*Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Monday Night's regular season home opener against the Philadelphia Eagles at FedExField: *
It has been exactly eight months since Robert Griffin III went under the knife to correct a torn ACL suffered in the Wild Card round of the playoffs at FedExField.
In those eight months, the Washington Redskins fan base has ridden the emotional roller coaster of emotion, losing their fearless leader, then watching every step of the way as Griffin III made good on a promise to be "All In For Week 1."
Following the last preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Griffin III was cleared to return for Week 1, setting up 11 days of eager anticipation ahead of tonight's contest. How would he fare? Would the offense sync with him immediately?
The whole world would be watching when the ball was kicked off at 7:10 p.m.
The Redskins offseason efforts looked to be for naught midway through the third quarter, but the offense finally got in a rhythm going into the final frame, marching downfield and taking their first shot at the end zone all day. The first attempt failed, but a handoff to running back Alfred Morris ends five yards later with a touchdown and the offense's first points of the 2013 season.
PLAY OF THE GAME
With Robert Griffin III back in the offense, NFL fans anticipated an offensive resurgence in Washington, but it was the defense that stole the show in the early going. With the Eagles threatening in the red zone, outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan continued his ball-hawking ways, deflecting a backwards pass deep into the backfield, where cornerback DeAngelo Hall was present to scoop up the fumble and run it back 75 yards for a touchdown.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
The Redskins offense picked up in the second half on the sure hands of receiver Leonard Hankerson. In seven second half targets, Hankerson caught five for a team-high 80 yards and two touchdowns. He was flat-out the best player on the field in the second half and it showed a taste of what the Redskins expect out of No. 85 this season.
Hankerson has all of the physical tools of a true No. 1 receiver, but has lacked the consistency that the coaching staff needs to see to put him on the field. With tonight's performance, look for Hankerson to have earned more playing time heading into Week 2.
Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan plays season openers like a man on fire, and did not disappoint to kick off his third NFL campaign. Kerrigan was responsible for deflecting the backward pass from Michael Vick was returned by cornerback DeAngelo Hall for the touchdown. He was responsible for the 13-yard sack that forced a second quarter punt.
Perhaps more than any other Redskins player, Kerrigan carried his momentum from a 2012 Pro Bowl campaign into the 2013 preseason and on into the regular season tonight. The return of Brian Orakpo to the lineup may not be appreciated by anyone more than Kerrigan, forcing opposing offenses to pick the poison against two linebackers that can take over a game.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--The Redskins of 2012 disappeared for nearly three whole quarters before finally working out the kinks in the waning seconds of the third. The stats suggest Robert Griffin III found his stride, at one point completing 15-of-23 after starting 3-of-9. But the whole team deserves credit for turning it around, as Leonard Hankerson got involved in the second half and Joshua Morgan displayed the sure hands that made him an outlet receiver. It was a bizarre about-face for an offense that looked so befuddled in the first half, but it was encouraging to see some recovery heading into Week 2.
--The Redskins continued to play agile, mobile and hostile on defense, with outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan continuing to play passes to the flats better than any other linebacker in the NFL. With the Eagles threatening in the red zone, Kerrigan played his assignment, deflecting a backwards pass from Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, batting it into the backfield where it was scooped up by cornerback DeAngelo Hall and returned 75 yards for the touchdown. A heads-up play by both defenders put the Redskins on top 7-0 on a play that 11 Eagles gave up on before the whistle.
--Despite turning the ball over three times in the early going, the Redskins stayed afloat early thanks to an aggressive defensive approach. In the first quarter, the Eagles ran 30 offensive plays, a feat not seen in the NFL since the Houston Texans ran 31 plays in 2009. Despite that, the defense held the Eagles to only 12 points and supplied the touchdown to keep it a five-point game heading into the second frame.
--Redskins linebacker Perry Riley Jr. was a more-than-adequate quarterback spy early, sticking with Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on the read option and collecting the team's first sack of the season. Riley brings the best speed to the linebacking corps, but appears to be taking the next step this season, brings big-game savvy to the front-seven. Vick escaped on several plays in the second half, but was contained much more than defenses have managed in the past.
--Credit Logan Paulsen, Chris Chester and Richard Crawford to refusing to yield anything to the Eagles, even as things looked dismal in the first quarter. The Eagles easily drove downfield during the first drive and would have scored earlier had Amerson not driven his blocker into the ball-carrier, forcing him out of bounds in the red zone. That drive ended in an errant backward pass scooped up for a Redskins defender and returned 75 yards for a touchdown. For Chester and Paulsen, their never-say-die moment came on the Brandon Boykin interception in the first half. Although he was later ruled down by contact by Santana Moss, Paulsen and Chester ran from the other side of the line to escort Boykin out of bounds.
--Redskins running back Alfred Morris bounced back after a dismal start, scoring the team's first offensive touchdown of the season. That, combined with his 45 yards, do not make up for the pair of fumbles that stole the team's momentum early.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--The Washington Redskins enjoyed tremendous ball security from their running backs in recent years, with Alfred Morris fumbling only four times last year, losing three. He nearly matched that number in the first quarter tonight, fumbling twice, with the Eagles scoring nine points (touchdown and safety). This is very uncharacteristic of the sophomore back, but getting back in sync with Robert Griffin III and taking only eight carries in the preseason could be taking its toll.
--After being a dominating force early in the game, Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was forced to leave the game early with concussion-like symptoms. More about his prognosis will be known in the coming days, but Kerrigan was the Redskins' best player tonight and it was disappointing to see his night end early.
--The last time the Washington Redskins played a regular season game at FedExField, Morris carried the ball 48 times for 200 yards, shouldering the load on the way to the playoffs. That was not the case tonight, as the Redskins failed to get the running game going, managing 84 yards on the ground, approximately half of last year's average. The subsequent pressure on the passing game had obvious effects as Griffin III and Co. struggled to carry the offense. The Redskins had some success mixing in Roy Helu Jr. for the first time since Week 1 of last season, but the results speak for themselves.
--The offense didn't do the defense any favors early, turning the ball over twice and not sustaining a drive until late in the first quarter. The Eagles up-tempo offense ran 23 plays in the first eight minutes of play, testing the conditioning of the Redskins defense early. Combined with Morris' pair of fumbles, Griffin III threw his second pass of the day complete—to an Eagles' defender.
--Robert Griffin III said tonight might bring more nerves than his NFL debut, but the butterflies hung around for nearly three quarters with definitive results. This was his first two-interception game as a member of the Redskins, and he took the blame for the miscommunications after the game. The Redskins need No. 10 to be at his best, and will fare well if he can carry his fourth quarter momentum into next week's contest against the Green Bay Packers.
--Redskins kicker Kai Forbath missed only the second field goal of his career tonight, booting a 39-yard attempt wide right, killing the Redskins third-quarter drive. This errant kick seemed to confirm that nothing was going to go well tonight, as the 2012 Redskins' most reliable man had his struggles.
--Impatience doesn't pay off for returner Chris Thompson, who unwisely shook off his lead blocker Niles Paul and returned a second quarter kick from deep out of the end zone to just the 9-yard line. Thompson is a rookie still adjusting to the speed and competence of the NFL game. He held on to the football, which is Rule No. 1, but will hopefully learn to pick his spots better in the future.
--Redskins punter Sav Rocca had an up and down evening, starting off with a 47 yard punt that pinned the Eagles down inside their 20-yard line. Unfortunately, he backed that up with a 34-yard punt from deep in his own territory, setting the Eagles offense up in nearly field goal range with four minutes remaining in the second quarter.
--Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall continued the Redskins' cycle of avoidable personal foul penalties committed by defensive backs, dragging receiver DeSean Jackson down out of bounds by his horse collar. This type of penalty let the air out of a defense already on its heels, putting the Eagles in prime position for another touchdown, making it 19-7. Clearly these two players have a history of physical and verbal spats, but Hall needs to keep his focus in the heat of the moment.
With tonight's 75-yard fumble returned for a touchdown, the Washington Redskins have now had a defensive touchdown in four-straight home openers, dating back to 2010. This includes one in each of head coach Mike Shanahan's seasons in Washington. This was also Hall's second defensive touchdown in that stretch, as he returned a fumble 32 yards for a touchdown against Dallas in 2010. Outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Rob Jackson each secured pick-sixes in 2011 and 2012 before Hall's return tonight.
Head coach Mike Shanahan on what he told the team:
"It's a 16-round fight and we lost the first one…I was pleased with the way they fought their way back."
The Redskins will lick their wounds and return to the drawing board ahead of next week's matchup against the Packers in Green Bay. Never an easy matchup, the Packers will be looking for their own answers after coming off of a physical loss to the 49ers in San Francisco. The Redskins will also avoid the aura of Lambeau Field, playing them in September rather than on the frozen tundra. Hopefully the Redskins can find their stride this week and get back on track.
It was the tale of two halves for the Redskins, as the offense struggled to do anything in the first half, with the defense keeping them in the game. By the time the second half rolled around, the defense had already been on the field too long, limiting their impact.
It was not until the eve of the fourth quarter that the Redskins offense put anything sustained together, at which point it was already too late.
Perhaps it was the lack of starter play in the preseason, or the simple fact that Robert Griffin III was the unfamiliar straw that normally stirs the drink. It was a strangely unsynchronized evening from all directions tonight, so there is likely a take-home lesson for everyone on the 53-man roster.
The Redskins have a lot of questions to answer heading into Week 2, but they still managed to move the football and score points on a night when everyone seemed out of sync. If the Redskins want to avoid a repeat next week, they need to get everyone on the same page in a hurry.