Caught between a rock and last place: The NFL will never incorporate mulligans, but Washington may want to take that idea to the commissioner following Week 5. Coming off a bye week, the Redskins had a chance to strengthen their hold on the NFC East after watching their division rivals take Ls on Sunday to continue their sluggish starts. But the Saints wouldn't be so kind in the Superdome.
Truth is, few teams could have handled a Saints offense eager to see Drew Brees break the NFL's all-time passing yardage record. Still, Washington head coach Jay Gruden took the podium after the Monday night loss and voiced his frustrations over his team’s mistake-laden performance.
“I think our whole team played poorly, and that’s a reflection of myself,” Gruden said. “I think everybody in that locker room hopefully will say they need to play better.”
A defensive holding call on former Panthers cornerback Josh Norman on the Saints' first drive and two third-down penalties on New Orleans' next offensive series gave Brees extra snaps - never a good thing - and he delivered by leading touchdown drives both times. From that point on, Washington failed to establish a rhythm on either side and lost the lopsided affair, 43-19.
"Just couldn’t get off the field as a group, man, couldn’t get off the field. A couple things that got us, and just it came back to haunt us,” Norman said. “You look at those plays, man, and it’s back-breakers for any kind of defense. You’ve got to take that and understand that."
First-year Washington quarterback Alex Smith, who completed 23 of his 39 pass attempts for 275 yards, failed to reach the end zone through the air but did run one in late in the second quarter. Still, the Redskins were never really in it, though with a record that now sits at 2-2, they maintained a (narrow) hold on first place in the division.
Despite the Saints' 447 total yards, the key to avoiding a slide could fall on the defense's shoulders, which allowed a season-low 39 rushing yards in Week 5. Led by linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, linemen Johnathan Allen and 2018 first-round draft pick Da'Ron Payne, the run defense has been solid, allowing the sixth-fewest rushing yards per game (92.5). In all, the Redskins are allowing 227.8 passing yards - the seventh-fewest in the league - and 320.2 total yards per game, the fifth-lowest.
Norman's brief benching raises eyebrows: Is it fair to say that Norman had a case of the Mondays against the Saints?
The 2015 Pro Bowler was on the wrong side of history after his blown coverage allowed the 62-yard touchdown pass that gave Brees the all-time record shortly before halftime. Norman has always been known as a spotlight magnet, so it wasn't hard to notice his absence on the field to start the second half.
After Norman's backup, rookie Greg Stroman, failed to stop another Brees touchdown pass, Norman was promptly re-inserted into the lineup after sitting out just five plays.
So, did Norman have anything to say about the bizarre moment post-game? Come on, is that even a real question?
"As a fiery competitor you never want to come off, but whatever. I’ll roll with that because that’s the chain of command. He’s in charge," Norman said.
Gruden made it clear that he was not pleased by the play of one of the NFL's highest-paid defensive backs. "There was an issue there,” Gruden said. "That’s one of the issues we’re talking about, and that’s something that we have to get corrected. That can’t happen in pro football."
Norman's impact has been relatively muted in 2018, but the 30-year-old remains a major piece in Washington's secondary. Both Norman and Gruden's comments suggest a mutual understanding, so it will be interesting to see if this will carry over against Carolina in Week 6.
Offense still seeking consistency after adding tested vets: The additions of Smith and running back Adrian Peterson in the offseason put Washington's desire to win now on full display. But, so far, the offense has yet to take off under second-year offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh.
The offense has been unable to score consistently: Washington's 20.8 points per game ranks 24th in the league. Washington's 358 total yards per game and its 38-percent success rate on third down both rank 21st, evidence that it has been a struggle to extend drives. Against New Orleans, the Redskins converted just four of 13 third-down attempts.
After five standout seasons in Kansas City, Smith's tenure in D.C. has yet to compare. The three-time Pro Bowler ranks 21st in yards per game (260.5), and his 65.9 completion percentage is tied for 17th. With targets such as speedy running back Chris Thompson and talented tight end Jordan Reed - and the expected return of wide receiver Josh Doctson after he missed Week 5 - Smith could be on the up and up soon.
Peterson, on the other hand, has been on a mission in his 12th season. After many doubted whether or not the 2012 MVP had anything left in the tank, Peterson has been playing some of his best ball since 2015 when he was a Viking. AP ranks in the top 15 in carries with 15 per game and is averaging the 16th-most yards per game with 60.5.
Despite injuring his shoulder twice in Week 5, Peterson is expected to suit up against Carolina on Sunday and will be once again leaned on to try to help jumpstart the offense.