Make no mistake — Colin Kaepernick may have owned the night in winning Monday at Washington, but it’s Robert Griffin III who owns the headlines. And they aren’t pretty.
Both second-year starters came into the game trying to right what have been to date a couple of disappointing statistical seasons. But only one of them — Kaepernick — is trying to do it in time for a playoff run, thanks in large part to a dominating 49ers defense. So naturally, the Redskins defense that has been unable to pick up the slack for RG3’s struggles was the perfect elixir for Kaepernick’s ails.
The San Francisco signal-caller tied a career high with three TD passes and threw for 235 yards in the 49ers’ 27-6 win at FedEx Field.
But the noise after the game was all about Griffin.
After tearing his ACL in last season’s playoffs, Griffin has been a hot-button topic since missing all of preseason then stepping in under center in Week 1. And while his struggles to return to form have been apparent, he and head coach Mike Shanahan have been steadfast in insisting he remain playing as he gets his legs back.
Well, after Monday night’s loss — where RG3 failed to lead his team to a touchdown for the first time in college or the NFL — 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks had quite the eye-opening counterpoint:
“[Griffin is] obviously a man and he makes his own decisions, but I personally don’t feel he should be playing right now,” Brooks said via CSN Washington. “I don’t think he should be playing. You can see it. Everybody can see it, everybody can see it.”
Griffin, sacked four times and hit repeatedly while throwing for only 127 yards and running for only 22 more, is gaining respect as he continues to play, but whether he should play seems to be a growing issue as Washington now sits at 3-8.
“He’s a man, he has the heart of a warrior and is going to go out there and play regardless of the circumstance,” Brooks said of the Redskins quarterback. “Everybody can see it. Everybody can see it. He shouldn’t be playing.”
FOX Sports Live’s Donovan McNabb chimed in after the game, as well, offering some pretty candid advice:
After the beat-down, a worn-down looking RG3 admitted he is frustrated, but vowed to fight on.
Higher up the ladder, Shanahan used words like “dominated”, “disappointed” and “embarrassed” to sum up his team’s performance, but never took accountability himself for the loss.
Shanahan, who is 24-35 in his four-year stint in Washington, made sure to remind everyone that Griffin is going through “growing pains.” Should Shanahan find himself on the hot seat in a month or so? Aside from last season’s storybook run to the postseason, his tenure in the nation’s capital has been anything but pleasant.
After all, as bad as this season has been (RG3 has thrown an interception in nine of 11 games this season), it hasn’t been this bad in a decade (Monday night’s performance was the first time any Redskins offense finished under 200 total yards and didn’t score a touchdown since 2003).
Can Kaepernick keep it up?
Kaepernick, a Super Bowl starter a season ago, has been operating the league’s least-productive passing offense this season. But on Monday night he found his groove, hooking up with sure-handed receivers Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis for all three scores, two by Boldin.
“We just went out and made plays tonight,” Kaepernick said in a postgame interview with ESPN. “That was the biggest difference.”
While there was plenty of panic in San Francisco the last two weeks after close losses to the Saints and Panthers, the 49ers put together a four-quarter performance that is a building block to a postseason run. The 49ers now are poised to make a little run to secure a wild-card berth — there are plenty of contenders, including feisty NFC West rival Arizona, but San Francisco’s defense is too talented to not galvanize this team.
They have been hanging their hat on defense all season, but will need consistent play from Kaepernick and the team’s aerial assault to make a run.
Two first-quarter drives which ended in punts didn’t deter Kaepernick. In San Francisco’s third series, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound passer authored a seven-play, 62-yard drive, which was capped by a 19-yard strike to Boldin. It was a sign of things to come. Kaepernick finished the evening completing 15 of 24 passes for the 235 yards and trio of scores.
Is the Niners offense about to get better?
Perhaps the scariest part of Kaepernick’s night was the room for improvement his game still shows.
The Redskins defense missed some opportunities to shift the game’s momentum including a dropped interception by linebacker Perry Riley in the third quarter. Good teams — like the Seahawks (Week 14 on FOX) — will make the erratic passer pay for throws like this.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has his quarterback playing tight and needs to reel him and the game plan in a bit. A steady dose of Frank Gore, who finished with 13 carries for 31 yards, could be the remedy.
And the passing game could also improve markedly. While the world awaits to hear if Michael Crabtree will be promoted to the active roster or placed on the season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday, it’s likely Kaepernick will get his favorite target back. Don’t expect Crabtree to be a major factor right away, but adding another weapon of his caliber will alleviate some of the pressure on Boldin, Davis and Mario Manningham, who is also steadily improving and had 45 yards on four catches Monday.
Kaepernick thrives when he is given an opportunity to make plays in space or challenge defenses vertically. Crabtree’s over-the-top speed is what this team is missing to open up more looks over the middle.
Again — how ’bout that defense?
49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has been waiting for Aldon Smith to wreck the opposition’s game plan. He did so on Monday, sacking RG3 twice. Smith, who missed six weeks while undergoing alcohol rehab, returned in Week 10 but until Monday had not been the same type of menace as he has been in the past. If Smith can continue to complement Brooks, who also finished with two sacks, this could be a special pass-rushing unit down the stretch. It all begins up front with defensive linemen for the linebackers to make plays.
(Courtesy of Ross Jones)