Good news: Despite his worst day as a professional, Robert Griffin III continues to mature as a franchise quarterback.
Bad news: Everyone else took a step back in Sunday's 27-12 loss to the Steelers.
Yes, RGIII completed just 16-of-34 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown, and he managed just eight rushing yards on six carries, but what the box score doesn't tell you was that Redskins' would-be pass catchers dropped 10 (!) eminently catchable balls.
Would it have been enough to overcome a 15-point deficit? Hard to say, but the game certainly would've been closer. And when you have a quarterback like RGIII in the backfield, you feel quite comfortable with the ball in his hands late in a close game.
But once you get passed all the miscues perhaps the most impressive takeaway from Washington's fifth loss of the season was the poise and calm with which Griffin played. He never seemed visibly frustrated by his teammates' mistakes -- some which negated big downfield plays or touchdowns. RGIII even showed some feistiness when he had to be held back from going after a Steelers defender following what he considered a late hit.
Then there's Griffin's toughness; he took plenty of hits Sunday, the worst came on a Josh Morgan reverse-throwback pass to RGIII as he streaked down the sidelines. The play was a microcosm of the Redskins' afternoon: Griffin was flagged for offensive pass interference, and for his troubles Steelers safety Ryan Clark knocked the QB hard to the turf with a perfectly legal hit.
For all the talk about keeping Washington's most important player upright, this seemed like an unnecessary risk. Then again, Griffin can't throw it to himself; if no one else was going to catch the ball maybe coach Mike Shanahan figured Griffin could do that, too.
“It sure looked like it with that hit," Shanahan said afterwards when asked if the coach put his quarterback in a dangerous situation. "We weren’t counting on that hit. I’ve run that play a lot of times and quarterbacks have walked (in for a score). We got the wrong coverage to throw it.”
Griffin was asked if he liked the idea of running routes.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell coaches not to call plays like that if they feel like they’re going to work," he said. "Every time in practice versus that look, it worked. We just had a different way it played out in the game. It is what it is. I got up. We moved on to the next play.”
And that's right. Griffin got up, no worse for wear, and the Redskins kept playing. In the scheme of things, the offensive pass interference had no bearing on the outcome. It was just a footnote in the 'Skins' most uninspiring loss of the season.
At the halfway point Washington is 3-5 but unlike previous years, a major overhaul isn't in order -- at least on offense. Many of Sunday's mistakes were mental -- the Redskins had just eight drops coming into the game. They may not have eight drops for the next two months.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve had a game like this, relative to that many opportunities that you didn’t take advantage of when guys were open. I was disappointed,” Shanahan said. “I don’t care where the placement is. As long as it hits your hands, you better catch it or else you won’t be in the National Football League for very long.”
Which brings us to another silver lining: RGIII was under duress for most of the afternoon and he regularly hit his receivers in the hands. Of the 10 drops, seven or eight were perfectly thrown passes. We mentioned previously that the 'Skins could survive without Pierre Garcon but that Fred Davis would be a big loss. Now that Davis is done for the season, it's clear that Garcon can't get back soon enough.
The the bigger issue, the one that will ultimately decide how far this team goes, is the defense. If the offense was underwhelming, the defense was downright atrocious. They were dominated in every phase of the game; they couldn't stop Jonathan Dwyer, the Steelers' third-string running back (17 carries, 107 yards), they didn't lay a hand on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (24 for 33, 222 yards, 3 TDs 0 INTs), and the only answer they had for the young wide receivers came courtesy of DeAngelo Hall's decision to get ejected -- addition by subtraction immediately improved the secondary but it came too late to make a difference.
“It is disappointing because you work so hard to play, to compete at a high level,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said via the Washington Post. “And any time you come out and lay an egg like we did today, it’s embarrassing and frustrating at the same time.”
But there's no time to wallow in self-pity. Washington hosts Carolina this week and it's imperative that they head into their Week 10 bye at 4-5. Because 3-6 would almost certainly doom already dim postseason aspirations.