1. There shouldn't be a lot of surprise that the Washington Redskins did not finish off this game. They're just not that good. Last week's goal-line stand turned out to be a mirage. They looked terrific on offense for much of the game; not so much on defense. In other words, another non-complete game. That's who they are. Don't be surprised. Little things add up to big disasters too often and they're not good enough to overcome 15-yard penalties.
2. Once again a goal-line stand could have been a season-defining moment. Just not in a good way for Washington as this time it failed to score a touchdown on its final possession despite having a first-and-goal from the 8 (and three shots from the 4). Minnesota blitzed quarterback Robert Griffin on the next three plays, forcing him to throw a touch sooner than he wanted to at times. Rookie tight end Jordan Reed turned and the ball was there on second down; a tough catch to make. It would have been a touchdown. Some said Reed was held; I'll have to see it again. "Rob put it where it's supposed to be and right on time,” Reed said. "I just didn't take advantage of it.”
3. Griffin threw behind Pierre Garcon on third down, though I'm not sure he would have scored. Then again the way Garcon played he might have broken the tackles. On fourth down, Griffin was going to Santana Moss in the corner all the way. Yes, there's a screen grab that shows Reed breaking open over the middle against linebacker Chad Greenway. Let the tape keep rolling and he's not as open as it seems. However, a bigger point: Minnesota is bringing heat; if you're going to Moss, you don't have time to see anything else. It's a timing play and the ball must get out or he'll run out of room (which he did anyway). The Redskins failed to cap what could have been a drive that, again, could have saved their season. It did not.
4. The craziest part of the night was the botched fake punt that some players say should not have been called and was not called from the sidelines, but still should have worked, but it wouldn't have mattered because of a penalty. Got it? Reed Doughty tapped his helmet with both hands, alerting everyone to the possibility of a fake. But Niles Paul did not see or hear the call; he was looking inside, but at the ball and not at Doughty. "It wasn't supposed to happen,” Paul said. "I didn't see it called; that's why I took off down the field.” Paul had been uncovered; Sav Rocca saw the signal which is why he made the pass. It was the Redskins' first punt of the night; they would prefer to fake on later punts to see how teams defend it first.
5. Minnesota hit Griffin several times after zone read handoffs because he did not throw his hands up in the air, signaling he no longer had the ball. So defensive end Jared Allen drilled him. Griffin also got hit hard on the outside zone read option runs. Why did they run so many of those? Two years ago Washington hurt Minnesota with its outside zone game and last season the Redskins ran the zone read with some success (especially off fakes in the pass game). Minnesota is a cover-2 team, which works well for those outside runs.
6. But where the Vikings made it difficult for Griffin was their ability to turn him inside enough. Some teams were able to do that last season as well and that's not what anyone wants. It's bad for a quarterback's longevity and this can't happen too often. The whole point of that run is to gain yards yet keep Griffin from getting hit, by giving him protection to get wide and out of bounds. But the Vikings' linebackers started playing the run wider to force him back inside. Last week, the Chargers played it tighter; that wasn't the case Thursday. "We don't want him taking big shots,” tight end Logan Paulsen said. "They were fast flowing outside and that made it difficult to get in position to help him get outside.”
7. The Redskins actually fared better when it was third-and-long than third-and-short in the second half. Why? Because in the short yardage situations they played man coverage; when it was third-and-long they played zone and there were definite gaps in the coverage that were exploited. But they missed on two third-and-3s and then third-and-goal from the 4-yard line on the final series. The Redskins have a tougher time, typically, against man coverage with some exceptions. Minnesota's pass rush also hurt Washington in the second half. At times it appeared too easy for them to get through and didn't seem like they were tricking them as Denver did.
8. Another adjustment for Minnesota centered on tight end Jordan Reed. They let him get too many free releases in the first half, but not in the second. Many times when he was on the line, they would line up over him and play him more physical. "They put a guy over top of me and would grab onto me, a lot of holding going on but I have to overcome that and still get open,” Reed said.
9. I'm not a big blame-the-officials-guy. Good teams overcome bad calls and the Redskins had plenty of chances to do so. Bad teams put themselves in bad spots. But the Redskins weren't happy about the officiating. There was a lot of talk about missed holding calls. "A couple questionable calls throughout the game,” Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "Should have been a false start on the right tackle [on third-and-1 in the fourth quarter]. Three guys on defense saw it and four refs couldn't see it. But the officiating wasn't the difference. We didn't play well enough defensively.” Amen to that.
10. One big play: the 25-yard pass to receiver Jerome Simpson on third-and-9 in the fourth quarter against linebacker Perry Riley. How does he end up on him? In that situation Riley's job was to play the No. 2 receiver to the weakside and that was Simpson. Riley said it was supposed to be zone coverage, but with man principles and when Simpson took off downfield he had to stay with him. Simpson got a free release to the outside making it even tougher to defend. Riley had no chance.