The conventional rhetoric in today’s NFL will state that there’s no such thing as “a game you’re supposed to win,” that the 32 teams around the National Football League all have professionals who are paid to play the game of football, and that with the parity in today’s NFL, truly anything can happy on any given Sunday.
With that being said, we can all admit one thing: this was a game the Redskins were supposed to win. You’d be hard pressed to argue that.
The Redskins went on the road and beat a team lead by a head coach in Dennis Allen that has less total wins in his NFL coaching career (5) than the Redskins had during their winning streak to end the 2012 season (7).
They beat a team that was forced to start Matt Flynn — someone who was acquired, and subsequently demoted, in favor of two dramatically lesser experienced quarterbacks purely and solely on account of being outperformed — despite Oakland doing everything they could to get Terrelle Pryor ready for this game.
They beat a team who lost its best offensive weapon (Darren McFadden) and most underrated and perhaps versatile offensive weapon (Marcel Reese), very early into Sunday’s contest.
So, the fact that the Redskins beat the Oakland Raiders today by a final score of 24-14, even despite ending the Redskins winless streak to start the 2013 season, would theoretically come as little reason for excitement or celebration.
But as miserable as the players and fans have been over the month of September, everything sure looks and feels a hell of a lot better after finally picking up that critical win, and maybe it finally gets that winless monkey off the Redskins back.
After once again looking at a big early deficit (14-0) before the first quarter was even completed, the Redskins instead weathered the “early storm” and kept their composure, outlasting the Raiders like a seasoned heavyweight fighter weathering an early flurry from an anxious and precocious contender.
We could say a lot of terrible things (and be right) about the Redskins performance on the field in 2013, but saying that any part of this team quit, or that any part of this team began to fall apart in the face of adversity, definitely wasn’t one of them. It’s easy and ignorantly irresponsible for fans to start calling for coaches — especially like Mike and/or Kyle Shanahan — to lose their job(s) as a solution to the team’s troubles on the field. These players believed in the coaches, these coaches believed in their players, and this front office believed in everyone.
Today, at least for three of the four quarters in this afternoon’s game, that faith was justified.
The defense, after being mutilated by opposing offenses week after week, easily played their best game of the season, even once again in the face of another deficit and sputtering performance by their offensive counterparts early on. The three best players the Redskins feature on defense — Ryan Kerrigan, Barry Cofield, and Brian Orakpo (arguably in that order) — each had two sacks apiece. Rookie cornerback David Amerson, who has been up-and-down so far this season (and that might be being a bit kind), recognized the route by the Raiders receiver, jumped in front of it, and blew past every player wearing black for the 45 yard interception return for a touchdown.
The defense as a whole, which has often resembled like the DC Police force — shows up when you don’t really need them, but are nowhere to be found when you really actually need them — harassed and battered Flynn for the majority of the afternoon, taking turns walloping him and forcing him to made stupid and sub-par decisions that help you remember that he’s Matt Flynn.
They held the Raiders without a single point for the last 48 minutes of the game, and seven total offensive points on the afternoon. They held the Raiders to 25 yards rushing and zero total points in the 2nd half of the game, quickly and repeatedly nullifying any hapless attempts by the Raiders to pull off a comeback.
On the other side of the ball, the Redskins still didn’t resemble the multi-dimensional and multi-faceted offensive attack that we were used to seeing in 2012, but we saw a few more glimpses of it than we had in weeks past, especially in the second half of the game. The Redskins running backs — Alfred Morris, and then Roy Helu, when the former left with a injury to his ribs — carried the ball 29 times for 112 yards and a touchdown (by Helu). We finally saw the downhill rushing attack with the running backs running amok in the second level of the opposing defense.
As far as Robert Griffin III? The first thing that jumps out to me is the fact that he didn’t turn the ball over today, which is the first time that’s happened in the 2013 season. You could say that the Redskins beat the Raiders because, well, they played the Raiders, but the fact that the Redskins won the turnover battle on the afternoon (they had one and Oakland had two) had just as much to do with the win as anything else.
But just as importantly, he took even more steps towards knocking off whatever level of rust he’s accumulated since last season, making plays within the context of this offense to win this game. His touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon late in the third quarter, which gave the Redskins their first lead of the day, came right in the face of a blitz by the Raiders, something they — and every other team this season — chose to do given Griffin’s hindered mobility and inconsistency in beating the blitz the way he did last year.
But his play of the game might have been the passing play where the pocket collapsed around him, and he was still able to scramble to the right and find Helu — who added to the beauty of the play with a run and a hurdle over a defensive back, ala the Seattle game in 2011 — which eventually set up Helu’s fourth quarter touchdown run that sealed the Redskins victory.
It was just one play, but those are the types of things Redskins fans sorely missed and anxiously awaited from Griffin for much of this season. So, it was great to see it again.
The bottom line of everything is that, instead of having to live through and continually be reminded about a catastrophic lost to a team that’s a certified catastrophe, the Redskins go into the bye week after flying all the way across the country and beating a team by double-digit points.
Confidence, in everything, really is everything. That’s what the Redskins got with their performance in a win today, even if it comes after beating a team as awful and over-matched as Oakland.
That confidence is going to be critical as the team returns from the bye, because their next five games represent an absolutely brutal stretch.
They played the hated Cowboys in a Monday night contest, in their first week off the bye. Dallas offense is highly potent, with Dez Bryant doing everything he can to take take the claim of “best receiver in the NFL” away from Calvin Johnson. The only reason Dallas is 2-2 is because they still find new and creative ways to defeat themselves.
Peyton Manning, leading the Denver Broncos, is well on his way to challenging the record for every single passing statistic that stands today, and is leading an offense that averages almost 45 points per game and looks virtually unstoppable.
The Chicago Bears have scored 30 points in three of their four contests this year, and finally have an offense that’s potently balanced and actually keeps Jay Cutler from getting his brain beat in.
The San Diego Chargers just beat Dallas, and is lead by a rejuvenated Phillip Rivers, who is playing at that “borderline elite” level under first year head coach Mike McCoy, which he showed several years back.
The Minnesota Vikings might have just picked up their first win of the 2013 season, but they looked like a totally different team with Matt Cassell under center, and Adrian Peterson might be the most ferocious and devastating running back i’ve seen in the 20+ years i’ve been watching NFL football.
But for now, the burgundy and gold fan base can talk themselves collectively off the ledge, not worry about going 0-16, and — at least for one week — stop discussing whether Jim Haslett needs to be fired or Kirk Cousins should step in for Griffin. We can save that for sometime in October.
For now, the Redskins went on the road that they should have in the manner that a successful, well-coached NFL team should. That’s easier said than done, so it should give the nation’s capital some cautious enthusiasm that this was another step in the team’s efforts to fix what it needed to fix so they could get back to performing the way everyone — the front office, the coaches, the players, and the fans — hope and expect the team to play.
Image courtesy of SBNation.com.