by Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC East Beat Writer/Thought Fiscal Cliff was John Ratzenberger with financial savvy
The ugly sight of Robert Griffin III's wounded knee twisting, sinking like a cement block with his foot planted, is a microcosm of the Redskins season: they held their own before coming undone at the worst possible time.
The Washington Redskins' 7-game winning streak, complete with an NFC East-clinching win over Dallas on the final night, collapsed at FedEx Field to the fifth seed Seattle Seahawks, 24-14, on Sunday afternoon.
The Redskins were playing their first home playoff game in 13 years, with Brad Johnson and Stephen Davis now replaced by dynamic rookie duo Griffin/Alfred Morris. While the pair existed to galvanize a seemingly dead franchise into relevance this season, they couldn't take it to the next level.
Instead, it was fellow rookie Russell Wilson who led the winning brigade, as Seattle overcame a 14-point deficit to dominate the Skins the rest of the way.
Griffin's knee finally gave way with 6:19 remaining in the fourth quarter. A fumbled snap led to RG3 wrenching the knee on the recovery attempt. Seattle's Clinton McDonald landed on the ball, while the No. 2 pick in the draft lay near motionless on the field.
Seattle will advance to Atlanta in 7 days to continue their run to the Lombardi Trophy, while the Redskins clean out their lockers, lamenting a good season lost.
1. RG3 Unspectacular Prior to Injury
Griffin clarified his status to Mike Shanahan, saying there's a difference between 'injured' and 'hurt', and that he was merely hurting. Despite having a competent backup in rookie Kirk Cousins, Shanahan rolled the dice with the franchise player, and everything unraveled slowly.
Griffin did throw two touchdown passes in the first quarter, to Evan Royster and Logan Paulsen, but his statline as a whole wasn't up to his usual standards.
For the day, RG3 was 10 of 19 for 84 yards and the 2 TDs, but an interception as well. That's only the second time Griffin's been held below 100 yards passing in his young career (Atlanta held him to 91 in Week 5, and he was injured in that game as well).
The interception was a bad throw into virtual double coverage, as he threw too far inside his target, into the hands of a lunging Earl Thomas.
As one would expect with the bad wheel, Griffin didn't take too many opportunities to run the ball, carrying just 5 times for 21 yards. Morris did most of the leg work, gaining 80 yards on 16 carries.
Cousins would try to save the day down 10 points in the fourth, but was only 3 for 10, for 31 yards.
2. Lynch Pounds Redskins, Despite One Mistake
Two years ago, Marshawn Lynch got the attention of Seattle seismologists when his playoff touchdown run against New Orleans caused Seahawk fans to create shockwaves with their jubilation.
In that game, Lynch tasted the rainbow to the tune of 19 carries for 131 yards and said touchdown, which Tracy Porter may have to endure once more in a potential rematch come Super Bowl XLVII.
On Sunday in DC, Lynch nearly replicated that historic performance, carrying 20 times for 132 yards and the go-ahead touchdown with 7:08 left in the fourth quarter.
Earlier on, before putting Seattle ahead for good, the beastly back was both a heads-up hero and a reluctant goat.
Down 14-3 midway through the second quarter, Lynch recovered a fumble by Wilson, and charged 19 yards. Not only did he keep Washington from getting possession and possibly running away with the game, but he helped sustain a drive that led to a Michael Robinson touchdown three minutes later.
Early in the second half, Lynch could have given Seattle the lead with a goalline charge, but a fumble was recovered by Jarvis Jenkins.
In the end, all was well for Marshawn, who put up the most rushing yards on the Redskins this year, topping Ray Rice's 121 from a month ago.
3. Redskins Revert to Defensive Woes
No need for diplomacy: the Redskins have a sucky pass defense.
Washington gave up over 400 passing yards in 4 of their first 6 games of the season (1-3 in that stretch), and allowed 4511 yards through the air in 2012 (third worst in the league).
Despite those hideous numbers, the pass defense showed a marked improvement by year's end, holding four of their final seven opponents under 250 passing yards as a team en route to the postseason.
Wilson only needed 187 passing yards to do the trick in the Capital, but he did it on a 92.9 rating (15 of 26, no picks), despite taking 5 sacks from the heavy pressure.
Even when he wasn't throwing, Wilson stymied the Redskins defense with 67 rushing yards on 8 carries, showing his controlled versatility.
The Redskins, somewhat surprisingly, gave up 224 yards on the ground, on 37 carries (6.05 YPA, up on the Skins' average of 4.22 YPA). That's the most they've given up since Minnesota ran for 241 on them in Week 16 last season. The previous high for the 2012 season was 186 from Baltimore.
12 of Seattle's 22 first downs came on the ground, to boot.
4. Seahawks Learning to Win on the Road
Such was the big knock on Space City's football club: get em away from CenturyLink Field, and watch them sink.
Seattle may have been 8-0 at their deafening stadium, but when their Twelfth Man banner wasn't within sight, the Seahawks were 3-5. A year ago, they were 3-5 as well. In 2010, when they won the division at a paltry 7-9, they were 2-6 away from home (2-7 counting the playoff game in Chicago).
But Seattle won a major game in hostile territory, and in the process snapped a long futility streak.
Sunday marked Seattle's first road playoff victory since December 31, 1983, when Dave Krieg and Curt (not Kurt) Warner led the charge over the Dolphins in the Orange Bowl, 27-20.
Oddly enough, after that game, Seattle was 1-0 in road playoff games.
Since then, Seattle had fallen to 1-8 in hostile territory, before winning Sunday in Washington.
They'll need more road wins, as a trip to Atlanta looms. If they survive that, it's either the frigid Green Bay tundra, or foggy San Francisco.
5. End of the East
The NFL playoffs have lost their Glamour.
The only division no longer represented in the road to Super Bowl XLVII is the one that commands the most media attention, and produces many of the league's talking points.
The Eagles were doomed early, giving in to poor defensive play, a non-cohesive coaching structure, an offensive line that couldn't cover its own ass, and other problems too numerous to mention.
The defending champion Giants should have been the odds-on favorite to win the East, but a second-half meltdown did them in. Eli Manning slumped, and the defense battled injuries, and the champs went south.
The Cowboys could have played today, with Seattle flying into JerryLand, but Washington put a stop to that a week ago. A team rapidly improving by year's end wound up falling apart with big mistakes in a crucial game.
As for Washington, the new-look Redskins looked poised to be an outside contender, thanks to an offense that cut lines through most defenses, and was riding a wave of momentum. They made it to the dance, but gave the game away to Seattle gradually, watching all that goodwill collapse along with RG3's injured limb.
The NFC East, in the end, proved to be the NFC Least.