The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Inside the four drives that doomed the Redskins in their loss to the Eagles

Redskins wide receiver Terry McLaurin had an opening against Eagles cornerback Sidney Jones on Sunday, but quarterback Case Keenum overthrew him and the Redskins never made a serious comeback bid after that. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

PHILADELPHIA — The Washington Redskins needed a stop. It was late in the third quarter and they needed something, anything, to slow the suddenly steamrolling Philadelphia Eagles. The Redskins had struggled to get off the field all afternoon on third down, but they did this time. Just not how they wanted to.

The Eagles lined up with three wide receivers right and the defense, at the last second, changed its coverage. Rookie cornerback Jimmy Moreland didn’t hear his new assignment, and Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson took off for the end zone on a 53-yard touchdown reception. The Redskins’ lead was gone for good.

Cornerback Josh Norman said he would have nightmares of Moreland pointing at him on the play “like a gunshot.” Two defenders, linebacker Jon Bostic and Norman, saw the play as symptomatic of a larger problem. They thought the defense struggled to communicate from the inside out on multiple plays throughout the afternoon.

“Eleven guys got to be on the same page. Just because 10 guys are on the same page . . . ” Bostic said, trailing off.

Even after a demoralizing collapse, Redskins remain upbeat about loss to Eagles

The first four drives of the second half crushed the Redskins in their 32-27 loss Sunday afternoon. They rendered the first-half success prelude to another disappointment and ended in a familiar rhythm: Eagles touchdown, Redskins punt, Eagles touchdown, Redskins punt. They explained and symbolized everything that went wrong for the offense (penalties, predictability, poor execution) and defense (miscommunication, situational struggles, taxing time of possession).

“We never had the ball,” Coach Jay Gruden said, pointing out the Redskins’ offense was on the field for 8:12 of the last 30 minutes. He cited drive-killing penalties as a main problem and added, “We can help the defense out for sure by avoiding those penalties and staying on track with our play-calling, but the defense can help us out by getting off the field and maybe creating a turnover sometimes.”

Drive 1: Eagles start at Philadelphia 25 with 15:00 left in third quarter. Redskins lead 20-7.

Eagles running backs Miles Sanders and Darren Sproles started by pounding the left side in the absence of defensive end Jonathan Allen, who left the game with a knee sprain and is “week-to-week.” The Eagles’ offense, which looked too conservative in the first half, now seemed dangerously methodical, and the runs keyed what became a 12-play, 75-yard, 7 1/2-half minute drive.

Adrian Peterson on being held out of Redskins’ opener: ‘Of course it’s not a role I want’

The Redskin’s pass rush finally collapsed the pocket on third down in the red zone, but Carson Wentz stepped up, pinpointing a five-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery. The Redskins looked helpless on third down, when Wentz’s passing stats were 12 for 13 for 197 yards, three touchdowns and six first downs.

“We definitely got to get off the field,” cornerback Quinton Dunbar said. “When you let the offense go so long on those drives, you begin to tire out.”

“We wore down,” Bostic said.

Drive 2: Redskins start at Washington 25 with 7:50 left in third quarter. Redskins lead 20-14.

It began with a run right for Derrius Guice. The Redskins ran overwhelmingly behind the right side of the offensive line, which they trust, but Guice was stopped for no gain, typical on a day the second-year back finished with 10 carries for 18 yards. The offense dug itself a hole as right tackle Morgan Moses was flagged for offside.

Moses disputed the call and it fit into what the line saw as inconsistent officiating. Left tackle Donald Penn said one referee told him the blocking maneuver he used was okay in the first half, then whistled him for it twice in the second. Moses questioned the crew’s knowledge of football and concluded, “Obviously, the referees got something out for us.”

The Redskins never overcame the penalty. Guice was stuffed for a five-yard loss, and pass-catching back Chris Thompson had what would have been a nice gain of 11 yards if it hadn’t come on third and 20. When asked what changed from the first half, Thompson hesitated.

“Shoot, man, I don’t know,” he said after a long pause, shrugging his shoulders.

Drive 3: Eagles start at Philadelphia 47 with 5:22 left in third quarter. Redskins lead 20-14.

The Redskins’ defense had another chance to get off the field. Wentz began the drive with two incomplete passes short left. One more meant the defense could head back to the sideline for a breather, but then there was the miscommunication in the secondary and Jackson pranced into the end zone for that 53-yard score.

It was fitting that Jackson, the former Redskin, delivered the ultimately decisive blow because, at halftime, he maintained to his teammates the 20-7 lead was fragile. He stressed, “I’ve been there before in that locker room; I just know how they are.” And he assured it would only take one score to rock the Redskins’ confidence.

For the start of the second half, Moreland described the Redskins as “unfocused” and “not ready to go.”

“We was high coming in from the first half,” he said. “Once you be high, you get punched in the mouth.”

Three takeaways from Redskins’ season-opening loss to Eagles

Drive 4: Redskins start at Washington 27 with 5:02 left in third quarter. Eagles lead 21-20.

The Redskins were desperate, so they dialed up a play that had worked already. Rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin burst off the line and cut up the middle of the field on a post pattern. It was the same play that, early in the second quarter, gave McLaurin a 69-yard catch and his first career touchdown.

The Eagles had adjusted, playing more “cloud” coverage to prevent the Redskins from getting behind them, but it didn’t matter. McLaurin outran cornerback Sidney Jones, but this time the long ball from quarterback Case Keenum landed just beyond McLaurin.

“I just probably let it go a hair too soon,” Keenum said afterward, sullen.

The play showcased the Redskins’ big-play capability, their overall potential and the missed opportunities that doomed them.

The collapse caused several Redskins to flash back to last season, when miscues regularly dashed first-half hopes. Gruden called the parallels “eerie.”

“That’s something we got to find a way to change, got to find a way to respond,” Thompson said. “Because if we keep up with that, then it’s not going to be a good year.”

Read more on the Redskins:

Boswell: Season opener was a lot of things. Most of all, it was a missed opportunity.

Svrluga: With Adrian Peterson, Redskins have two options: Play him, or set him free