- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Blown leads: The Redskins led Denver by 14 points late in the third quarter and lost. They led San Diego by 10 points in the fourth quarter and needed a goal-line stand to force overtime. And they blew a 13-point lead against Minnesota. A different theme each week, but the same result. Against the Broncos, the offense imploded, and that turned a defensive gem into a fourth-quarter nightmare. But the past two games it’s been on the defense in those times. They forced one punt by Minnesota, none in the second half. The Vikings, playing with two line backups and without their starting tight end, scored on all four possessions. But don’t just blame the defense. After an opening drive field goal in the third quarter, Washington’s offense responded this way: three plays, 7 yards, punt; five plays, 7 yards, punt; three plays, minus-4 yards, punt. At a time when the Redskins needed to change momentum, the offense stalled. This happens to bad teams.
Ground attack: Alfred Morris’ season probably won’t be viewed the way it should because of the Redskins’ record. But the kid is having a terrific year, as he showed again Thursday with 139 yards on 26 carries. He had one run in which he broke four tackles and another run where he turned a 3-yard loss into a 2-yard gain. Morris long ago proved that he was so much more than a byproduct of the zone read-option. Now, it’s his presence that opens up possibilities for others. Did they stop going to him in the second half? He only had nine carries after all. But the main culprit was the lack of third-down success. He carried the ball on each possession, though when the Redskins went to hurry-up mode on the final drive he was replaced by Roy Helu.
Costly fouls: The Redskins can point to several non-calls that troubled them and, sure, they have a point. But what they need to do is quit committing fouls that hurt themselves. They’ve proved they’re not good enough to overcome such mistakes. They had a roughing the passer penalty, a personal foul and an unnecessary roughness. All three led to Minnesota touchdowns. Defensive lineman Chris Baker’s roughing penalty added 15 yards to a 21-yard completion. (Yes, it looked questionable, but the point is about overcoming adversity.) Next play: Adrian Peterson was stopped for a 3-yard loss. Next play: Peterson wasn’t stopped for an 18-yard touchdown. Darrel Young had a personal foul that added 15 yards to the end of a 20-yard punt return, giving the Vikings a first down at the Washington 41. Another Peterson score capped the drive. And linebacker Perry Riley’s unnecessary roughness penalty was only half the distance. But instead of a third-and-4 from the 5-yard line, it became first-and-goal from the 2. Next play: Peterson touchdown.
Return game: Niles Paul provided a mini-lift for the kick return game, serving as the main returner for the first time this season. Josh Morgan has struggled in that role and Chris Thompson isn’t yet an option. But each of Paul’s three returns went beyond the 20-yard line, which is almost cause for some sort of Gatorade dousing based on prior runbacks. Morgan’s effort is there, but he still hasn’t proved he should be the primary returner on punts, either. The Redskins just don’t get any spark from special teams. At all.