(photo by Brian Murphy)
1. “So What” by Miles Davis
The New Orleans Saints went undefeated at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2011. Heading into their season-opening match-up with the Washington Redskins, they were 13-1 in their last 14 home games (including the playoffs). When the local fanbase is fired up, that dome is quite possibly the loudest in the entire NFL.
And yet, none of that mattered as the underdog Redskins silenced the Saints 40-32.
Even though the Saints came into the game with an interim coach in place of their suspended interim coach (who is eventually going to fill in for their suspended head coach), every so-called expert and talking head confidently predicted the Saints would easily handle Washington.
Even though New Orleans went into the game without their middle linebacker — the quarterback of the defense — who had his yearlong suspension overturned just days before the game but wasn’t healthy enough to suit up, no one thought the Redskins had much of a chance.
And yet, the Redskins showed up for the game anyway.
“None of y’all gave us a chance,” Redskins linebacker London Fletcher barked at the media as he came off the field after his team’s thrilling victory.
If ever there was a game to bust out the “it’s us against the world” mindset, it was this one. In his pre-game speech, head coach Mike Shanahan smartly told his players it was 46 players versus the entire city of New Orleans. Clearly they bought in.
And if there was ever a time to sneak up on the Saints at home, this was it. Think about how dramatically this game would have been if the Redskins were without the services of their head coach (Shanahan) and middle linebacker (Fletcher).*
*On second thought, lets not and say we did.
The Saints were whistled for 12 penalties. They turned the ball over three times. At one point during the game, they forced Washington to punt … but had 12 men on the field.
While the locals were fixated on the replacement referees, they probably would have been better served turning their attention to the uncharacteristically sloppy performance by the Saints’ coaching staff and players. But hey, maybe it’s easier to blame the refs rather than admit your favorite football team might be in trouble.
That being said, the last time the Saints gave up 40 points in a home game prior to Washington’s impressive 40-32 win was Sept. 28, 2003. So yeah … keep on ignoring the problem and blaming the officiating. Good luck with that.
2. “At Last” by Etta James
Fun fact: In his debut, rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III led the Redskins to 40 points. The entire John Beck era — which you might recall lasted for roughly 13 quarters of football — produced only 38 points.
Okay, okay, comparing Griffin to Beck is a fruitless exercise, but still — Washington’s 40 points was the most by a team starting a rookie in its season opener during the NFL’s expansion era. It was the most points the Redskins have scored since October 23, 2005. In short, even after all of the commercials and all of the hype, RGIII was still somehow better than advertised.
Washington has waited more than two decades for a true franchise quarterback. And one play — an 88-yard touchdown pass from Griffin to wide out Pierre Garcon — showed just how special this kid just might be.
For the game, Griffin completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards, with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 139.9 passer rating. His passing yards were second only to Cam Newton’s 422 yards one year ago as the best debut for a rookie quarterback. But as impressive as the numbers are — the fact that he made the Redskins fun to watch again is his greatest achievement by far.
This one game almost completely makes up for two seasons worth of uninspired play for Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman and Beck. Almost.
3. “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone
While the Redskins offense was marching up and down the field on the Saints and giving the scoreboard operator a workout, the team’s play of the game actually came on the other side of the ball.
For my money, safety DeJon Gomes picking off a Drew Brees pass in the late stages of the game was the highlight of the day. Gomes’ first-career interception effectively killed New Orleans’ chances of mounting a comeback.
For all of the talk about the strength of this team being the defense’s front seven, it was the heavily-scrutinized secondary that came up big against the Saints. Not only did Gomes create a turnover, but the final play of the game was a Reed Doughty interception. For one week, at least, the back half of the defense shined.
“The secondary was great,” said defensive tackle Barry Cofield. “They were the strength of this team today. They were great, and we all feed off each other.”
4. “Mess Around” by Ray Charles
While the offense was rolling and the defense made plays with the game on the line, Danny Smith’s special teams unit was far less perfect.
The team’s first punt attempt of the game was blocked and resulted in a Saints touchdown. Brandon Banks fumbled the ball twice — once on a kickoff and once on a punt return. And long snapper Nick Sundberg broke a bone in his arm during the first half.
He’ll know shortly whether his season is over, but even if the special teams unit does have to go on without Sundberg, they’re going to have to perform at a much higher level than they did Week 1.
“We don’t want to be the weak link,” said linebacker Lorenzo Alexander.
5. “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane
While much of the attention will be directed towards Griffin (deservedly so, I might add), he wasn’t the only offensive player to have a strong showing in the season opener.
Eight different receivers had a catch against New Orleans. Seven of those receivers had a catch of 20 yards or more. Rookie running back Alfred Morris finished the game with 96 yards and two touchdowns. When Garcon came out of the lineup due to a foot injury, second-year wide out Aldrick Robinson stepped up and delivered.
Basically, because so many people were getting the job done, the Redskins were able to put together sustained drives that kept Washington’s defense fresh and the Saints offense sidelined.
The Redskins had the ball for an impressive 39 minutes and 10 seconds and scored 10 points each quarter, like clockwork. Every time the Saints had a chance to change momentum, the offense came back out on the field and increased the lead. Thanks to a total team effort, the Redskins dominated a team that has been, for years, one of the league’s elite teams.
Maybe, just maybe, this is their first step in joining that conversation.