Six games in, the season isn’t careening off the embankment. But after procuring front-row seats to the Cam Newton Show on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium — a day the defense was surprisingly worse than the offense, Santana Moss broke his hand, Tim Hightower twisted his knee and Mike Shanahan bristled when asked about his decision-making — this is no time to exhibit swag or feel good about scoring when the game is pretty much over.
If any player was going to give the ball to someone Sunday, it should have been the play-making Newton and it should have come with a black-felt tip Sharpie.
“We’ll let y’all panic this week, but we’re not panicking yet,” said veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall, trying to calm a few skeptical reporters around his cubicle in the visitor’s locker room. “We’re 3-3, going to Toronto to play a tough Buffalo team this week and we got 10 games left. That’s where we are. Our goals haven’t changed.”
On the face of it, he’s right. But inside of eight days, not many crumbs of optimism can be found. Leading the NFC East at the start of last weekend — off to a who-knew 3-1 and salivating at facing Michael Vick and a seemingly lost Eagles outfit — Shanahan suddenly needs to play his back-to-the-wall motivational card. Because clearly handling prosperity didn’t work.
From 1 p.m. last Sunday, prior to the kickoff vs. the Eagles to 4:24 p.m. Sunday here, the Redskins have lost so much more than two games. Also gone: five starters on offense, some out with injuries that may last the season; a cocksure defense, which has now given up 829 yards in back-to-back weeks; yes, Fred Davis, swagger; and, finally, any indication that the Redskins resemble what London Fletcher called “a special year and a special team” after their impressive opener against the Giants.
John Beck was competent in his first start in four years at quarterback. He put up a few nice move-the-chains drives, mixed with some growing pains and the occasional botched opportunity. Once inside the 20-yard-line on a third-down play, Beck never looked toward Anthony Armstrong, who was as wide open as the FedEx Field green lot in January.
But he was overshadowed by Newton, who was accurate and savvy for a rookie going up against a Jim Haslett-coached, aggressive defense.
There was this play at the end of the third quarter, a second and 17 from the Carolina 28-yard-line. Newton threw a beautiful out pattern to a stretched-out Steve Smith on the right sideline — for 18 yards and a first down.
It wasn’t just a perfectly executed play that has to remind this franchise of its lack of game-breakers on offense since, heck, Gary Clark (Panthers have Newton and Smith, Washington has Beck and Moss; case closed.). But it came against a young and improving defense that clearly still has a long way to go.
That was part of a 12-play drive that sucked 8 minutes 26 seconds off the clock. The defense had four sacks but two were on free runs to Newton on broken-down protection. As many times as Carolina put itself in a hole with offensive penalties, the Redskins’ defense was mostly unable to keep them buried.
“We just need to settle down, regroup and find ourselves,” said LaRon Landry.
“This is one of those games where I can admit it was our fault,” said Brian Orakpo, acknowledging he and the defense played their worst game of the season.
It’s hard to go off on that unit too much because Washington was 3-1 and remarkably in the game against the Eagles at the end because of that defense. And it was missing an injured Oshiomogho Atogwe. Fletcher was so sick with stomach problems (not a hamstring, as the team said) he probably shouldn’t have been on the field.
But as Kedric Golston said afterward, regarding a surreal Newton scramble in the opening minutes of the game where he used the Redskins defenders as traffic cones: “We gave him that first down on that scramble. It was just one play, but that was a chance to get off the field.”
It set the tone for a long day, just as two of Shanahan’s calls did.
They weren’t no-brainers — deciding to throw the ball on his own end of the field before halftime instead of having Beck take a knee and going for it on fourth and two and ultimately giving the Panthers a short field in a 9-6 game after halftime.
But both backfired. Jabar Gaffney fumbled after a short catch, leading to an end-of-the-half field goal for Carolina; and Newton needed just two plays to go 60 yards after the Panthers took over after the failed conversion.
“We’re better than that as a football team,” Shanahan said, disagreeing that the fourth-down decision was a bad call.
No Santana Moss (broken hand), no Tim Hightower (knee), a cut-and-paste offensive line, a humbled defense and an unforgiving schedule that doesn’t appear to have a gimme until maybe Minnesota in December.
No reason to duck-walk in the end zone when you’re on the 30-13 end of an eventual loss. None whatsoever.