- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. Robert Griffin III said all the right things Wednesday after learning he’d be shut down for the season. And he handled himself the right way Sunday. There’s no doubt he knew the camera would be on him quite a bit. But he appeared to be in the game the entire time -- celebrating, upset when the two-point conversion failed, sitting next to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Kirk Cousins as they looked over snapshots during the game. It’s exactly the way Griffin needed to behave.
2. I thought backup Rex Grossman was pretty good talking about how Griffin conducted himself Sunday. Here’s what he had to say: “Great. It’s a tough situation, but at the same time he’s a good person and he has a bright future. He’s the franchise quarterback. I think this situation is tough because it’s so dramatic and he’s handling it with class and going with it. It’s not that big a deal, I think.” Wait? Not a big deal? Here’s why he said that: “Because he’s going to have all the opportunity in the world to be as successful as he wants to be and he has a long time to get ready and his career is still [going up]. He understands that. Everybody does.”
3. It’s hard to praise Cousins for his performance without it sounding like a shot at Griffin. One doesn’t have to be about the other. They’re different. They have different strengths, which is why one offense will never look exactly the same for two quarterbacks. The zone read flourished last year; Cousins couldn’t run it. Cousins is more comfortable in the pocket. Naturally, more plays will be called for him there. I’ll say this: Atlanta’s defense is really bad and the Falcons were using three rookies in the secondary. That’s not taking anything away from Cousins because he still must execute and he did. He did that well, aside from a couple of plays (the turnovers, obviously). Those turnovers were the difference in the game and Cousins does throw picks. I remember one scout before the 2012 draft worrying about this part of his game. That must change. Anyway, seven turnovers in a game after having 14 all of last season. The Redskins should not have been in the game given that statistic.
4. But I liked how, on Cousins’ 53-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon, the ball landed in the receiver’s arms right after he made his double move. No hesitation. I liked how Cousins used his eyes and didn’t lock in on guys. He was decisive with his throws and was able to step into his passes. Cousins also usually gave receivers a chance to gain yards after the catch. He also avoided negative situations or third and real long. The Redskins were 5-of-10 on third downs with all but three for 6 yards or less. Makes a difference. Cousins helped by hitting checkdowns in certain situations, thanks to keeping his eyes downfield.
5. The problem with covering the Washington Redskins now is that so much of what goes on right now doesn’t pertain to football. Rather, it’s about reacting to various reports, or trying to find out what’s true and what isn’t. NFL Network reported today that Kyle Shanahan plans on setting out “on his own path next year.” Shanahan denied this in a text Sunday night, saying it’s “100 percent not true.” But I do know that he’s never liked when people refer to he and his dad as the “Shanahans”. And that it would be good for him to be on his own, away from the questions that surround coaching for your father -- especially when you’re not winning. He did a good job publicly trying to distance himself from the quarterback switch last week.
6. I don’t blame Mike Shanahan for being annoyed with questions about his job status or situation. And he did answer a lot of these things publicly last week. But these stories keep getting leaked so the local media is then forced to ask about them. It’s a bad cycle, but it starts with the leaks. Simple as that. You know why sports reporters get into this business? To cover games, not Watergate.
7. I had no problem with the Redskins going for the two-point conversion. You’re 3-10, win the game when you have the chance. They had been picking apart the Atlanta secondary all game. They used a lot of screens and rub routes throughout the game and the Falcons did not handle them well. Naturally, on the two-point conversion they ran one that the Falcons finally defended. Cornerback Desmond Trufant didn’t let himself get picked by Josh Morgan, instead clamping on to Garcon, the primary read.
8. However, Morgan appeared open. Cousins blamed himself for the play, something he does quite a bit. He’s more honest about his bad plays than his good ones. “My initial reaction is I had Josh open on an offscheduled play and if I had set my feet, I may have been able to drill it into Pierre. That’s a play I clearly didn’t have a good enough feel for.”
9. Give the Redskins’ defense a lot of credit for how they played. Atlanta scored 20 points off turnovers , with one touchdown drive starting at the Redskins’ 2. Atlanta started four drives in Washington territory (managing 20 points). The Redskins forced six punts and held Atlanta to 243 total yards. Linebacker Brian Orakpo had a terrific game with eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries working against left tackle Lamar Holmes. Orakpo used speed and power and set up Holmes well; he got him outside and then when Holmes set wide, Orakpo would get into his chest and cut inside. Defensive lineman Chris Baker played one of his best games -- maybe his best -- with four tackles and a hurry. He did a nice job shedding blocks, too, and making stops.
10. Running back Alfred Morris was too loose with the ball and it hurt Washington twice. His fumbles did not lead to points, but they occurred deep in Atlanta territory so they took away the Redskins’ chance to score. Think another field goal would have made a difference? His game was like too many others: “Good game, but …” Morris finished with 98 yards on 18 carries and was terrific on the inside zone pitch; the Falcons linebackers overflowed and gave him cutback alleys. “A rope-a-dope deal,” as Logan Paulsen called it. At times when the linebackers tried to read the play, it bought time for the offensive linemen to reach them.