Yesterday was a cold shower for Washington. Any delusions of grandeur harbored after the late game heroics against Tampa Bay were washed away after Sunday's contest.
It wasn't that anyone truly expected (be honest with yourself) the Redskins to knock off New England on Sunday, but the game was especially disheartening because of the multitude of errors. Drops, penalties, missed tackles. I think fans saw the many years of futility dancing across their television screens like a flashback to a bad acid trip. But allow me to bring you back to sobriety. It wasn't as bad as it looked. I don't mean to sound like a Pollyanna but — aside from the obvious — the Redskins played about par relative to the rest of the season.
The players were sloppy with their fundamentals, which speaks poorly of the coaching staff. For much of the first half it looked like the team spent the bye week lounging in the hot tub gorging on Halloween candy. It looked especially bad against New England. I'll have to go back and watch the game film, but I'm pretty sure that Bill Belichick's football drones gained positive yards on every play during the opening drive. Felt like it, anyway.
One aspect of the game that hurt Washington the most was its run defense. The defensive line was a strength for this team all season. New England respected it, as evidenced by the number of screen passes called. For whatever reason, presumably Terrance Knighton's absence, New England's patchwork offensive line pushed Washington around all day. The effect was magnified by poor tackling from seemingly everyone on the roster. It allowed the Patriots to more or less sleepwalk to victory as they capitalized on every Redskins mistake and methodically milked the clock and the game like an anaconda strangling a capybara. Belichick is notorious for taking an opponent's strength and turning it into a weakness.
What I took away from the defense is its ability to force turnovers even against the class of the NFL. Nab an interception off Brady? That's something to write home about this year. Beyond that, the two rookies Kyshoen Jarrett and Preston Smith played well in the limited action they saw.
On the other side of the ball Cousins was solid if unspectacular. He worked through progressions and made good throws. Dropped balls killed any rhythm he might have started, but Cousins fought through it to the best of his limited skillset. He didn't fold or start throwing interceptions left and right. It helped that the offensive line kept him upright almost the entire game. For the much-maligned unit to only give up one sack to the league's co-leader in sacks is something of an accomplishment.
Washington measured itself against one of the best teams in the NFL and learned what we all knew: it's a fatally flawed team that has improved but is still a ways away from making any real noise. The loss dropped the team to 3-5, but it didn't knock it completely out of the division race. Mostly that speaks volumes about how bad the NFC East is this year. Let's not worry too much about that though. I don't know about you, but if someone told me before the season that the Redskins would still have a shot at the division halfway through the season I probably would've laughed. But here we are.
Kirk Cousins: He played well and the game would've been considerably more fun to watch had his receivers provided any sort of support. Watching Cousins grow into his starting role is one of the more pleasant surprises of the season. He isn't the franchise quarterback by any means. I believe his ceiling is as a league average quarterback, but given the franchise's recent quarterbacking history anything that doesn't resemble a Dumpster fire is awesome.
Defensive takeaways: Here's a stat that might surprise you: the Redskins defense had just as many takeaways as the Patriots. A minor victory considering New England is second in the league in turnover ratio and Washington is tied for 20th, according to statistics kept by ESPN.
Rookies: It was expected that Brandon Scherff would contribute immediately, but the play of this rookie class — specifically Jarrett and Smith, both of whom stood out with heads up plays and solid tackling in their limited snaps — is heartening for several reasons. The first being that the team ought to successfully develop and improve these players in house, a key aspect of team building conspicuously absent from the Dan Snyder era. A close second is the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from knowing the front office has people who are good at evaluating talent.
Offensive strategery: Hey, remember when everyone was bummed out during the first week when DeSean Jackson hurt his hamstring going after a deep ball? We were all disappointed because he was, more or less, the run-first offense's best opportunity for a quick score, right? Man, great thing he was on the field when the Redskins were down by multiple scores in the second half. Really put that game-breaking speed to use. Wait, what?
Drops: I hate it when a play fails because someone flubs the fundamentals. Getting beat is understandable; watching an NFL player make a basic error is unbelievably frustrating.
Poor tackling: See above.