The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Redskins’ defense was supposed to be their strength. In loss to Giants, it wilted.

Washington’s defense was gashed during Sunday’s loss to the Giants.
Washington’s defense was gashed during Sunday’s loss to the Giants. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
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Josh Norman was still shaking his head inside the Washington Redskins locker room late Sunday afternoon, which fell into a hushed silence after a 40-16 loss to the New York Giants.

None seemed more humiliated than Norman, whose defense was torched all afternoon by a middling division rival. He whispered to the team’s running back Adrian Peterson at one point, making sure his voice wasn’t audible to those around him. He clenched his jaw and rubbed his beard as reporters surrounded him and wondered how the Redskins defense, once considered this team’s strength, had fallen so far over the past month of the season.

Were the Redskins even ready at kickoff on Sunday?

“Next question,” Norman snapped, but there was no escaping the ugliness of Sunday’s meltdown. It wasn’t just that the Giants amassed 34 halftime points — the most the franchise had ever allowed in the first half at FedEx Field — but it also how New York did it, embarrassing Washington with a string of big plays. Rookie running back Saquon Barkley rushed for 170 yards on just 14 carries, including an electric 78-yard touchdown in the second quarter, while Eli Manning looked like a younger version of himself and threw three touchdown passes. He was pulled in the fourth quarter with his team leading 40-0.

For a unit that had been integral to six wins in the first half of the season, it was a stunning collapse on a day they didn’t have to face New York’s superstar receiver, Odell Beckham Jr. — and it left leaders in the locker room refusing to pin any shortcomings on an offense that has played four quarterbacks in the past six weeks.

“It’s not the end of the world,” linebacker Mason Foster said, “but it feels like it.”

“We’re not getting the job done,” safety D.J. Swearinger said. “That’s the answer they want me to give.”

“We’ll say this until we’re blue in the face,” defensive end Ryan Kerrigan said, “but it’s the little things.”

The little things added up Sunday, even after Washington had forced the Giants to punt on their first three possessions. The Redskins spotted New York a 7-0 lead after a pick-six by quarterback Mark Sanchez, but Washington’s defense disappeared shortly after it had held the Giants to a field goal that made it 10-0 early in the second quarter.

New York would score three touchdowns in the next eight minutes, including when Barkley went 78-yards untouched down the left sideline. He later broke off a 52-yard run down to the Washington six-yard line, dashing past Washington’s secondary — Norman was plowed into the turf on a block by wide receiver Sterling Shepard — and Manning hit Bennie Fowler on a short touchdown pass two plays later.

“We were taken to the back of the barn, kind of like your grandmother does with one of those big thick paddles, and we got it put to the backside pretty good,” Norman said.

Foster intercepted Giants backup quarterback Kyle Lauletta with 14:01 left, as the defense was forced to endure the embarrassment of playing against the Giants’ second stringers during the second half. The final blow came as the unit was called for a 12-men-on-the-field penalty on fourth down and 3 with just over two minutes remaining. The defense was forced to stagger back onto the field, hanging their heads as the clock began to wind down on one of the team’s worst showings in recent memory.

Most of the fans had trickled out of FedEx Field by that point, and some of those who stayed booed as Norman and his teammates walked off the field.

“Hell, I don’t know,” Norman said, when asked what the unit can do next. “Come to work on Monday and find out. It is what it is. It sucks. I’m trying to keep my emotions intact.”

More Redskins coverage:

Redskins routed by Giants, 40-16, in an embarrassing home loss

Jordan Reed knocked out of Giants game with foot injury

4 takeaways from Washington’s ugly loss to the Giants

Best photos from the Redskins-Giants game at FedEx Field