Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Sunday afternoon's regular season kickoff game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome:
The career of franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III officially began today, and he completed 100 percent of his passes and led his team 49 yards for the score on his first drive at the helm. The Redskins got a lot of production out of the other offseason additions, with receiver Pierre Garçon catching four of Griffin III's first seven passes for 109 yards. Rookie running back Alfred Morris also contributed early, becoming a fixture in the running back rotation.
Disregarding the final score, the Redskins took a monumental step forward today, and gave the NFL the first glimpse of a very bright future. This is a Saints team that has not lost at home since the reserves lost to Buccaneers in the final week of the 2010 season, and have not lost a home opener since 2007. The Redskins scored a total team victory and drastically re-wrote the predictions for 2012.
It wasn't a scoring play, but Griffin III's first completion to tight end Fred Davis showed his innate ability to look downfield. Rolling out to his left, Griffin III looked back across to the right, and found Davis open on the right sideline. It amounted to a 26-yard completion vertically, but was thrown nearly 40 yards through the air, with accuracy and touch. It was also the first time that Griffin III threw to Davis in game action, following a quiet preseason.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Robert Griffin III started the game with a perfect passer rating through the first two drives: seven-for-seven for 123 yards and a touchdown. His favorite target early was Garçon, who found a crease on a 20-yard pass and won a foot race to the end zone for an 88-yard score. No receiver on the roster last year could have made that catch, and certainly no one had the speed to elude the defensive backs for the next 60-plus yards.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
The story of the week was Robert Griffin III, and he backed it up with a performance not befitting the youngest quarterback in the NFL. He was the player of the game in New Orleans, and should receive consideration as the NFL Player of the Week, starting eight-for-eight for 149 yards, and finishing 19-for-26 for 320 yards and two touchdowns.
Redskins left tackle Trent Williams was sorely missed during his four-game suspension to end the 2011 season. Coming back today for his first NFL regular season action in nine months, Williams looked dominant, giving Griffin III time in the pocket and alertly blocking downfield on screen passes in the flats. His blocking for Garçon converted a first down on the first drive, setting up the first score and lead of the 2012 season.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--The Redskins offseason: This was the first time that head coach Mike Shanahan has had a normal offseason in Washington, and maximized his resources and preparation time. The team revamped the offense and answered a lot of questions about what they're capable of. All things considered, a road win in Griffin III's debut, against one of the best teams in the NFL cannot be overstated.
-- The Redskins defense had a monster day, forcing the Saints into an early hole and helping take the enthusiasm out of the New Orleans crowd. The Saints made it a game in the fourth quarter, but the defense's execution kept the pressure off of Griffin III and the offense.
--Stolen homecoming: Saints fans packed the Superdome for the home opener to celebrate New Orleans football and show solidarity after a tumultuous offseason. The Redskins were never given a chance in this game, but they by-and-large held their own and stole the storylines in the Bayou.
--Cornerback DeAngelo Hall lined up all over the secondary this preseason, including in the nickel where he gets the rare opportunity to blitz the quarterback. Hall had never registered a full NFL sack, but got the defense's first of the season today, dragging down Saints quarterback Drew Brees for a 7-yard loss. The play brought up fourth-and-a-mile, forcing the punt team onto the field.
--Pierre Garçon validated his free agent payday, hauling in 109 yards and touchdown in the first quarter, before a foot injury sidelined him for the rest of the game. This was his seventh 100-yard game of his career, and his first in Washington. More than half of his yards came after the catch, a statistic that Redskins receiver lacked critically last season.
--Veteran Redskins receiver Santana Moss lost 15 pounds this offseason and seems to have recaptured the big-play ability that defined his career. His first reception of the year was a 27-yard catch-and-run over the middle that finished with him nimbly picking his way down the Redskins sideline. The play moved the Redskins into the red zone and set up a 41-yard field goal for Billy Cundiff.
--Alfred Morris could be the bruising physical back that the Redskins have missed since the days of Ladell Betts in Washington. Morris runs with an upright style that leaves him open to big hits, but his red zone and goal-line ability gives the Redskins running game a dimension that they've missed in recent years
--Kicker Billy Cundiff won the Redskins kicking battle from 40 miles north in Baltimore, and has been on the team for less than two weeks. Despite his lack of cohesion with the special teams unit, he worked to perfection today, keeping his kickoffs away from Darren Sproles and nailed each of his three field goal attempts.
--Redskins receiver Brandon Banks may not be a prototypical offensive threat, but head coach Mike Shanahan is committed to him as a playmaker. Banks handled all return duties today, and was targeted in the first quarter on a screen pass. Just like in the return game, Banks is better with blockers, but can cut harder than defenders in the open field.
--If Hall's team-leading stat was odd enough, defensive end Stephen Bowen leads the Redskins in passes defensed (two), getting his hands up in Brees's face. Bowen had one all of last season, and only four for his career. Barry Cofield led all 3-4 nose tackles in passes defensed last season, and the Redskins are using the height factor to their advantage.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--After not allowing a blocked punt against Sav Rocca in 2011, the Redskins coverage team gave up a costly block backed up inside the 20-yard line late in the first half. Rocca appeared to be fundamentally sound, but did not have enough time to get it away cleanly. The ball was scooped up and returned for the Saints' second touchdown.
The Redskins stay on the road and indoors next week, paying a visit to the Rams in St. Louis for the third-consecutive season. Griffin III will be matched by Sam Bradford and the new-look Rams under head coach Jeff Fisher. The Redskins will not return to FedExField until Week 3, when they host the Cincinnati Bengals.
With his 11-for-13, 182 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, Griffin III became the 35th quarterback since the NFL merger to post a perfect 158.3 passer rating in the first half (with 10-plus attempts). Of those, he is the first to do it in his first NFL game, and the first rookie quarterback overall. He did not lose his perfect 158.3 rating until late in the third quarter.
The Redskins stood toe-to-toe with one of the most-prolific offenses in NFL history, and ultimately knocked off the giant. The coaching staff utilized all of Griffin III's talents to pass, run and extend the play. Griffin III used all of his weapons, and adjusted well when he lost Garcon early on.
The Redskins will ultimately lead the league in time of possession after Week 1, holding it for a ridiculous 39:20. The last time the Redskins scored 40 or more points in game at home against the 49ers on Oct. 23, 2005. The last time they scored 40 points on the road was in a 40-10 victory in New Orleans on Dec. 30, 2001.
On the other side of the ball, the defense weathered an onslaught by Brees and company that took the game down to the wire. The Redskins dominated on third-down, holding the Saints to two conversions in 11 attempts. It was the classic metaphor of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, and the Redskins objectively came out on top.