To paraphrase a question that is making the rounds in political circles these days—are the Redskins better off today than they were one year ago?
It’s easy to go overboard with the Redskins’ 40-32 win over the Saints in New Orleans. After all, you don’t have to go back more than one year to find the Redskins with a big opening day win over a quality opponent. They created all sorts of buzz a year ago when they beat the Giants 28-14 in last year’s season opener. Players talked about there being a new attitude in the locker room, that things would be different in 2011.
And the good feelings lasted a while as they moved to 2-0 and later to 3-1. But things came crashing down after that and they won just two of the their final 12 games.
But at least right now, this one feels different. The main reason, of course, is the play of Robert Griffin III. It could be argued that he had the best debut any rookie quarterback has ever had.
Rex Grossman had a pretty good day against the Giants, completing 21 of 34 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns. But nobody walked away from that game thinking that a star was born and maybe the Redskins had their long-term solution at the most important position on the field.
But there was more than that. An offensive line that was thought to be a weakness was very much a strength, as Griffin was sacked just once and the Redskins rushed for 153 yards.
Against the Giants, Grossman was sacked four times and the Redskins rushed just 75 yards.
Tim Hightower was the main runner against the Giants and he picked up 72 yards on 25 carries. At 2.9 yards a carry his performance was passable but not spectacular. Today Alfred Morris picked up 96 yards on 28 carries, a 3.7 average. Morris was not spectacular but he did become one of just five players to rush for at least 90 yards and score two or more touchdowns in his NFL debut. Advantage: Morris
A year ago against the Giants, the defense put up better numbers than they did yesterday. But, with all due respect to Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks, and company, the Saints are a much better offense. And against New Orleans they came up big on a couple of occasions.
Late in the third quarter the Saints were threatening to halve the Redskins’ lead. Trailing 30-14, Brees drove the Saints to a third and goal at the three. His pass to Darren Sproles was on the money but London Fletcher came up and knocked the ball loose.
Then, the only time after the first quarter that the Saints had the ball with a chance to tie the game, their drive lasted just one play. DeJon Gomes, filling in at safety for the injured Brandon Meriweather, picked off Brees’ deep pass and returned it 49 yards to the three. One play later Morris put the game out of reach with a touchdown run.
There were some down moments. Mike Shanahan may have been able to pull Griffin in the fourth quarter and let Kirk Cousins have some fun if not for a blocked punt late in the first half that turned a 20-7 laugher into a one-score game. Later in the game the prevent defense didn’t prevent much of anything. And rookie safety Jordan Bernstine suffered a knee injury that might cost him the rest of the season.
Despite that, the Redskins have plenty of reasons to feel good about themselves today and their fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Should they feel better than they did a year ago? It seems that they should, but time will tell.