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A Fourth Quarter Farewell To 2011

Posted by Brian Tinsman on January 1, 2012 – 4:43 pm

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Looking strictly at the scoreboard of today’s game, there aren’t a whole lot of positives to take away.  ‘Pride games’ are supposed to end in wins–or at least near misses.  Not 24-point deficits.

But to focus exclusively on the score wouldn’t really be the story of this season.  The story of this season was–and has always been–about development.  And the best way to illustrate the development of this team is to look at how a fully healthy Redskins team fared against the Eagles in Week 6, as compared to the team that took the field today.

In Week 6, the offense managed only 245 yards and turned the ball over four times.  The Redskins had a fully-rested, fully-healthy roster take the field that day, with two playmakers at tight end, a dominant left side of the line, and zero rookies in the starting lineup.  With that team, they managed only 13 points at home.

In Week 17, the offense managed 377 yards and turned the ball over once.  The Redskins were eliminated from the playoffs weeks ago, with a patchwork lineup, including three rookies in the starting lineup.  With this team, they managed 10 points on the road.

In Week 6, the defense yielded 422 yards and had two takeaways.  The Redskins defense had a full-rested, fully-healthy roster take the field that day, with two playmaker safeties, two budding young outside linebackers, and a front seven that was leading the NFC in sacks.  With that team, they yielded 20 points at home.

In Week 17, the defense yielded 390 yards and had two takeaways.  The Redskins defense has also taken hits this season, losing both starting safeties, replacing three defenders altogether due to injury and performance.  They didn’t finish out the fourth quarter that they wanted today, but they still managed to keep the Redskins in the game until late.

The progress that the Redskins achieved on both sides of the ball, despite losing important players during the season, is not something that is reflected in the season record (5-11).  Development isn’t a consolation prize, and it isn’t anything that this team or organization wants to hang their hats on.  But when this team regroups in the coming months for OTA’s and mini camps, it’s something that will be reflected in the elevated play of the young guys on the team.  It’s something that will be reflected in various units, which now have great familiarity with one another. And for a team that isn’t going to the playoffs this year, roster development is something that can pay off for years to come.

Today was an unsung hero sort of day, so here are your unsung heroes of the afternoon:

On defense:

The danger of in-game reporting is in drawing conclusions too hastily.  For example, after the 62-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson, Twitter went crazy with conclusions that Oshiomogho Atogwe’s injuries had reduced his ability to make plays, and that he was, thus far, a disappointment as a free agent.

And perhaps up to that moment, these reports were fair.  Until, on the ensuing drive, Atogwe intercepted Michael Vick for the second time this season, down near the goal line.  He then–with the help of cornerback DeAngelo Hall–returned the ball to the 30-yard line.

All of this is not to say that Atogwe has had his ideal season, but he’s played very well in big games.  Atogwe got all three of his interceptions against division opponents this season, with two against the Eagles and the other against the Giants.  The best part of his contributions to the defense, is that he’s done everything that’s been asked, including accepting and excelling in a reserve role.  His last two interceptions have come in games that he didn’t start.

On offense:

Evan Royster and Roy Helu both gave gritty performances today, with Royster rushing for 113 yards on 20 carries, and Helu catching a touchdown pass for 47 yards.

Both rookie backs had back-to-back 100-yard games to their name this season, a rarity in any organization, and a testament to their ability to step up.  Royster had to be taken to the locker room in the second half for rehydration, while Helu battled leg injuries that visibly hobbled him on his touchdown run.  But both stayed focused and active in the game, supporting each other and keying the offense.

Not bad for two rookie backs taken after the fourth round.

This was a tough day for the 2011 Redskins, but with positives that can allow them to march forward into 2012.  Will this team be able to get healthy and capitalize on the development and maturation of the players in the scheme?  Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait nine months to find that out.  But from the 300 level of Lincoln Financial Field, I think the Redskins will find their stride in 2012.

That’s all from Philadelphia on this New Year’s Day, as the Redskins fall to the Eagles, 10-34.  Here’s wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year.

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Fourth Quarter Frustrations

Posted by Brian Tinsman on December 24, 2011 – 5:44 pm

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The Redskins found out the hard way that sometimes knocking out the starter isn’t the answer to beating a team.  Where Adrian Peterson is an athletic stud who can slash and dash, Toby Gerhart is more of the ground and pound bowling ball.

For the second consecutive year, Gerhart was the Vikings’ leading rusher against the Redskins, going over 100 yards in the second half alone.

Where quarterback Christian Ponder was a passer with some elusiveness and the ability to run, Joe Webb was a runner who attempted only five second half passes.

Unfortunately, half of them were for touchdowns, and he finished with a perfect 158.3 quarterback passer rating.

When a team loses their top playmakers on offense, it’s usually a disadvantage.  But in this case, it cast the Redskins defense into the unknown of facing players they didn’t prepare for.  The Redskins’ defense contained Peterson and Ponder in the first half, having good anticipation of the Vikings’ game plan.  Once their replacements entered the game, it was a different ball of wax.

“It was disappointing because that wasn’t us out there,” said linebacker Ryan Kerrigan after the game.  “We feel like we have the capability to be one of the top defenses in the league, and to allow 240 rushing yards is disappointing.”

After last week’s win in New York, the Redskins looked to be pushing for a late-season surge.  Even today, there were plenty of things to be proud of.

Roy Helu was out for today’s game, but Evan Royster rushed for 132 yards on 19 carries, good for second in the NFL after the 1 p.m. games.  This was also the first time in Redskins history that two rookies running backs managed 100-yard games in the same season.

Jabar Gaffney eclipsed 900 yards receiving on the season for the first time in his career, and added another touchdown and “Landover Leap.”  He needs only 81 yards to crack 1,000 yards this season, and his next touchdown will be his career-high sixth in a season.

Kicker Graham Gano, who was on the toastiest of hot seats only a month ago, has put the kicking game on ice with his fourth-consecutive perfect game of placekicking.  Despite his leg strength, his lack of touchbacks this season looks to be a product of kicking the ball higher for added hang time.  All-in-all, this has been quite a rebound for the young kicker.

Because of the Saturday game, the players will now have three days off for the first time since the bye week, with which to rest and recuperate before getting ready for Philadelphia.  Despite a disappointing record, the Redskins have played each of their division opponents well this season, and beat the Eagles on the road last year.  Given their record on the road and their level of play against division opponents, I wouldn’t discount their ability to play some of their best football next week.

For the last time this season, so long from FedExField, as the Redskins lose a tough one: Minnesota 33, Washington 26.

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That’s A Wrap: One Giant Victory

Posted by Brian Tinsman on December 18, 2011 – 4:11 pm

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Happy holidays, from Eli Manning, to the Redskins’ defensive backs.

That say it’s better to give than receive, and Manning gave three different Redskins takeaways.   When three-quarters of the starting secondary has an interception in the game, it usually bodes well for the team as a whole.  The Redskins offense capitalized with 10 points off of those turnovers.

For the fifth-consecutive week, the Redskins went over 300 yards of total offense, including 121 yards on the ground.  Although this is the first week in four chances that Helu didn’t crack the century mark, it was the fourth consecutive start for the rookie, and the fourth consecutive week that the team had over 100 yards.

Helu is also proving that he can be a workhorse in the backfield, carrying the ball 20-plus times for the fourth consecutive week, the first time that a Redskins back has done that since Week 5-8 of the 2008 season (via @granthpaulsen).  Since he’s been the starter, the team has shown a renewed commitment to the run, something that we haven’t seen since Tim Hightower’s success early in the season.

Altogether, there were more than 78,000 Giants faithful here at kickoff, with a very sparse sprinkling of Redskins fans.  The trickle of fans  into the parking lot started at the beginning of the fourth quarter and turned into a flood with seven minutes to go.  In the waning moments of the fourth quarter, there were fewer than 10,000 fans remaining, most of them frozen to their seats or jumping around in jubilation.

This game was a opportunity for a Giants’ statement game, a chance to avenge a Week 1 loss and keep pace with the Cowboys for the division crown.  Instead, it was the Redskins that made the statement, putting an exclamation point on the Week 1 victory.  After a dismal middle of their season, the Redskins have clearly embraced the role of road warrior and spoiler down the stretch.

After the Week 1 victory, Giants safety Antrel Rolle stated that the Giants would beat the Redskins “95 times out of 100.” Earlier this week, he reiterated his theory, upping his ante to 99 times out of 100.

Good thing he covered himself and didn’t guarantee 100 out of 100, because then he would have been wrong.  By giving the Redskins a 1 percent chance of victory, he saved himself from looking foolish on gameday.

There are a number of reasons why the Redskins lost six-straight earlier this season–some which are more obvious, and some which we will never know.  But this team has had a different mentality over the last five weeks, finally rolling on all cylinders with the roster that they have available.

There have been growing pains and disappointments, but this is a team with talent and a team with heart.  Showing up today and battling for the win was well-deserved and a job well-done.

That’s all from East Rutherford, as the Redskins come away with the win: Washington 23, New York Giants, 10.

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Fourth Quarter Fluctuations

Posted by Brian Tinsman on December 11, 2011 – 5:49 pm

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With only two minutes left in the game, it looked like the Redskins were destined to capitalize on a defensive takeaway and drive the length of the field.  Here were my exact thoughts at the 2-minute warning:

In the classic kiss-of-death scenario, the CBS crew flashed the Tom Brady stats that he hadn’t thrown an interception in 200 consecutive passing opportunities, good for best in the league.

Thank you, CBS statisticians.

Two plays later, Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson ended that streak, plucking the ball away from would-be receiver Tiquan Underwood in the back of the end zone.  This follows in a long tradition of sports commentators ruining streaks for players, but the Redskins were the beneficiaries today.

In other television news, Brady was shown on the sidelines, trading obscenities with an assistant coach.  Brady remained seated on the bench, but the assistant had to be restrained by other players, including Underwood and Bill Belichick.  Whatever soap opera is being played out on the Patriots’ sidelines can only be a benefit to the Redskins at this point.

And that seemed like a logical perspective.  By getting the takeaway, not only had ample time to march the length of the field, but they had the opportunity to tie or win it without giving Brady another chance with the ball.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.  Santana Moss was flagged for offensive pass interference on a goal line reception, pushing them back to the 15.  On third-and-goal from the 10, Moss was hit as he made the reception, jarring the ball loose and causing an awkward hot-potato shovel pass to the safety in coverage.

Game over.

By losing today, the Redskins ensure a losing season and eliminate themselves from playoff consideration.  But for the first time all season, they stood toe-to-toe with a quality opponent.  Excluding the two Cowboys games, they haven’t played all that well against bona fide playoff competition.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Patriots are as bona fide as it gets, and they were playing all of their star players.  This was a Redskins team lacking both starting tight ends, both starting tackles (three offensive linemen total), and nearly pulling off something that 79 percent of football fans thought to be impossible.

What was the difference between the best team of the 2000s and your Redskins?  Today, it was about five yards.

What fans should take solace in, is that this team has proven that they’re headed in the right direction.  The guys that head coach Mike Shanahan called “developmental picks” and “guys that projected well,” are now working their way into the lineup and playing competently.  Obviously guys like Roy Helu are exceeding simple competency.

The Redskins could have folded today in the first quarter when the score was 14-3 and the Patriots were rolling.  This had all of the makings of a blowout, and no one would have been terribly shocked.  But instead, they clawed their way back in, literally taking it down to the last minute.

If the youthful core on this roster can stay healthy and continue to develop, they’re going to beat teams like the Patriots and win games like today’s down the road.  Unfortunately, it just didn’t quite happen today.

That’s all from FedExField, where the Patriots held on for the win: Washington 27, New England 34.

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Fourth Quarter Observations

Posted by Brian Tinsman on December 4, 2011 – 5:53 pm

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Frustration and disappointment were the flavors in the Redskins locker room this evening, as the team knows that they let a golden opportunity slip away.

For the offense today, it was the tale of two halves, with 183 yards in the first half, and 121 in the second half.  On defense, it was the tale of three quarters vs. the fourth quarter, with 168 yards and 13 points through three quarters.  In the fourth quarter, the wheels came off as they yielded 98 yards and 21 points.

The common thread with every loss this season is ball control.

Last week, the Redskins confirmed that they need a ball-control offense, as they improved to 4-0 when they control the time of possession.  After today, the Redskins are 0-8 when they don’t control the clock.  This is also not a team that does particularly well when they turn the ball over, something that they managed to avoid until the fourth quarter when they turned it over twice

The key to the defense’s demise this afternoon may have stem from a third quarter in which they spent more than 10 minutes on the field.  Even though the third quarter only yielded three points for the Jets, it set up a destructive fourth quarter against a weary Redskins wall.

No question that today was disappointing, but there were some bright spots today, including your Most Valuable Redskin, running back Roy Helu.

Today, Helu went over 100 all-purpose yards for the third time in three starts, and has effectively shaken the label of change-of-pace back.  He is the first rookie Redskins running back to post back-to-back 100-yard games on the ground since Reggie Brooks in 1993.  He did suffer his first setback with a fumble in the third quarter, but it was benign as far as the scoreboard was concerned.

Fred Davis had another stellar performance at tight end, and is proving that he’s not a luxury at tight end, but rather a focal point, and a fixture in this offense.  He was one yard short of 100 yards for the day, but was Rex Grossman’s top target and top producer.

On defense, London Fletcher had a typically productive day, finishing with 17 total tackles.

Barry Cofield had two more passes defensed, adding to his career-high eight for the season.  His previous high was four last season, and his career total now is 19.  His eight this season leads all nose tackles and ties him for the league lead among defensive linemen.

Cofield reflected after the game about how this team has a lot of quality pieces, but isn’t quite there yet.

“I’ve been on good defenses, and I’ve been around good defenses for a long time,” he said.  “This team can be very good, but it’s not there yet.”

Right now, this team is showing it’s undeniable talent, and showing it’s potential.  Greatness is something that takes a while to build, and as Cofield noted–it just isn’t quite there yet.

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Fourth Quarter Turn Of Fortunes

Posted by Brian Tinsman on November 27, 2011 – 8:07 pm

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For a team that previously lost six straight, nothing comes easy, as was the case this afternoon in Seattle.  The important thing is that the Redskins were good when it counted, and it was a total team victory.  Here’s the breakdown:

On Offense:

On the one hand, the Redskins put up 416 yards of total offense, their highest showing since Week 2, and the second highest of the season.  The offensive line opened up holes for running back Roy Helu, and kept Rex Grossman upright for most of the game.  Helu showed that his 146-yard game against the 49ers wasn’t a fluke, going over 100 yards for the first time today, with 162 total yards and his first NFL touchdown.  The Redskins receivers managed to get open when it really mattered, and Santana Moss returned to his clutch ways.  Anthony Armstrong, who had five receptions for 47 yards all season, finally came down with a game-changing catch for 50 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter.  He was this week’s incarnation of Donte Stallworth, and proved that the storyline of this season is “the next man up.”  The offense clicked in the first and fourth quarters, and that was the difference in this game.

On Defense:

This wasn’t the defense’s best game, but they limited the damage and settled down in the second half.  They yielded only 250 yards of total offense for the Seahawks, including just 144 yards through the air.  They may not have had the sacks or turnovers that they were looking for, but they didn’t give up the big play either, and they played well in all facets of the game.

On Special Teams:

Clearly, this was a tough day for kickers, and that’s not just limited to Graham Gano.  Sav Rocca was charged with his first touchback of the season, the second-to-last punter in the league to put one in the end zone.  On a happy note, he also added to his punts inside the 20 and averaged 44.5 yards on the day.

As for Gano, he made things interesting (1 blocked FG, 1 blocked PAT, kickoff out of bounds), but he iced the game when it counted (fourth quarter FG).  His two blocked kicks nearly came home to roost, but his last kick put the Redskins up by six and forced the Seahawks to aim for the end zone.  This has been a tough eight days for Gano, and it will be interesting to see how the coaching staff gauges his performance.  Head coach Mike Shanahan said this week that the pressure was on for Gano, and his performance today was important.  Which matters more: conditions or performance?


At the end of the day, the Redskins managed to escape their first seven-game losing streak in more than a decade, and they did it in the worst possible conditions.  It shows great resolve to fly six hours into one of the most hostile environments in the NFL, play a team with a better record and momentum, play in the rain and wind and cold, play from behind–and come out on top.  From the opening kickoff, it was clear that this was a game that the Redskins should win.  Regardless of whether they’re a better team every week, they won on this given Sunday, and it was important that they come away from this colossal road trip with a win.

Now the monkey is off their backs, and the questions of leadership and character can settle back to a dull roar.  The plane ride back to Washington will be a long one, but a good one, as players can finally breathe a sigh of relief.  As easy as it is to settle into a slump, this team needs to look to build on the positive momentum this week.  This was a good team win, but there are enough issues to resolve before the Jets next week.

Hopefully, today is the start of a new streak.

So long from Seattle, with Washington in the win column: Redskins 23, Seahawks 17.

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Fourth Quarter Quandary

Posted by Brian Tinsman on November 13, 2011 – 5:32 pm

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The goal, in any football game, at any level, is to win the game.  In the words of former head coach Herm Edwards: “Hello!  You play to win the game.”

But when things don’t go as planned, it’s the coach’s responsibility to find things that went right, in addition to the things that need work.  The good news for the Redskins–and the silver lining for fans–is that the young players on this team are performing well and earning their playing time.

Here are the highlights from today’s game:

1. The Leonard Hankerson ship has set sail from the port of Miami and is headed north.  Today, he hauled in eight receptions, which accounted for more than one-third of Grossman’s 21 completions.  His 106 yards also accounted for half of the team’s receiving yards today, and last week’s two-point conversion proved that he can be a threat in the red zone.  With his big body and ability to get open, it will be interesting to see how he develops as a red zone threat.  In the mean time, he tripled his career production with today’s performance.

2. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is a stud off the edge, and isn’t a liability in coverage.  His background as a defensive end is going to stunt his development as a coverage linebacker, but he’s shown the ability to get downfield and cover when called upon.  For now, he looks to be developing into the type of bookend edge rusher that that Redskins need to complement Brian Orakpo, and he has the stats to prove it.

3. Even familiar faces like Brian Orakpo, Graham Gano, and Fred Davis performed reasonably well today.  Gano missed two long field goals–which is not unexpected in the Miami breeze and humidity–but also provided the team with it’s only points.  Davis ranked third on the team in yardage, with 28, and caught a long pass of 18 yards.  Orakpo was matched up against a quality left tackle today, but his presence allowed Kerrigan increased opportunities.

These are the types of performances that build winners.

Winning in the NFL is always easier when players have experience together, and unfortunately, that’s just not a luxury that the Redskins have right now.  Of the 11 starters on offense from Week 1, the Redskins have only six still available this week.  On defense, there are only nine playing regularly.  All told, the Redskins have played seven of their 12 rookies selected in April’s draft, and have five players currently on the 53-man roster that weren’t in training camp with the team.

Clearly, this is not the starting lineup that the coaches envisioned running out the tunnel on gameday.  But this is the hand that’s been dealt.

When the team started off 3-1, some people prematurely wondered what it would be like to be in the playoffs.  Now, it’s become clear that this team needs to focus on Sunday night before they even worry about Monday.

Fortunately, that’s the outlook and preparation that’s being reflected in the locker room as well.

The team brought in a lot of players with upstanding character in the offseason.  Good character isn’t reflected on the scoreboard, but it does save a locker room in difficult times like these.  With a rivalry game like the Cowboys on the line, expect this to be a gut-check week.  Whatever this team is capable of will be on display at FedEx next week.

This team is still capable of a second half run, but it may need to walk first, and that starts tomorrow.

That’s all from Miami, as the Redskins fall to the Dolphins: 9-20.

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Fourth Quarter Frustrations

Posted by Brian Tinsman on October 30, 2011 – 7:13 pm

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Perhaps Canada is best left to ice hockey and Celine Dion.

This was a tough loss today, against a very good football team.  The Redskins got beat in every statistical category that matters: total yards, turnovers, time of possession, penalty yards, first downs…you get the point.

This has been a disappointing stretch for a team that, at the bye week, was in first place in the NFC East.  They have yet to win in this quarter of the season, and the November and December schedule looms large.

Yes, the Redskins are dealing with injuries, but that’s not much consolation in a shutout.  This was the first time in Mike Shanahan’s head coaching career that he was shut out in a game.  The last time that the Redskins were shut out in a game was Week 16 of 2009 against the Cowboys.  This game was held in hostile territory against a high-flying team, but the Redskins certainly had their opportunities, and simply didn’t make the most of them.

Perhaps the greatest sense of hope can be found by looking across the field at the far sidelines, to see the meteoric rise of the Buffalo Bills.  Respectfully, this is a team that has wallowed in mediocrity for much of the 2000s, until things have magically clicked this season.  On offense, they have a journeyman quarterback that’s finally putting it all together.  Clearly, they struck gold with Fred Jackson at running back, who has already eclipsed 1,000 yards from scrimmage on the season.  At receiver, the Bills have young, fast playmakers, and they have a line up front that gives them time to execute on offense.  This was a similar cast of characters that went 4-12 last year.  With their fifth win today, they’ve already surpassed that in 2011.

Youth is an X-factor in the NFL, and it can only be harnessed as much as it can be trusted: irregularly.  But these are the types of games, against the type of playmakers, that show Redskins coaches what the team has.  These are the types of games, against the type of playmakers, that teach the young Redskins players how to better prepare next time.  It’s not pretty, but it only counts for one loss.  The last three games only count for three losses.  The important element is how this team responds to these losses down the stretch.

There’s a lot of reason to believe in what’s happening in Washington, even after a disheartening loss.

I can’t wait to get home, and I’m kissing the ground when we land in Washington.  So long from Canada: Redskins 0, Bills 23.

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Fourth Quarter Frustrations

Posted by Brian Tinsman on October 23, 2011 – 5:05 pm

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Despite a bright-sunny day today, the Panthers rained on the John Beck parade as the Redskins fell short in Charlotte.

Like last week, the injury bug took it’s toll once again, with Tim Hightower, Santana Moss and London Fletcher all leaving the game with injuries.  But unlike last week, the story of the day wasn’t turnovers or lost opportunities.

This game didn’t boil down to a particular turning point, as the Redskins never led in the game.  As I’ve been saying all year, this team wins as a team and loses as a team, and today, they just didn’t have enough, as a team.

On offense: The running game was red-hot for the first two quarters, but stalled with the absence of Hightower.  Rookie receiver Niles Paul recorded his first two receptions of his career, both on acrobatic catches in the fourth quarter.  Moss, a Washington quarterback’s best friend, was lost in the first quarter to a hand injury, and did not return.  John Beck recorded the highest quarterback rating (80.8) since the first game of the season (110.5, Grossman), but a late interception deflated the comeback. Read more »

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Fourth Quarter Frustrations

Posted by Brian Tinsman on October 17, 2011 – 9:24 am

When the Eagles went on their free agent spending spree in August, many people looked to Week 6 as a matchup between first and last place teams.

They just had the teams backwards.

There isn’t much that’s worth savoring about today, except for a token, It-Could-Have-Been-Worse, and here’s why.  The Redskins were out-gained by 135 yards, converted only one-of-10 3rd downs, lost the time of possession battle nearly 2:1, lost three starters to injury, and committed nine penalties for 75 yards.  All of that being said, the defense didn’t allow the Eagles to score for the last 36′ 40″ of the game, and left the offense with a chance to tie or win at the end of the game.

It didn’t feel like it at times, but the Redskins were never out of this game until the clock hit zero.

As safety Oshiomogho Atogwe said in the locker room after the game, “We came out a little flat after the bye.”

Perhaps they should beware of Bye Weeks bearing Trojan Eagles.

There’s no sense in comparing the debacle of last year’s loss to today, because everything about the games was different.

Except for the outcome.

Winning division games is ultimately the difference between a team reaching its goals, and not.  This is still the first go-around of divisional opponents, but it would have been nice to kick the Eagles while they were down.  There is no clear bully in the NFC East right now, with the Redskins (1-2), Giants (1-1), and Eagles (1-1) all taking their lumps in the division.  The Cowboys are currently undefeated, but load up on divisional matchups at the end of the season.

Which brings me back to the most important point: every loss stinks, but it’s still early.  The Redskins wasted an opportunity for a statement today, but walks out with a winning record and second place in the division.  This team is still on track to accomplish their season goals, which are far more important than the week-to-week.  This team has questions moving forward–especially at quarterback–but they have an opportunity to go 1-0 in Carolina next week.

Over and out from FedExField with a near-miss: Eagles 20, Redskins 13.

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