Second-half meltdown leaves Redskins' season on the brink

Second-half meltdown leaves Redskins' season on the brink
November 8, 2013, 9:30 am
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RG3 on loss to Vikings: 'It's sad....and it hurts'

MINNEAPOLIS—If the Redskins fail to make another improbable, second half push toward the postseason, there will little debate about where and when their season flamed out:

It was likely Thursday night at the Metrodome, during a second half riddled by miscues, missed assignments and miscommunication.

Holding a 27-14 lead in the third quarter, the Redskins had the Vikings beat. Or, at least, they should have. But they couldn’t get out of their own way.

And it began with one of the most baffling series of events of the season.

Redskins special teams captain Reed Doughty signaled for a fake punt by touching his helmet with both hands. Just one problem: Not everyone received the message. Among those to miss the sign was Niles Paul, the player who was supposed to catch the pass tossed by punter Sav Rocca.

Paul didn’t expect the ball to be thrown his way, and it bounced several feet behind him. In fact, he first thought Rocca’s punt had been blocked, so he attempted to dive on what he thought was a loose ball.

Quite fittingly, the busted play was negated by a false start infraction on Jerome Murphy. But instead of bailing the Redskins it out, the penalty simply served to underscore just how hopeless they’ve been on special teams this season. 

“It was just a miscommunication,” Coach Mike Shanahan said. “Luckily we were moving and it was a motion penalty.”

Paul added: “It wasn’t supposed to be called. So the gunners, me and Murph, weren’t even looking for it. The fake was called and it wasn’t supposed to be called.”

On the redo, things actually got worse.

Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels shed a couple of tackles on a 20-yard return. Then, fullback Darrel Young—Sunday’s hero—was whistled for a personal foul, putting the ball on the Redskins’ 41-yard line.

Five plays later, Adrian Peterson had his second touchdown of the night and Vikings had assumed control, 28-27.

Young’s penalty was the Redskins’ third 15-yarder of the game. And it was, without a doubt, the costliest. For comparison’s sake, the Vikings were flagged just once all game. After ranking among the most penalized teams last year and again early this season, the Redskins had actually shown more discipline in recent weeks.

But like a lot of things, they weren’t able to get the details right when it counted most, even against an opponent that had not won since September and was missing six starters due to injury.

“That’s unacceptable,” Coach Mike Shanahan said of the personal fouls. “You can’t do that. You have to keep your poise.”

Like that, the momentum of the game had swung from the Redskins to the Vikings. Suddenly, the 60,000 fans who had vociferously jeered the home team at the end of the second quarter were back into the game.

Still, the Redskins had another shot. But they needed to immediately answer Peterson’s touchdown.

They didn’t.

On Washington’s ensuing drive, Robert Griffin III and Co. never reached their own 40-yard line after yielding back-to-back sacks, each for a 10-yard loss. In all, Griffin was sacked four times for a total of 37 yards lost—and all came in the second half.

Griffin, who was none too pleased with the lack of protection he received, also got hit on at least eight more occasions. He stopped short of assigning blame, but he was more critical than he typically us after a game.

“Like I said, we had some misfires that we can’t have,” he said, asked specifically about the sacks. “It’s not any one person’s fault. But we had some things happen for us that can’t happen in those situations, with the way the game was going. …I got hit a lot.”

Forced to punt, Rocca’s kick traveled a mere 33 yards and set up the Vikings at the 50. And just 2 ½ minutes later, Minnesota, with Matt Cassel, its backup quarterback calling the shots, had opened a 31-27 lead. 

In fact, all four of the Vikings’ second half possessions (with the exception of the game-ending kneel down) resulted in points for the home team.  

Meantime, the Redskins were left to ponder how things went so wrong so quickly. They have now blown double-digit leads in the second half of each of the past three games.

“That is disappointing,” Shanahan flatly, asked about coughing up late leads.

The players and coaches now get the weekend off rest up and regroup before returning to Redskins Park to begin preparing for the Eagles.

They’ve been here before, of course. A year ago, the Redskins started 3-6, got some time off and beat Philly to ignite a 7-game winning streak. Even with stout opponents like the 49ers and Chiefs remaining, it could happen again. 

But if it doesn’t—and let’s be honest here, it ain’t looking good—we’ll be able to point to Thursday’s second half meltdown in Minneapolis as the reason.