ARLINGTON, Texas – The Redskins season is beginning to look like a lost year for Robert Griffin III.
A 31-16 loss to the Cowboys can’t be pinned exclusively on Griffin, but it’s becoming clear that the quarterback won’t be his old self for some time, and the Redskins’ other units aren’t good enough to carry the team while he recovers.
On Sunday night, Dallas fans bit their nails as Washington seized momentum late, but this week it was the visiting quarterback who made the crucial fourth-quarter mistake.
Griffin held on to the football for 3.8 seconds in the shadow of his own end zone, enough time for Kyle Wilber to shed his block and force the fumble that ultimately gave Dallas an insurmountable lead.
“Once you get back there, you’ve got to get the ball out of there quickly,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “I wasn’t in his shoes, so I can’t tell you exactly what he was thinking, but that’s part of being a quarterback, especially a young quarterback.”
The scenario could have been changed if the game had played out differently, but Washington’s first three scores were field goals – all of which could have been touchdowns.
On the first, Washington had fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, and elected to kick. The second was before halftime, when a time out could have saved 15 seconds and allowed for a shot at the end zone.
The third was on a fourth-and-1 from the 14-yard line, with Shanahan again electing to play it safe.
“I’m usually one that leans on the side of going for it,” Shanahan said. “If I don’t, it’s usually for reasons I see that give us the best chance to win.”
Conservative playcalling works if the defense and special teams are clicking, but Washington’s lone standout performer was DeAngelo Hall, who held the Cowboys receivers in check.
Quarterback Tony Romo had plenty of other options, though, and utilized all of them.Special teams have been an issue all season for Washington, but Sunday represented a new low.
An illegal procedure penalty made the Skins punt the ball twice in the first half, and Dwayne Harris took the second one back 86 yards for a touchdown.The second half had more of the same, with the Cowboys returning a kickoff 90 yards. Cole Beasley was only caught after he was run down by E.J. Biggers at the 15-yard line.
Romo delivered one of the highlights of the night two plays later, delivering an off-balance strike to Terrance Williams in the corner of the end zone for the touchdown.
Missed tackles were again an issue for Washington, a fundamental breakdown the Skins vowed to fix during the bye week.
As for Griffin, he showed progress through playcalling. He ran his entire repertoire of read-option runs, and twice drew late hit penalties on quarterback runs. He didn’t look 100 percent, though, and held on to the ball in the pocket for too long several times, including on the decisive fumble.
His play did help free up lanes for Alfred Morris. The Cowboys were intent on shutting down Morris in the first half, and did, but once they began to target Griffin, Morris broke out with 65 third-quarter yards, compared to the 16 yards he picked up in the first half.
The increased production came at a cost, though, as Griffin was hassled and harrassed by the Cowboys defense, which sent several blitzes his way.
After Griffin threw a fourth-quarter interception that sealed victory for the Cowboys, the Dallas crowd chanted “R-G-III,” a taunt that showed just how different this year has been than 2012.
At 1-4, the Redskins know playoff elimination only comes through math, but it’s hard to see a path to .500 that doesn’t involve dramatic improvement from the team’s star.
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