Redskins Outlast Cowboys, Claim NFC East Title
by Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC East Beat Writer/Already Missing Andy Reid's Dry Cough
As of 8 PM EST Sunday night, 13 teams remained in contention to win Super Bowl XLVII.
Three and a half hours later, there were only 12.
The Washington Redskins shook off a slow start while hosting the Dallas Cowboys, winning 28-18 in the NBC Finale. With the win, the Skins take the NFC East for the first time since the 1999 season, a time in which London Fletcher 1) was on his way to Super Bowl glory with St. Louis and 2) wasn't yet a grandfather.
The loss for Dallas marks the second straight year in which Tony Romo and the gang lost in the final flex-scheduling game of the season, losing on New Year's night 2012 to the Giants, 31-14.
The Giants needed that win to begin their 4-game sprint-and-dodge toward their fourth Lombardi Trophy.
Might the Redskins be on the primrose path to their own victory parade?
1. Forget RG3, What About Alfred Morris?
Robert Griffin III will be the franchise star with the Redskins for as long as he remains a viable player, especially with his skill set.
In the victory over Dallas, RG3, outside of a go-ahead rushing touchdown in the third quarter, looked rather pedestrian. He completed only 50 percent of his passes (9 of 18), his second lowest percentage of the season (47.1 percent against the Steelers in November). He threw for 100 yards and no touchdowns, giving him a 66.9 passer rating.
With Griffin playing notches below his usual high standards, the Redskins were able to lean on a career-night from its other top rookie.
Alfred Morris broke the spirit of the Cowboys with a career best 200 yards on 33 carries (previous high: 129 vs. Baltimore), and 3 touchdowns, another single-game high. With those numbers, the sixth-round rookie has 1613 yards and and 13 touchdowns in a stellar freshman season.
Morris has the fourth running back to break 1600 yards rushing as a rookie, and has the third most for a rookie in NFL history, behind Eric Dickerson (1808 in 1983) and George Rogers (1674 in 1981).
After a Rob Jackson interception set the stage for Washington, 21-18, to add to their lead in the waning minutes, it was Morris who punched the Redskins' ticket with his third touchdown of the day, gaining yard No. 200 on the run.
2. Tony Romo Shrinks in the Spotlight
Washington's pass defense was considered a liability for much of the early part of the season, allowing teams like the Rams, Bengals, and Giants, among others, to set them ablaze with unstoppable air assaults.
By year's end, the Redskins had cut back on leaving their guard down, even holding teams like Baltimore and Philadelphia largely in check.
That defense was going to have to hold up one more time against the Cowboys, who've ridden a wave of offensive flurry to this crucial pass.
Tony Romo had some rough games earlier in the year (Chicago and New York had their way with his wayward passes), but since November started, he'd thrown just 3 picks against 17 touchdowns.
All of that steady goodwill unraveled on New Year's Eve-Eve in Landover, as Romo threw three interceptions, and fortified the 'choker' label that he's worn many times in his career.
Two of the turnovers took place in the first quarter, with Richard Crawford and Josh Wilson reaping the benefits. It was the aforementioned pick by linebacker Jackson, as precious minutes remained, that doomed Dallas once more.
With Dez Bryant and Miles Austin being taken out with injuries during the game, the Cowboys pass attack couldn't have crumbled at a worse time. Sadly, it seems to be a theme.
3. London Fletcher Remains Ageless Wonder
Playing in his 240th straight game, a mark tying him with former kicker Ryan Longwell, retired center Mick Tingelhoff, and current Bucs leader Ronde Barber, London Fletcher is far removed from the Super Bowl title win of his 13 years ago with the Rams.
But for a man celebrating his thirty-eighth birthday this coming offseason, Fletcher isn't playing like a man with a foot in the grave.
In a game that the Redskins needed to win to not only win the NFC East, but to also make the postseason for the first time in five years, Fletcher sacked Tony Romo twice, including once for an 18 yard loss.
Fletcher also contributed 9 total tackles (4 solo, 5 assisted) and a defensed pass in his bid to help Washington's chances at a title run.
Fletcher contributed 137 total tackles on the season, as well as a career high 5 interceptions (he's had 4 twice before, the last time in 2006), and guts his way through "questionable" designations on the injury report to keep leading by example.
4. Battle of the Rookies in Wild Card Round
Looking ahead to 1 PM EST next Sunday afternoon, the Redskins will remain in the DC Metro area as they prepare to host the equally-hot Seattle Seahawks.
Sweetening the pot will be the battle of two dynamic rookie quarterbacks in Griffin, and a comparable third-round counterpart, Russell Wilson.
Unlike RG3, who was handed the keys to the Redskins offense virtually the second the Skins war room selected him, Wilson had to work his way past Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Flynn to earn the starting job.
Both men have also taken the NFL by storm with their versatility and unquestioned leadership.
Griffin has the led Redskins into the playoffs with 20 touchdown passes, 5 interceptions, a 102.3 passer rating, a 65.7 completion percentage, 7 rushing touchdowns, and 815 rushing yards.
You'd have to go back to Brad Johnson or Mark Rypien to find a Skins' quarterback who has looked this stellar, and even those two haven't had a year like Griffin's had.
Wilson, for his part, took Seattle by storm with 26 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, a 100.0 passer rating, a 64.1 completion percentage, 4 rushing scores, and 489 rushing yards.
Rookies faced off last year when the Bengals' Andy Dalton took on Matt Schaub's surrogate TJ Yates in Houston, but this battle will certainly draw much more hype.
5. Redskins Match Up Well With Playoff Field
With 12 teams left, seeds don't tend to mean much. Fours, fives, and sixes have won the Super Bowl, and a 9-7 team did it last year. Anything is possible from here on out.
A look at CHFF's Quality Stats reveals that the Washington Redskins hold their own against their eleven-team opposition.
In the category of Real Passing Yards Per Attempt, Washington ranks second (7.31) behind Denver, ahead with a narrow 7.32 YPA.
Washington also takes second place in Offensive Passer Rating (103.56), behind only Green Bay (106.47). Playoff teams fill spots three through seven, including Denver, San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle, and New England, so it's a testament to find RG3 outranking icons the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
Perhaps the NFL is turning back into a runner's league, based on the fact that 4 of the top 6 teams in rushing offense are in the playoffs. The Redskins rank third in the category with 5.10 YPA, behind Minnesota (5.36 YPA), San Fran (5.20), and non-playoff team Buffalo (5.13).
Such categories also show kinks in Washington's armor, such as offensive third down percentage (35.2 percent, eighth worst in the league and worst among playoff teams) and defensive passer rating (88.91, thirteenth worst in the league, and third worst among playoff teams behind Indianapolis and Minnesota).
In any case, Washington has a reasonable chance to go far in the playoffs. To be continued ...