News & Politics

The Redskins’ Season Opener: All About Pacing

A rusty Robert Griffin III and a fast Philly offense led to a victory for the Eagles.

Fireworks and flags on the field as the Washington Redskins emerge for the start of the season opening game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

Ken Harvey is the former president of the Washington Redskins Alumni Association. He played as an outside linebacker for the Phoenix Cardinals and the Washington Redskins from 1988 to 1999. During his career he appeared in 164 games and recorded 89 sacks.

As players, we are told to dictate the tempo of the game. We have to control how fast
or how slow the game will go based on the way
we play, not how the opponent plays. If the game is going fast and seems out of control,
make big plays, and that will slow things down. During Monday night’s season opener,
the Redskins were getting knocked back on their heels and had to figure out what to
do with the Eagles’ new, fast-paced offense. They gave away a lot of points in
the first three quarters. Fumbles, interceptions, a safety, and poor execution of
plays had become the Skins’ calling card, and it seemed that the Eagles could do no
wrong. They were the ones setting the tempo of the game, while the Redskins and their
fans could only watch in disbelief. But my heart nearly exploded from excitement as
the game started to change toward the end.

Muhammad Ali once had to face an opponent who was a lot bigger and a lot stronger
than him. The opponent, George Foreman, had set the tempo of the fight from the onset.
I remember as a child watching and thinking the fight was over and there was no way
Ali was going to win—but then, miracle of miracles, Forman, the big, muscular slugger
who had been dictating the fight, got tired. Ali started to turn it on and bring the
fight to Foreman. He ended up winning—and the fight went down as one of the greatest
boxing matches ever.

Last night, I thought I was going to witness that with the Redskins. After all, how
long could the Eagles keep playing at the pace of a no-huddle offense? In the first
half alone they had more than 50 offensive plays (an average game consists of about
60), and it looked like there was no stopping them—but then the Eagles got tired,
and they got conservative, and the Redskins started turning it on.

Robert Griffin III, who seemed to be covered with rust from not playing in the preseason,
started to come alive in the third quarter, connecting on passes and leading his team
toward a comeback. The miracle almost happened—but the dream died as quickly as it
started as time ticked away and the game ended.

So can RG3 still play? Yes. Did he look rusty? Yes. Did the Redskins look tired after
trying to keep up with the fast-paced Eagles? Yes. Did Michael Vick look good? Yes.
But for Redskins fans, there was hope. It may have just been a matter of the Redskins
calming down and getting back in sync with each other, producing 20 unanswered points
and pulling within six points with a minute and 14 seconds left in the game. They had
to learn to dictate the game instead of letting their opponents lead. I sat watching
the game to the end and tried to believe in an alternate reality, but there was no
fighting the truth: Chip Kelly and the Eagles beat the Redskins 33-27. 

So what happens next? Tuesday means watching film, and for some guys, it means slumping
in your chair and praying to be invisible as the team reviews the game and all mistakes
are pointed out. RG3 will continue to get better as he realizes his knee is okay and can
take a hit. His performance should improve as the season goes on. The Skins now know
how the Eagles play and can formulate a game plan to use against them when they take
them on again later this season. Players will attend to injuries, and those not injured
will get in a light workout. They will then put the game
behind them and prepare for the Green Bay Packers, who are just as dangerous and also lost their first game.

I have hope. After all, last year the Redskins started off losing and then turned
it on toward the end and became NFC East champs.