The Washington Redskins rarely hand out game balls following a loss, but at Bleacher Report we believe imaginary ones are warranted for players and coaches who perform their jobs admirably.
In their home opener against Cincinnati, the Redskins could have got down on themselves after Bengals rookie receiver Mohamed Sanu shocked them with a 73-yard wildcat scoring strike to fellow wideout A.J. Green on the game's first play.
Washington also could have mailed it in, when it got behind 17 points, with just over three minutes left in the second quarter.
But if there is anything to take from the Redskins' second straight loss of this young season, it's that they soldiered on, with a defense lacking two starters and an offense that lost left tackle Trent Williams to a right knee injury on Washington's second play from scrimmage.
According to the Washington Post, Williams underwent an MRI Monday morning and the results revealed some encouraging news.
Our first game ball goes to Robert Griffin III, but it's more for his resiliency than for his personal performance.
Griffin had decent statistics with 306 total yards, no interceptions and two touchdowns (including his third rushing score). But he deserves props for overcoming six sacks and three fumbles (one lost) to keep the Redskins in a game that looked lost from the start.
To put it simply, Griffin single-handedly kept the Redskins competitive until the final gun.
When Trent Williams went down early in the first quarter, the Redskins' left tackle position turned into a turnstile, with Jordan Black sleeping on the job.
Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson had a field day with Black. According to Jim Corbett of USA Today, he harassed Griffin for seven hits and three sacks, but RGIII never wavered and tried hard to persevere.
Down 24-7, he rallied Washington to 17 unanswered points. Then, after the Bengals went up 38-24, Griffin capped a 90-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to get the Redskins within seven in the fourth quarter.
"Then it got weird," as Joseph White wrote in his post-game AP column (via Yahoo Sports).
For the second week in a row, Griffin put the Redskins into position to tie the game, but Washington was thwarted again by a 15-yard sack, a false start by tight end Fred Davis and a highly debatable unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Some may say that Washington shot itself in the foot again, but Griffin is the last person that should bare the blame.
Rob Jackson deserves credit where credit is due. In the first regular season start of his five-year career, he turned his first-ever interception into zero-yard touchdown. He also totaled three tackles for a loss and played well on special teams.
One of Jackson's hits knocked Cincy running back BenJarvis Geen-Ellis on his rear end, eight yards behind the line of scrimmage.
There is no replacing two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo in Washington's defense, but Jackson and Chris Wilson stepped up in front of the home crowd and played solid. Wilson finished with two tackles and two assists. He was also credited with half a sack and a forced fumble (by Green-Ellis) that was recovered by Josh Wilson.
CBS' announcing team pointed out that BenJarvis' fumble was "the first one in his five-year career and broke a streak of 590 touches without one."
The last time Green-Ellis coughed up a football was November 17, 2007, when his Ol' Miss Rebels played LSU.
The beat goes on for rookie running back Alfred Morris. With 78 yards on 17 carries, he averaged over four yards each time he touched the ball against Cincinnati. Morris now ranks seventh in the NFL with 263 yards on the ground.
Alfred's nose for the end zone continued as well. With 10:23 remaining in the third quarter, he knifed in from seven yards out for his third rushing touchdown of the season. But the score was made possible with a nifty spin move by Morris that left Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap grasping for air.
Santana Moss deserves a pat on the back for chipping in a nice block on Morris' scoring run. And although Moss was invisible in the passing game, the 12-year veteran made his one catch count, with a three-yard touchdown reception off of a roll out by RGIII.
The Redskins have come up short the past two games, but it's not due to a lackadaisical offense. In fact, Washington has been in three shootouts this year because Kyle Shanahan's play-calling has been impressive.
Shanahan did a splendid job against the Bengals with his pass and run mix. In addition to Griffin's 221 yards through the air, Washington churned out 213 on the ground.
The 434-yard output is astounding for an offense that has a rookie signal caller and a rookie runner in its backfield. It also comes on the heels of 382 yards last week and 473 in Week 1.
Unfortunately, our team at Bleacher Report snatched back a game ball from Kyle because of his use of foul language.
The coach's son may be grounded by Dad for costing Washington 15 yards and a game-tying field goal try. But his most severe punishment will come from the office of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Goodell already has to deal with New England head coach Bill Belichick, who physically grabbed an official following the Patriots loss Sunday night in Baltimore. But Shanahan was clearly out of order, when he ran down officials at FedEx Field, to give them a piece of his mind.
Kyle must not have slept well, because he offered apologies for his profane tirade, to the replacement refs, his team and the league, in a written statement Monday morning.
In contrast to Washington's offense, the Redskins' defense looked lost again, especially in the secondary, which ranks at the bottom of the NFL. For the second week in a row, DeAngelo Hall led the team in tackles (with eight), but he was to blame for some of the damage that Hurricane Green left in its path.
DeJon Gomes got taken to school by A.J. and former high school quarterback Mohamed Sanu on the game's very first play. But Green out-dueled Hall on a 28-yard catch in the second half, en route to nine receptions for a career-high 183 yards.
In the meantime, Josh Wilson, DeJon Gomes and rookie Richard Crawford must have felt obligated to offer gifts to Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, who turned 54 on Sunday. All three players were victims of a pair of catch and run scores by Cincy rookie receiver Armon Binns and former Canadian Football League star Andrew Hawkins.
Cincinnati's strikes of 73, 48 and 59 yards came just one week after Danny Amendola looked like a Pro Bowler against the Skins with 15 receptions on 16 targets.
At that rate, game balls will rarely end up in the hands of Washington's secondary, but the unit won't hide from taking responsibility for its actions.
On Monday morning, four defensive backs answered questions from DC media members, which was honorable, to say the least. On Twitter, Washington Times sports writer Rich Campbell commended them for their integrity:
Members of maligned #Redskins secondary - Hall, Wilson, Williams, Crawford - made themselves available to reporters this a.m. Props to them.— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) September 24, 2012
Joe Versage is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He previously covered the Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens as a television beat reporter. Follow him on Twitter at: @JoeVersage Takip et: @JoeVersage