By the time the Redskins 27-6 loss mercifully came to an end, it was easy to forget that the Redskins were actually in the game in the third quarter.
Washington had managed to make a game out of what appeared to be turning into a San Francisco rout with two second-quarter field goals. The Redskins trailed just 10-6 going into the locker room at intermission and they had to feel pretty good about their chances.
They were feeling even better when the 49ers turned the ball over on their first possession of the second half. Tight end Vernon Davis was fighting for extra yardage after catching a Colin Kaepernick pass when Barry Cofield pried the ball loose. Brandon Meriweather recovered and Washington was in business at the San Francisco 49.
But they weren’t in business very long. A four and out series ensued. Most of the focus is on the fourth-down call, both the decision to go for it and the play call. But fourth down would not have been an issue if not for what happened on second down.
With seven yards to go, Robert Griffin III threw an out pattern to Josh Morgan. The wide receiver had the pass in his hands but he lost it as he went to the ground. It was not a particularly difficult catch. Morgan, who had a decent day in his return to the starting lineup (5 receptions, 45 yards), needed to make that catch.
And the official needed to see what happened to Griffin after he threw the pass. San Francisco defensive end Aldon Smith came up and delivered a swift kick into Griffin’s, well, groin. The referee in charge of protecting the quarterback didn’t see it or thought it was acceptable.
(In the interest of balance it should be noted that there was a pretty obvious facemask committed on Davis on the play when he fumbled. So the missed calls evened out.)
So with no catch (Mike Shanahan challenged the call but it was upheld) and no penalty, the Redskins faced third and seven. A pass to Santana Moss picked up five yards and they faced fourth and two at the 41.
Should they have gone for it? The numbers say you probably should. An NFL team should be able to pick up two yards and given the issues that Sav Rocca and the Redskins special teams have had pinning opponents deep with punts the net field position may have been just 20 yards or so if they had kicked.
The play call, a handoff to Roy Helu, was not just one of those that was questionable because it didn’t work. It went right into the strength of the defense. Helu never had a chance and he was nailed after a gain of one.
Six plays and 60 yards later Kaepernick threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin to give San Francisco what proved to be an insurmountable 11-point lead.