Looking strictly at the scoreboard of today’s game, there aren’t a whole lot of positives to take away. ‘Pride games’ are supposed to end in wins–or at least near misses. Not 24-point deficits.
But to focus exclusively on the score wouldn’t really be the story of this season. The story of this season was–and has always been–about development. And the best way to illustrate the development of this team is to look at how a fully healthy Redskins team fared against the Eagles in Week 6, as compared to the team that took the field today.
In Week 6, the offense managed only 245 yards and turned the ball over four times. The Redskins had a fully-rested, fully-healthy roster take the field that day, with two playmakers at tight end, a dominant left side of the line, and zero rookies in the starting lineup. With that team, they managed only 13 points at home.
In Week 17, the offense managed 377 yards and turned the ball over once. The Redskins were eliminated from the playoffs weeks ago, with a patchwork lineup, including three rookies in the starting lineup. With this team, they managed 10 points on the road.
In Week 6, the defense yielded 422 yards and had two takeaways. The Redskins defense had a full-rested, fully-healthy roster take the field that day, with two playmaker safeties, two budding young outside linebackers, and a front seven that was leading the NFC in sacks. With that team, they yielded 20 points at home.
In Week 17, the defense yielded 390 yards and had two takeaways. The Redskins defense has also taken hits this season, losing both starting safeties, replacing three defenders altogether due to injury and performance. They didn’t finish out the fourth quarter that they wanted today, but they still managed to keep the Redskins in the game until late.
The progress that the Redskins achieved on both sides of the ball, despite losing important players during the season, is not something that is reflected in the season record (5-11). Development isn’t a consolation prize, and it isn’t anything that this team or organization wants to hang their hats on. But when this team regroups in the coming months for OTA’s and mini camps, it’s something that will be reflected in the elevated play of the young guys on the team. It’s something that will be reflected in various units, which now have great familiarity with one another. And for a team that isn’t going to the playoffs this year, roster development is something that can pay off for years to come.
Today was an unsung hero sort of day, so here are your unsung heroes of the afternoon:
The danger of in-game reporting is in drawing conclusions too hastily. For example, after the 62-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson, Twitter went crazy with conclusions that Oshiomogho Atogwe’s injuries had reduced his ability to make plays, and that he was, thus far, a disappointment as a free agent.
And perhaps up to that moment, these reports were fair. Until, on the ensuing drive, Atogwe intercepted Michael Vick for the second time this season, down near the goal line. He then–with the help of cornerback DeAngelo Hall–returned the ball to the 30-yard line.
All of this is not to say that Atogwe has had his ideal season, but he’s played very well in big games. Atogwe got all three of his interceptions against division opponents this season, with two against the Eagles and the other against the Giants. The best part of his contributions to the defense, is that he’s done everything that’s been asked, including accepting and excelling in a reserve role. His last two interceptions have come in games that he didn’t start.
Evan Royster and Roy Helu both gave gritty performances today, with Royster rushing for 113 yards on 20 carries, and Helu catching a touchdown pass for 47 yards.
Both rookie backs had back-to-back 100-yard games to their name this season, a rarity in any organization, and a testament to their ability to step up. Royster had to be taken to the locker room in the second half for rehydration, while Helu battled leg injuries that visibly hobbled him on his touchdown run. But both stayed focused and active in the game, supporting each other and keying the offense.
Not bad for two rookie backs taken after the fourth round.
This was a tough day for the 2011 Redskins, but with positives that can allow them to march forward into 2012. Will this team be able to get healthy and capitalize on the development and maturation of the players in the scheme? Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait nine months to find that out. But from the 300 level of Lincoln Financial Field, I think the Redskins will find their stride in 2012.
That’s all from Philadelphia on this New Year’s Day, as the Redskins fall to the Eagles, 10-34. Here’s wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year.