Shanahan: Special teams will be point of emphasis
Dallas— Instant Analysis of Washington 16, Dallas 31
Game Recap: Given how poorly the Redskins’ special teams have performed this season, it was only a matter of time before the repeated lapses cost them a game.
Well, it finally happened—and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Dallas’ Dwayne Harris took back a punt 86-yards for a touchdown, then later broke a 90-yard kickoff return that set up another score to help the Cowboys roll to a 31-16 victory at AT&T Stadium.
The loss didn’t mathematically eliminate the Redskins from postseason contention, of course. But at 1-4, they’ve seen their hopes of rallying for a playoff berth dwindle and their margin for error completely disappear.
Robert Griffin III rushed for a season-high 77 yards on nine carries and Alfred Morris scored the longest touchdown of his career, a 45-yarder in the third quarter. But neither player’s efforts could overcome Harris’ pair of momentum-swinging returns.
Late in the second quarter, Harris’ scintillating punt return gave the Cowboys a 14-3. On Dallas’ next possession, Harris returned a kickoff to Redskins’ 15-yard line. Two plays later, Tony Romo connected with Terrance Williams for a touchdown and the Cowboys to a 21-9 lead.
Morris’ long touchdown run later in the third quarter cut the Cowboys’ lead to 21-16.
But it’s as close as the Redskins would get. Dallas extended their lead to 24-16 on a field goal early in the fourth quarter. Then Griffin fumbled the ball as he was being sacked at the Washington 4-yard-line.
Joseph Randall clinched the win moments later with a 1-yard touchdown run that put Dallas up 31-16.
Griffin threw an interception in the closing minutes that marked his seventh turnover of the season. He only had seven turnovers all of 2012.
Key Moment: Special teams continue to be a disaster for the Redskins under new coordinator Keith Burns.
In the second quarter, Jerome Murphy was flagged for illegal motion on a punt. On the re-kick, Harris raced 86 yards for his second career punt return for a score.
And to add injury to insult, Burns was flagged 15-yards for making contact with an official on the play. Burns did not move quickly enough to get out of the way of the head linesman, who was sprinting down the sideline after Harris.
Two weeks ago, the Raiders blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown and converted a fake punt.
Player of the Game: With a punt returned for a score and a 90-yard kickoff return that set up another, no player had as much impact on the game as Harris. He finished 109 yards on two punt returns and113 yards on a pair of kickoff returns.
Injury Update: The Redskins lost cornerback David Amerson and special teams ace Bryan Kehl to injury.
Amerson suffered a concussion in the third quarter when he was blindsided by Cameron Lawrence on Harris’ 90-yard kickoff return. After lying on the turf face-first for several moments, Amerson was woozy as he was helped off the field.
The rookie did not return.
Kehl, meantime, suffered a left knee sprain in the second quarter on Harris’ punt return for a score. Kehl did not appear to be hit.
The Cowboys also suffered a pair of key injuries. DeMarcus Ware and DeMarco Murray left the game with injuries in the first half. Ware, the Cowboys’ sack leader, suffered a right quadriceps strain, while Murray, their leading rusher, suffered a left knee sprain. Neither player returned.
From the Locker Room:
--Nick Sundberg said he’s scheduled to have an MRI on Monday morning. “I dove for the guy and landed weird. I didn’t feel anything right away until I got up. That’s when I couldn’t put any pressure on it.”
--Kehl said he felt something “pop” in his left knee. He said the injury occurred as he cut to pursue Dwayne Harris on his 86-yard punt return for a touchdown. Kehl said he’ll have an MRI in the morning. “They can’t really tell what’s wrong now. It’s something I’ve done a million times. I think I would have got him.”
--Kehl on special teams letdowns: “Special teams definitely lost the game for us. I couldn’t put my finger on it. We need guys to step up and take pride and ownership.”
--With Sundberg sidelined, Will Montgomery handled the snapping duty, including on Kai Forbath’s missed 48-yarder. “I went there at same time that I would if Nick was in there, but the ball doesn’t get there as fast,” Forbath said. “But the ball was down. I have to make the kick.”
--Robert Griffin III did not wear a knee brace during warmups but put it on for the game. “I’ve been comfortable all season not to wear the brace. I did not wear it in warmups today. I made that decision. They are going to continue to make me wear it the rest of year [in games]. But anytime I can take it off, I will.”