Redskins face short week in trying to avoid 0-2 start vs. Packers
By: By Kent Babb, The Washington Post., Superior Telegram
WASHINGTON — They finished trickling out of FedEx Field in Landover, Md. long after midnight. Among the NFL's ironies is that a short week feels to its teams like the longest, and by 2:45 Tuesday morning, most of the Washington Redskins' coaches were home.
By 5:45 a.m., many were back at the team facility to identify what had gone wrong in a disappointing first half that led to a 33-27, nationally televised loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. By 8, with a staff meeting and the previous night's film study complete, it was time to move on to the Green Bay Packers.
"My body still felt the pain," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said a few days later. "It's still tough after any loss, but you don't have a choice. You have got to move on. The time is ticking."
As soon as the Eagles game finished, the clock started on Week 2. And it also did on Washington's chance of curbing an early-season losing streak that could raise new questions about the team's viability as a contender. An opening-week loss causes frustration, but an 0-2 start brings worry. And a fact lingered at the practice facilities of two teams with high hopes in 2013 after division championships a season earlier: Either Washington or Green Bay will be winless through two games.
Time already is more threat than luxury. Nearly 90 percent of teams that start 0-2 miss the playoffs, and an 0-3 start — Washington will host the Detroit Lions in the season's third week — has historically been a death sentence for playoff hopes. Since 1990, when the NFL moved to a 17-week schedule, three teams have qualified for the playoffs after losing their first three games. One, the 1992 San Diego Chargers, made it after starting 0-4.
In Washington's locker room, though, those facts aren't worthy of thought. Not yet, anyway.
"It's a game that we need to win," defensive end Kedric Golston said of the Packers game. "Percentages don't really matter to me."
This week, players were given 24 hours to decompress — and perhaps learn — from a game in which early turnovers — a fumble by running back Alfred Morris and an interception by quarterback Robert Griffin III, plus a safety resulting from a botched pitch — and an inability to stop the Eagles led to a 26-7 halftime deficit. Some players put it behind them immediately. Others weren't able to compartmentalize so quickly.
"I'm still frustrated," fullback Darrel Young said. ". . . I'm not going to forget this game. That's just me. I'm not going to dwell on it. I'm not going to sit there and cry about the mistakes we made, but I'll look forward to something different."
Not that a change means it'll be much easier. Washington had five months to think about and prepare for Philadelphia and first-year Coach Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense, which gained 322 yards in the first half. In advance of a visit to Lambeau Field and Packers all-pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers, it had five days. Kelly's offense was mostly unknown to the NFL, but familiarity with Rodgers and the Packers makes them no simpler to solve.
"You don't see too many people stopping him," Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "That's a great challenge for our defense because what he's going to do, they do a lot of similar things. He checks off. He runs the show.
"You've got to do a great job of giving him different looks. He figures it out fast. This guy can do everything."
If there's any relief, it's that Green Bay runs a more conventional offense than Philadelphia. Rodgers can run if necessary, but it was his passing that led the Packers to a Super Bowl win and him being named most valuable player following the 2010 season. And there's opportunity against Green Bay's defense, which allowed 494 total yards in a 34-28 loss at San Francisco.
Still, the short week meant Washington had one fewer day to prepare for Green Bay and to correct its mistakes. Coach Mike Shanahan said the team would include the Packers' preseason games among its video study. A few days after Morris fumbled on his first carry and mishandled a toss in the end zone from Griffin, players worked on fundamentals during the early portion of Thursday's workout. Handling the snap, a smooth transition from quarterback to running back, easy and effortless tosses to the left and right. Kyle Shanahan said the emphasis on basics was nothing new, but after one loss, the stakes seem higher.
It's still daybreak in the regular season, and this is a team that shook off a 3-6 start in 2012 to win seven consecutive contests and win the NFC East before a first-round playoff exit. NFL players have been trained to say that one season, whether good or bad, has nothing to do with another. But with this team, a few mental calluses were formed by last season's turnaround — though caution does exist.
"The problem was the offseason," Young said. "We got praised a lot for basically winning the division and losing. That's not good. That's not football."
The narrative entering the season was that if Griffin recovered from knee surgery, Washington would be among the NFC's contenders and a favorite to repeat as division champion. Important players were healthy again, and the team entered a new season with confidence and poise.
Then, in the course of one loss, that story line was threatened. Was Griffin rusty? Was the team unable to establish chemistry without Griffin participating in preseason games. Was the defense unprepared for a new offense? Or was Washington just overrated?
"You turn on the TV, and it's the first story on everything," linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "You can't get away from it."
Young, a veteran who in recent years endured some of the team's more frustrating seasons, said he was encouraged by a second-half comeback Monday night. Washington held Philadelphia to one touchdown in the second half. Past teams, Young said, lacked resilience and wouldn't have been capable of such a response.
So now Washington is down again, another comeback needed and, according to those in the locker room, this latest deficit doesn't feel at all bleak. It's one loss, many of them say. And it's behind them.
"Someone's going to be 0-2," Kerrigan said, "and we don't plan on it being us."