“We got to stick together. That’s all we can do,” the coach said when asked what he had told his team moments before. “We’re in this together.”
But how much longer they can stay together is a question. In a must-win year, Gruden’s Redskins are 0-3 after three dismal games by a defense that was supposed to be one of the team’s strengths. On Monday, they allowed Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky, who hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass all year, to throw three.
Two people with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic, said that while Gruden’s job is in danger, he would not be fired before Sunday’s game at the New York Giants. Still, his Redskins fell behind 28-0 on national television, and while they rallied some in the second half, the deficit served as another “Monday Night Football” humiliation, the franchise’s eighth straight defeat in the prime-time game.
At blame was the defense that allowed the Bears to convert 62 percent of their third downs. At blame, too, was quarterback Case Keenum, who was intercepted three times and lost two fumbles, clouding the 332 yards for which he threw.
Things were so bad for Washington that even a halftime ceremony to induct former star linebacker London Fletcher into the team’s ring of honor was ruined when his name was misspelled on the scoreboard.
Later, Gruden said he would not heed the chants of some fans who called for Keenum to be replaced by first-round draft pick Dwayne Haskins.
“We have to have some continuity,” he said, explaining that the team is trying to mix in several new players on offense. “If I thought we didn’t have a chance to get better, I would make the change.”
Desperate for a win, the Redskins came into the game with confidence, even stopping the Bears on their first drive, but things fell apart quickly. Keenum’s first pass, a certain first down, was dropped by tight end Jeremy Sprinkle. A play later, Keenum threw a ball into the arms of former Redskins safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who ran 37 yards to the end zone for a touchdown.
For a time, Washington stayed in the game, even pushing a drive to the Chicago 11-yard line, catching a break when a lost Keenum fumble was negated by a Bears penalty. But then came a sack and a missed field goal early in the second quarter, and things got bad for the Redskins from there.
The Bears drove 11 plays downfield, scoring on a play in which wide receiver Taylor Gabriel was so wide open in the end zone that Trubisky seemed almost unsure whether he should throw the ball or flick it underhanded. He chose to throw, and Chicago was up 14-0, leaving some Redskins defensive players shaking their heads as they walked to the bench.
They would soon be back on the field: One play into Washington’s next drive, Bears star pass rusher Khalil Mack knocked the ball from Keenum’s hand, giving Chicago the ball at the Washington 11. Two plays later, Trubisky hit Gabriel again for a touchdown to build the lead to 21-0.
That advantage bloomed to 28-0 when Trubisky again threw a pass to Gabriel, who had beaten Josh Norman down the right sideline to the corner of the end zone. At first the officials said Gabriel had fallen out of bounds, but a review showed both his feet touched the ground as he caught the ball. Referee Walt Anderson’s arms went up, signaling a 36-yard touchdown. And some of the fans began chanting Haskins’s name.
The Redskins did get a field goal just before halftime, but there were still boos as the Redskins headed to the locker room for the midgame break.
They looked done early in the third quarter when Clinton-Dix intercepted Keenum again and ran the ball 59 yards to the Washington 24.
But then good things started to happen for the Redskins. Chicago kicker Eddy Piñeiro missed a field goal attempt and the Redskins moved 66 yards in 3:37 to score a touchdown when Terry McLaurin leaped high in the end zone to catch a Keenum throw, cutting the Bears’ lead to 28-9. Not long after, Norman intercepted a pass on the goal line and Washington again moved downfield, going 97 yards over 12 plays in 4:56 to score on a two-yard fourth-down pass from Keenum to Paul Richardson Jr. that made the score 28-15.
Moments later, Washington got the ball back and was moving again, all the way to the Chicago 16. The Redskins fans who had been quiet for much of the night were jumping in their rows. It looked as if the Redskins were about to score again when, on fourth and one, Keenum tried to leap over the line, stretching the ball ahead of him and past the first-down marker. The ball was slapped away and recovered by the Bears, ending Washington’s comeback bid.
Seven minutes remained in the game, and the last great hope the Redskins had to salvage this season had wobbled away.
Most of the fans at FedEx Field climbed from their chairs and headed to the parking lot, leaving the final minutes of another Redskins defeat to be played in front of a sea of empty orange seats and many happy Bears fans.
“We should have executed,” guard Ereck Flowers said quietly as he sat at his locker. “If we had executed, we’d have won.”
It seemed a mantra for a season that is quickly falling apart.