The Washington Redskins entered Monday night’s game with an opportunity to take command of the sixth playoff position in the NFC with a victory over the Carolina Panthers. The Redskins exited FedEx Field with their heads hanging, authoring 60 disappointing minutes of football that rendered moot whatever help Sunday’s results provided them.
Washington fell flat in all three phases of the 26-15 loss to the Carolina Panthers, a defeat that severely jeopardized its postseason chances. It entered the game as the sixth seed following the Dallas Cowboys’ victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night. Washington (7-6-1) needed a win to maintain its lead over the Bucs (8-6) and the Green Bay Packers (8-6). Instead, it dropped to eighth in the NFC playoff picture and is now in need of some help during the final two weeks to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
“We’re disappointed, it’s no question,” Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said. “First of all, we were outcoached today. There’s no question about that, and they played better than us, so you’ve got to give credit to the Carolina Panthers. It’s my responsibility to get these guys ready to play, and we didn’t execute like I would’ve liked to have seen. That falls on my shoulders.”
The Redskins came out flat in the first half, like they have in their three previous games, and they weren’t able to get anything going on either side of the ball. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was inaccurate. Washington’s offense couldn’t run the football. Its defense couldn’t stop the run, quarterback Cam Newton or any Panthers player with possession of the ball. Carolina became the fourth straight opponent to take a first-quarter lead on Washington and accumulated 438 total yards, averaging an efficient 6.1 yards on 72 plays.
“We’ve just got to find a way as professional players to make the plays we’re supposed to make and find a way to beat the team we’re supposed to beat,” defensive end Chris Baker said. “There’s no way we should’ve lost to this team, but give the credit to them. They beat us up again.”
The Panthers jumped out to a 13-3 lead early in the second quarter with the help of Newton’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr., who was wide open in the end zone as safety Donte Whitner was in poor position to defend the pass. The Redskins’ saving grace on defense was cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who produced two third-down stops in the red zone to force the Panthers to settle for two field goals despite a costly interception from Cousins at the end of the first quarter.
Breeland’s plays kept Washington in the game, and it also received a friendly call from the officials. Newton was called for taunting after a one-yard run that pushed the Panthers out of field goal range. Linebacker Trent Murphy made contact to Newton’s helmet as Newton slid on the third-down play, but Murphy wasn’t penalized for it. Newton threw the ball at Murphy after the play to draw the penalty, which helped Washington’s offense get in sync on the following possession.
The Redskins relied on rookie running back Rob Kelley to march down the field on a seven-play, 89-yard drive that ended on Kelley’s five-yard touchdown run. Kelley accounted for 44 yards on the drive, including 39 receiving yards, and Washington trailed 13-9 at halftime after Dustin Hopkins missed the extra point.
The Redskins just weren’t able to sustain their effectiveness on offense thereafter. They gained just 29 rushing yards against the fifth-best run defense in the league entering the game, as Kelley accounted for just eight rushing yards on nine carries. Needing a big game from Cousins against one of the league’s worst pass defenses, Washington couldn’t get anything going . It had five three-and-outs in the game; it had just 15 in its first 13 games of the season.
Cousins finished 32 of 47 for 315 yards and two turnovers, including a costly sack-fumble on the first play of the second half. Panthers defensive end Wes Horton stripped the ball after a strong bull rush against tight end Vernon Davis as Cousins was set to throw. Horton recovered at the 1-yard line. Carolina scored two plays later on Newton’s one-yard touchdown pass to fullback Mike Tolbert to take a commanding 20-9 lead.
Newton finished 21 of 37 for 300 yards with two touchdowns and a 101.2 quarterback rating. The Panthers entered the game with a 0.0004 percent chance at making the playoffs and needed a win for their one playoff scenario to remain intact. They were able to accomplish this victory without linebacker Luke Kuechly, who was cleared to play after missing the past three games with a concussion but was inactive.
Washington now has a 25 percent chance at making the playoffs following the loss and will need even more help down the stretch. The Redskins will almost definitely need to win out, starting on Saturday against the Chicago Bears on the road, and hope that they can leapfrog two teams.
“I’m not going to sit here and wallow in this,” said cornerback Josh Norman, who faced his former team for the first time since signing with the Redskins in the offseason. “They beat us. They beat us. I don’t know what more to say about it. They’re the victors today. Now we’re going to get ready for Chicago. They’re on our schedule on Saturday. We can’t sit right here and be wondering about, ‘Oh, what did we do wrong here?’ It’s hogwash. We’ve got to get ready for the next opponent, got to be prepared, because I can guarantee you one thing — Chicago don’t care.”