The end was as messy and unfulfilling as the entire afternoon. After 58 minutes and 22 seconds of rickety football, you could see absurd symmetry in the Washington Redskins’ predicament: The team that couldn’t get out of its own way was forced to wait for replay officials in New York to decide whether it deserved a last-ditch chance to win.
It didn’t deserve the opportunity, of course. It didn’t get one, either, because the controversial call of a Kirk Cousins fumble was upheld upon review, which meant Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Fletcher Cox’s 20-yard touchdown would not be overturned, and a lackluster Washington performance concluded as it should have — with a 30-17 season-opening defeat Sunday at FedEx Field.
You can attribute the loss to an iffy call. If you apply burgundy eye drops and re-watch the video, you might even consider it an awful call. Without a doubt, it’s a cruel way to lose, being stripped — literally — of a possible dramatic finish. But Washington didn’t lose the chance to earn a victory as much as it lost an attempt to steal one. Just listen to Coach Jay Gruden.
“Yeah, you have four turnovers, 0 for 2 in the red zone, 3 for  on third down,” Gruden said. “They were 8 for  on third down. You don’t have to look at the stat sheet for very long to see who won and lost.”
The Eagles did plenty to impress, but throughout the game, Washington also made itself bleed. The offensive line, dubbed Hogs 2.0, looked more like Hogs 0.2. It didn’t block in the run game; Washington produced 64 rushing yards on just 3.8 yards per carry. It didn’t fare well in pass protection; Philadelphia sacked Cousins four times and pressured him heavily on many of his 40 pass attempts. The receivers didn’t catch the ball, with Terrelle Pryor Sr. making the most mistakes. In 10 possessions, the offense produced as many turnovers (three) as it did drives of at least 50 yards.
The maligned defense looked much better, but it still allowed 356 yards and played its worst on third down. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz threw for 307 yards, and if he hadn’t made a bad read on linebacker Ryan Kerrigan’s interception return touchdown in the second quarter, perhaps Philadelphia would have put the game away early. On special teams, even the reliable Jamison Crowder muffed a punt.
Teams like to warn us all the time about how one play doesn’t decide a game. So as infuriating as it might have been to watch a referee’s ruling effectively end this one, Washington hadn’t earned the luck it was hoping for in that situation. Because of an effort that several players referred to as “flat” — which is inexcusable, especially in an opener — Washington already needed a minor miracle on that decisive drive.
What you witnessed and worried about during the preseason turned out to be depressingly true. This offense isn’t similar to the 2016 unit that averaged 403.4 yards per game, which was third in the NFL. It managed only 10 points on Sunday; Kerrigan provided the rest. It gained 264 yards, the fewest since producing 250 against New England on Nov. 15, 2015. That’s a span of 24 games.
Last season, Washington gained fewer than 300 yards once, when it had 284 in the season finale against the New York Giants.
“I wouldn’t say that we have to start over,” Crowder said of the offense, which lost 1,000-yard receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson in free agency, in addition to offensive coordinator Sean McVay, now the Los Angeles Rams head coach. “We lost some key pieces last year, but we also brought in some key pieces this year. It’s still early. Man, it’s a long season.”
In a quiet locker room, veteran tight end Vernon Davis was adamant Washington is simply adjusting. In time, he trusts, the offense will be productive again.
“We have all the guys that we need to get this thing done,” said Davis, who is the team’s oldest player at 33. “I have no doubt in my mind. We can do it. We can do it. We can go out, and we can compete with anybody. We just have to put it all together.”
Until this squad does that, Washington will look like it’s trying to write with its off hand. This is an offense-driven team. Even if the defense is vastly improved, Washington won’t come close to competing for the playoffs unless it has a top 10 NFL offense. Right now, the precision is missing. The rhythm is off. In early-down situations, this offense hasn’t shown the ability to attack with short passes and break down defenses in its trademark way.
The passing game looked more vertical, which made for an adventurous afternoon. On the first play of the game, Pryor lost a deep ball in the sun and couldn’t run under what would have been an 84-yard touchdown. Later, he dropped a probable 50-yard touchdown pass (of course, the play would have been negated by an offensive penalty). And those were only the most noticeable examples of the offense being out of sync.
Cousins finished 23 of 40 for 240 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also had two fumbles, losing the ball as he was trying to pass under pressure. If the offense is going to be like this — full of shaky receiver play and shakier offensive line play, with little help from the run game — then this is the worst-case scenario for Cousins.
He is best when operating under comfortable conditions and distributing the ball to his many weapons. He’s smooth when he is allowed to play within himself. But if he needs to move around like Aaron Rodgers, pull Houdini acts on pass rushers and carry the offense, that’s when he’ll make more mistakes like the red-zone interception he threw Sunday.
“It’s frustrating,” said Gruden, who is calling the offensive plays this season. “I think we’re better than that up front. We’re better than that at receiver — dropping balls. And we’re better than that at quarterback. We all had our hand in it. It wasn’t good enough, obviously.”
A poor showing ended with a questionable fumble. That’s not the same as losing because of a questionable fumble. Recognize the difference. It’s early, but Washington has bigger concerns than one tough call.
For more by Jerry Brewer, visit washingtonpost.com/brewer.