage.

— Washington did successfully pull off a fake punt for the first time since last season, picking up a 4th-and-short on a direct snap to up-man Niles Paul. Paul plowed straight ahead into a pile of bodies, moving the mass of humanity a few yards forward to pick up the first down.

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