KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As he assessed the state of his team after a quarter of the season and with a 2-2 record to their credit following Monday night's 29-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Redskins Head Coach Jay Gruden praised the fight of his players and said he liked the opportunities they received down the stretch of the game.
But the coach couldn't ignore the fact Washington gave the Chiefs numerous opportunities as well, and ultimately couldn't overcome those transgressions.
Seven defensive penalties were called in the second half, and the Chiefs accepted five of them. Those errors by the Redskins helped fuel the comeback effort that saw the Chiefs outscore Washington 19-10 in the second half.
As Gruden said, when facing a quality team like the Chiefs — who entered the game as the only undefeated team in the league — a visiting squad can't afford much of a margin for error. Washington, however, wasn't able to put on the required near-flawless performance, and lost.
Injuries didn't help. Washington lost starters Josh Norman (fractured ribs), running back Rob Kelley (ankle) and others. But the lack of discipline proved most costly of all for the Redskins.
"We had a lot of defensive penalties," Gruden said. "We had neutral zone infractions, offsides, hands to the face when the ball wasn't even close to the receiver on the other side of the field, we had horse collar [tackle]. Too many penalties on defense against a very good football team. We can't give them more opportunities."
Redskins players agreed. Kirk Cousins pointed to a 4-for-11 showing on third downs. Ryan Kerrigan pointed to the penalties and Kansas City's 168 rushing yards and overall lack of consistency.
"If you want to be one of the best in this league, you've got to do it week in and week out," Kerrigan said. "Yeah, we looked really good against a good tea last week. But you've got to do it against every team. We can be one of the upper echelon teams, just too many mistakes. If you're doing that against anybody, let alone the best team in the league, it's just an uphill climb for you. A lot of the penalties are things we just can't have. . . . We've got to be better against the run. They had a nice balance that wasn't good for us."
The Redskins put together an impressive game-opening drive, using both patience and balance to march 75 yards down field in six plays.
Sticking with the recipe that has paved the way for success in the last two victories, Gruden committed to establishing the run on three of the first four plays, and Kelley responded with gains of four, 12 and three yards. With the Chiefs then keying on the run, Cousins went to Doctson for a chain-moving comeback route, and then used a play-action pass to Terrelle Pryor for a 44-yard touchdown pass. The Cousins pass dropped in over cornerback Marcus Peters, who tried to pick off the pass rather than stick with Pryor. The wideout wrapped up the ball with both arms and fell backward into the end zone for his first touchdown as a Redskin.
Washington's defense then responded by forcing a Chiefs three-and-out. On first down, Ryan Kerrigan recorded a pressure, and Preston Smith the sack.
Washington dominated the first quarter, outgaining Kansas City 120-36 and had six first downs to the Chiefs' two. But the second quarter was a different tale. Kansas City outgained Washington 164-59 and started clicking on third downs.
The second half saw a continuation of the Chiefs' success as they scored on every possession, converted five of eight third downs for first downs and picked up 17 more first downs en route to the win.
"It was frustrating because we got off to a good start but just couldn't sustain. . . . I look at it as third down conversions. They were 8-for-13 and we were 4-for-11. If we convert some of those third downs, we stay on the field and give the defense more of a break."
After back-to-back red zone stands by the defense that held the Chiefs to a pair of field goals instead of touchdowns, Washington's offense responded with a 10-play, 53-yard scoring drive to tie the game at 20-20 with 47 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
What proved most remarkable about that scoring drive was that Kirk Cousins carried the offense with his legs and not his arm. With defenders blanketing receivers, Cousins scrambled for gains of 10, 15 and eight yards while moving his team downfield and into scoring position.
The quarterback has talked about wanting to use his legs more to help the offense and keep defenses off-balance, and he did. It nearly was enough to secure a significant upset on the road. Cousins said that the Chiefs playing man-to-man defense afforded him the opportunities to run.
The Redskins almost had a potential game-winning play. Cousins, from 22 yards out, went for Doctson in the back of the end zone. The receiver made a leaping grab but couldn't hang on as he crashed to the ground. Dustin Hopkins knocked down the field goal on the next play.
The Redskins will limp into the bye week with a significant injury list. Josh Norman left with a fractured rib, and he could miss significant time. Rob Kelley sprained an ankle early in the first half and did not return. Rookie safety Nicholson sprained an AC joint (shoulder), fellow safety Deshazor Everett pulled a hamstring and left tackle Tent Williams sprained his right knee.
So with those key players all needing time to recover, the timing of the bye falls perfectly in Week 5. Add Jordan Reed, who played only sparingly with a sternum injury, to that list as well.
The Redskins will try to get healthy, and then return to work next week for a long, 12-week stretch to the season.
They have things they can build on, like the commitment to the run, the ability to consistently pressure quarterbacks while just sending four and the improved showing against the run (until Monday night).
But Washington's players and coaches do have to find greater consistency on both sides of the ball. The break will give Gruden and his assistants time to assess the good, and the bad, and then determine the best ways to shore up the problem areas.