Rough Monday huh? Well that’s what happens when you lose a close game late. You get days like today, days spent licking wounds and asking what if? These are the types of bad days that you get when a team that has emerged as a contender loses a game that went down to the wire. Make no mistake, this is not a loss like in 2013 when we let the Lions snap their 0-21 losing streak. This was a loss to a respectable football club that came into their house with a winning streak of their own. A team that has a strong quarterback and a solid corps of receivers. A team that is good enough to win close games. A team that will punish you for being careless.
There were plenty of reasons why the Skins should have gone up early; the defense had a strong first showing and Cousins was playing with focus. Strong play didn’t mean much in the first half though as a series of the almost comic occurred. Thompson tripping in the backfield and scrambling from the line and Stafford using Breeland as a backboard to pass the ball 15 yards were funny, but the chuckles disappeared when we twice saw a Redskins ball bounce across the field on a run. Matt Jones spent a significant portion of his off season working on gripping the football. Fumbles had been an issue his rookie year and he specifically went out of his way to learn the five pressure points on the ball and how to ensure total ball security during hand offs. He ran through those same drills as part of his pre-game warm up. He had even JUST FUMBLED ON THE PREVIOUS DRIVE. Yet, he was still unable to avoid a turnover that deflated the team’s spirit and flipped the game’s early momentum. A fumble into the end zone that blew our opportunity to go up 7… inexcusable.
(Though, if you were able to read Gruden’s lips when the cameras cut to him on the sideline you may have had a brief laugh.)
The Redskins defense did well to limit big plays and Norman kept the Lion’s receiving corps forced to either run block or take small underneath passes. Stopping the run was still a bit of an issue with Justin Forsett playing the role of ghost of Baltimore’s past but it served in line with the bend don’t break mantra. Indeed, Stafford took only what was given and slowly carved his way into field goal territory to have the Lions go up 3-0. Scherff had an injury scare and we had a 43-yard field goal bounce off the upright, but thanks to a dropped pass by Andre Roberts (good to know he’s now doing for someone else) we were able to go into the half tied at 3-3 with the knowledge that the kick off would be coming our way. Not a bad way to escape from what should have been considered a quirky half of football with a couple fluke plays. Nothing that we can’t overcome, right?
Wrong. Starting the second half, penalties on offense turned another chance to take the lead into a punting situation. In what would become another dagger in the Redskins’ defense, Stafford responded by challenging Norman on a deep pass. Norman made an amazing effort with a leaping defense and truly could not have played the ball any better, but a spectacular catch by Jones Jr and an awkward landing had both Josh and the skins defense crashing into the ground. We would lose our best cornerback on that play, and from then on in the game the deep passing game opened up for the Lions. Until that point we were doing quite well against the pass, however Josh Norman is THAT IMPORTANT to our defensive secondary and his loss would eventually contribute to the Lion’s being able to have their last second heroics. Don’t think so? Ask Carolina how fast it can go bad without him. Breeland would do his best but the defensive line would be pushed aside as the Lions claimed a 10-3 lead.
Being down 10-3 when you had multiple chances to lead the game is not a place you want to find yourself. Dominant teams don’t find themselves in that position, but then again we’re not a dominant team yet. We are, however, contenders. We have shown ourselves to be contenders these past 4 weeks by being able to scrap and fight our way back into games. We’ve never let games get away from us and we always found a way to respond when things didn’t go our way. The team that started the season 0-2 is no longer here, and we showed it with Cousins marching down the field to …. wait what!?!? WE FUMBLED AGAIN???
Yup, you see it doesn’t matter how much grit you have if you can’t hang onto the darn football. It’s clear from re-watching the play that the reason for our next turnover was twofold. Jones came in with his arm flat on the hand off, and a tripped Cousins should have eaten the ball rather than risk a bad hand off, but regardless of the excuse, the result was the same. Down 10-3 going into the 4th quarter with 3 Fumbles (2 Lost), 2 Sacks, and a Missed Field Goal. Oh, did I say 10-3? Cause Matt Prater just kicked another field goal making it 13-3. Maybe it’s the Lions that aren’t putting us away and not the other way around.
As Cousins and co. responded by making their way down the field, I heard Desean Jackson’s name for the first time that day. *warning, imminent rant* I’ll give credit where credit is due, I’m glad Crowder had the day he had. It’s clear that McCloughan found something special and that he’ll be a contributor for many years. But why are the only names I’m hearing Crowder, Davis, and Grant? Between Garcon and Jackson, 20 million dollars of our cap space went unused. They’re the best receivers on the team, why aren’t they getting the ball? Don’t tell me we can’t force a game plan around a player, we just did it for Jackson last week against the Eagles. While I’m complaining about personnel usage, why the heck is Robert Kelly not getting more touches? The man always falls forward, hits hard, and he HANGS ON TO THE BALL! In fact, he hung onto it so well that it resulted in a 1-yard touchdown pass and cutting the Lions’ lead 13-10.
With new life the skins defense took the field. A sack and a near interception led to a Lions punt and a chance at taking the lead. The offense would have to be careful though as there was 5:20 left in the game and Lions still had all three time outs. The skins did a great job staying inbounds and keeping the clock running as they made it to midfield before an illegal formation penalty wiped away a 20-yard reception to Davis. It may have been for the best though as there was still 3 minutes left on the clock and eating too many yards too quickly would be bad. No worries, the running game would bring us to the two-minute warning in Lions’ territory with a fresh set of downs. The pressure was on, but the opportunity for redemption was here. Yes, this was a game of miscues, but a score here and eating the clock would let us leave Ford Field 5-2 and be very much in the fight for the NFC East.
Cousins, finding an opportunity, broke loose and runs 19 yards to the end zone in a display a athleticism I doubt even he knew he was capable of. With a minute left and all three timeouts. The defense only had to keep the Lions from marching 75 yards, a task that should be within our capabilities. The loss of Norman would become very apparent though as a 28-yard pass on the first play of the drive would put the Lions at midfield. Norman had warned this week that Stafford could hurt people with his feet and he did just that on the next play gaining 14 yards up the middle. 20 more yards came as Andre Roberts stuck it to his former team on the exact route that he ran while dropping the ball earlier that day, and Boldin caught an 18-yard touchdown pass that would leave us with a 4-3 record and shaking our heads in disbelief.
It’s surreal, the idea that we could make that many egregious mistakes and still have been in that game. In a game with redzone fumbles, multiple turnovers, and missed field goals, the last second heroism by Cousins was encouraging, but should never have been necessary. The game never should have been close. Instead we allowed Matt Stafford an opportunity late and he took it for all it was worth. Just more evidence that the Redskins belong in the Good column, not Great.
4-3 is very different than 5-2. We still have a chance at the division, but it’s harder when you’re dependent on other teams losing instead of just you winning. Wins won’t come until we can learn to not turn the ball over in the end zone and they won’t easy until we learn to put teams away early. We can start though by getting refocused and ready to travel to London. At least the one silver lining about playing there is we won’t have to wait as long until we get to see if the skins can put this tough loss behind them and go into their bye week with a win. It’s a rough Monday for everybody, but keep your chin up. We lost to a good football team off a series of bad breaks on fluke plays.