Whether you listened to the frustrated, disgusted Washington coaches and players or just looked at the ugly numbers, the conclusion was simple: The Redskins had a golden chance for a stunning season-starting win, leading 17-0 in the second quarter. But that chance turned to lead as the Eagles scored 32 of the next 35 points and outgained them by an unfathomable 373 to 80 over the next 31 minutes.
When the moment of crisis came, the Eagles woke up and the Redskins fell out of bed.
New Redskins quarterback Case Keenum was asked innocently if, “results aside,” he could take some satisfaction in his first game with a new team — which included 380 passing yards and three touchdowns. “It’s hard for me to say, ‘Results aside,’ ” said Keenum. “Up 17-0, we got to win.”
In the NFL, that is always going to be the brutally honest takeaway from this game. Unless your team is horrible and your foe is great, then you’re always going to believe that a 17-point lead should almost always be turned into a win.
The Redskins didn’t even come close to winning. In fact, they ended up being dominated. As the Eagles ran to their locker room at halftime, trailing 20-7, many of their loyal fans stood and jeered them, giving the thumbs-down sign. Yet just one play into the fourth quarter, Philadelphia was ahead by two scores — 29-20 — and its happy fans were talking Super Bowl again.
If one play could have turned this game back in Washington’s direction, it was a wide-open deep route in the third quarter run by extremely impressive rookie Terry McLaurin at a point when Washington trailed only 21-20. McLaurin had already caught a 69-yard touchdown heave, the longest of Keenum’s career, and this would have been a 75-yard cakewalk score. But Keenum overthrew him by a shockingly wide margin for an NFL vet.
“I’d like it back,” Keenum said.
That’s what the whole Washington team will be left saying about this chance for a sterling start to a year when its first five foes are so tough it could play well and still be 1-4. This was the game that might’ve made that start more like 2-3 and taken heat off sixth-year coach Jay Gruden, for whom the clock is ticking.
“It’s a total team loss,” said a tense, agitated Gruden, speaking so rapid-fire that he hardly sounded like his normal hard-to-ruffle self. Of his team being utterly dominated — it was 304 yards to 30 at one point during the second half — Gruden said, “We never had the ball. They held the ball. . . . The penalties in the second half killed three drives in a row.
“We can help the defense for sure by avoiding those penalties and staying on track. But the defense can help us out by getting off the field and maybe creating a turnover sometimes,” Gruden said sharply of a defense that caused no turnovers and only had one sack (for zero yards) of Carson Wentz, who shredded them for 313 yards and three touchdowns on 28-for-39 passing.
This was a day when no one was going to escape the lash, especially since Eagles touchdown bombs of 51 and 53 yards went to ex-Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who has had the longest average-gain-per-catch in the NFL for three of the past five years and is the most notorious deep-threat specialist in the game. Somebody want to cover this guy?
“One of them was a miscommunication. The other was a great throw,” Gruden said. “DeSean is DeSean. But we should have been there in better position. You never blow a coverage when number 10 is on the field. If you’re going to blow it, you’re going to err on the side of covering him [too closely and drawing a penalty]. That’s inexcusable on our part as coaches.”
Without a doubt, the player to whom Gruden dealt the harshest blow — perhaps unintentionally, but unforgettably — was future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson, who helped save the team’s offensive credibility with a 1,000-yard off-the-scrap-heap rushing season last year. On Sunday, Peterson was left off the active list for the first time in his career, so young Derrius Guice could carry the load (18 yards).
When will Peterson play again for Gruden? “If we have a game where we think we can run the ball 55 times in I-formation, then sure, I’ll get him up,” he said. In the modern NFL, there will be no such game. Gruden may not have meant “When hell freezes over,” but that’s what it sounded like.
Jackson, who ignited the Eagles’ comeback, said he wanted to make the Redskins pay for not keeping him. He told his Eagles teammates at halftime “it’s just going to take one play” to get back to trailing only 20-14. Then, he took out his barb: “Anybody going into halftime up 17 points will think they have the game won.”
As disappointing as the loss might have been for the Redskins, it may also have revealed a solution to one of the team’s longest-running problems — its inability to draft a top wide receiver for more than 25 years while wasting numerous top picks on busts such as 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson, who was cut last week. The answer may be here: McLaurin, the 6-foot, 210-pound speedster from Ohio State.
“Since Terry walked in the building, I’ve known he was an amazing player. The sky’s the limit,” said tight end Vernon Davis who, despite his 35 years and 14 NFL seasons, hurdled Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby, refused to be dragged out of bounds by another defender and sprinted 48 yards for the team’s first score. “Terry’s also got good practice habits and a great attitude.”
Certainly, McLaurin already has polish and blue-suit style, managing to carry himself and sound like a new star without doing anything a rookie shouldn’t do.
“Case is a veteran quarterback, and he makes it very easy for a rookie like me. He’s very clear in what he wants [from receivers]. I have to keep earning his respect,” said McLaurin, who caught five passes on seven targets for 125 yards. (But, remember, it should have been six for 200 yards.)
The second half of this game, in which the Redskins padded some stats and cut the deficit by scoring with six seconds left, showed the worst of the team’s past habit of making the worst of situations.
But Keenum’s competence and McLaurin’s dash, along with a defense that should be much better than its second-half drubbing, gives reasonable prospects for this team — predicted by many to be among the worst in the NFL — to compete with all but the very best teams on its schedule.
“It’s not going to get easier,” said offensive tackle Morgan Moses, who was guilty of a pair of damaging penalties. “We’ve got Dallas and a Monday night game [vs. Chicago] coming up.”
It’s not going to be easy. If this game is the first measure, it’s not going to be impossible, either.