Skins get must-win but must get better, too

Skins get must-win but must get better, too
September 30, 2013, 8:15 am
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How important is it for the Redskins to be 1-3?

OAKLAND - For the first time this season, there were smiles in the Redskins’ locker room postgame. 

One player, though, was not smiling.

“It’s just a win,” Santana Moss said in a matter-of-fact monotone after Washington's come-from-behind 24-14 victory over the Raiders. “Honestly, you’re not gonna sit here and be like ‘We’re world beaters.’ We won one game.”

Talk about a wet blanket.

But you know what? Moss couldn’t have been more correct in his assessment.

Sure, the Redskins’ cross-country flight Sunday night probably felt a lot shorter after they earned their first meaningful victory since December. Of course, the bye week will be much more enjoyable as the players get a few days away from Redskins Park.

But the harsh reality facing the Redskins is this: They beat a one-win, injury-depleted Raiders’ team that hasn’t finished above .500 in more than a decade.

This is no time to be satisfied. And Moss’ demeanor reflected it.

Penalties and turnovers killed the Redskins in their first three games. And mental miscues nearly killed their season at Coliseum.

Trailing 14-0 in the second quarter, Robert Griffin III was flagged for intentional grounding at the Oakland four-yard line. The ball was moved back to the 18, and the Redskins had to settle for a field goal. Washington’s offensive captain and best player had to make a difficult, split-second decision as he retreated from the oncoming rush. Chucking the ball out of bounds from the pocket shouldn’t have been it. Can’t get inside an opponent’s five-yard line, on the road, after a rough start, and settle for three points.

A quarter later, the Redskins were behind 14-10 when a third down conversion became a loss of possession. After a 33-yard pass from Griffin to Logan Paulsen, the tight end was stripped of the football near midfield. It’s easy to second-guess Paulsen’s decision to fight for a few extra yards, but once he was outnumbered 4 to 1, he needed to go down.

Meanwhile, another Redskins’ turnover in the fourth quarter – Roy Helu fumbled after a helmet-on-the-ball hit – was erased by a Raiders’ penalty. Had Lamarr Houston not lined up in the neutral zone, Oakland would have had the ball inside the Redskins’ 30-yard line with a chance to pull ahead.

Special teams are another area that must be better after the bye. The Redskins changed coordinators in the offseason, replacing Danny Smith, who left for Pittsburgh, with Keith Burns, who was hired away from Denver.

Yet some of the same problems – most notably punt protection – continue to persist.

Last year, they had punts blocked in consecutive games to start the season. On Sunday, Perry Riley’s missed assignment gifted the Raiders a 7-0 lead in their home stadium.

Riley got fooled by a twist stunt at the line of scrimmage. He said he’d seen the look during film study. The starting linebacker also owned up to the mistake, calling the blown block “unacceptable.” That it was.

A special teams gaffe against the Raiders can be overcome. A special teams gaffe against Denver, Kansas City or Atlanta could mean the difference between winning and losing, making the playoffs and cleaning out lockers earlier than anticipated.

After four games, the often out-of-sync offense remains a worry, too.

Griffin and Co. failed to score a touchdown in the first half for the third time in four games. The unit also produced only 17 points against a middle-of-the-pack Raiders’ defense that was shredded by Peyton Manning and the Broncos in a 37-21 defeat a week earlier.

Last season, the Redskins’ offense was the fourth most productive in the NFL, averaging 27.3 points per game. Of the 12 touchdowns Washington has scored this season, three have come via the defense.

The good news is Griffin has begun to look much sharper. The bad news is he still isn’t the dynamic threat he was a year ago and it's unclear when he will be. Griffin carried the ball three times against the Raiders, keeping it twice on zone read option plays for a total of eight yards.

And now Alfred Morris has an injury to his ribs. The second-year running back carried the ball a season-high 16 times for 71 yards against the Raiders. In 2012, the Redskins were 9-1 when Morris touched the ball 20 or more times. And it appeared they finally were going to get Morris 20 touches in '13. Then he got hurt. 

In the end, the ugly wins count, too. The Redskins survived their self-inflicted wounds. The offense got bailed out by an inspired effort from the defense. Jim Haslett’s maligned unit chipped in with a pick-six from rookie David Amerson, it sacked backup quarterback Matt Flynn seven times and held in check a Raiders’ ground attack that lost Darren McFadden to a hamstring injury after only five carries.

At first, it seemed strange that Moss was so serious as some of his teammates wore smiles. After further review, it made perfect sense.

“This game, it’s hard to get a “W” every weekend,” he said. “That’s why I’m being as calm as I can with it, because I’m not gonna get geeked off one win. I understand this game. I’ve played it too long to know that this one game ain’t gonna make us great. We still have to go out there and be better.”

A veteran of 175 games spread across 13 NFL seasons, no one knows that better than Moss.