CHARLOTTE — With 61 / 2 minutes left in a plodding first half Sunday, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton — a rookie who had thrown nine interceptions in his first six games, the kind of player defenses try to befuddle — dropped back from the Washington 11-yard line. Brian Orakpo, the Redskins’ dynamic outside linebacker, danced into the backfield, utterly unblocked. He had the opportunity, at that moment, to change the game, to that point a mind-numbing 3-3 tie.
“I heard the whole crowd say, ‘Ooooh,’ ” Newton said.
Orakpo drilled Newton, a violent sack. But Newton, all 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds of him, somehow held onto the ball. A potential turnover became a field goal.
“He’s a big dude,” Orakpo said. “He’s bigger than me.”
It was but one of the 64 plays the Redskins faced in what became a 33-20 loss, but it was yet another example of a Washington defense that hasn’t yet consistently been able to alter games. With the offense struggling to produce points as it adjusts to a new quarterback, Washington’s defense failed to force a turnover, allowed the Panthers 407 yards, and gave up more points than in any game this season.
“You’re not executing well,” strong safety LaRon Landry said. “You’re giving up yards. Coming out with L’s, it’s terrible.”
A week ago, the Redskins shut out the explosive Philadelphia Eagles in the second half, and Washington hung in a game despite four interceptions from quarterback Rex Grossman. Sunday, Carolina racked up 24 points after halftime. The Panthers’ second-half drives: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt, field goal, take a knee and celebrate.
“At times during the game,” Newton said, “we all was clicking.”
No one more so than Newton, who completed 18 of his 23 passes for 256 yards and one score and ran 10 times for 59 yards and another — that one a brilliant 16-yard run that shows how he can change games. Very few quarterbacks could have hung onto the ball despite Orakpo’s hit. And very few could have turned in the balanced performance that allowed the Panthers to run 37 times for 175 yards.
“The kid is a pretty Ferrari,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “He can run. He can throw. He’s got the total package. He’s going to be a player in this league for a long time.”
And he was on the field far too long for the Redskins’ taste. Carolina held the ball for 35 minutes 30 seconds Sunday, including a deflating 18:41 in the second half. The Panthers had four drives of at least 10 plays and 80 yards. Three of them lasted longer than seven minutes. For a Washington defense that, just a couple weeks ago, felt like it was on the verge of becoming dominant, those possessions were deflating.
“We got to make plays to get off the field,” inside linebacker London Fletcher said. “We didn’t make any plays defensively today.”
Even when the opportunity was right there, laying on the ground. With nine minutes left, the Redskins trailed just 23-13. Safety Reed Doughty forced a fumble by Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart at the Washington 1. Landry leapt toward the ball. But Panthers tight end Ben Hartsock somehow got there first, and barely.
The small picture: game-clinching touchdown. The larger one: a defense that’s still searching for that we-bring-it-every-week consistency.