The Redskins have a lot to overcome each week. A struggling secondary. Occasionally spotty special teams. Lack of a consistent pass rush.
The officials shouldn’t be on that list.
On Sunday, however, a crucial inadvertent whistle led to the Panthers’ first touchdown, and the Redskins never recovered en route to dropping their third straight game, 21-13, at FedEx Field.
As a result, the Redskins (3-6) enter the bye week searching for answers instead of looking forward to a second half filled with endless possibilities.
Coaches and players agreed this was a “must win” game. And it got off to a nightmarish start.
Late in the first quarter, Panthers’ running back DeAngelo Williams sprinted down the sideline -- carefully keeping his feet in bounds -- and into the end zone to put Carolina ahead 7-3.
As Williams scampered toward the goal, a number of Redskins – linebacker Perry Riley in particular – slowed down as they pursued him. As it turns out, Riley and others let up because they thought an official had blown a whistle. On replays, it appeared as through Riley could have tackled Williams around the 10-yard line.
But he didn’t – and the Panthers seized a lead they would not relinquish.
“In WSH/CAR even though he didn’t step out of bounds the official should’ve admitted he blew the whistle and ball should have been dead there,” tweeted Mike Pereira, the former NFL vice president of officiating.
The controversial touchdown wasn't the only reason the Redskins lost, of course. But it certainly wasn't any help to a scuffling, injury-depleted team that's got little room for error.
For most of the afternoon, Robert Griffin III (22 of 38 for 224 yards and no touchdowns), Alfred Morris (13 carries for 76 yards) and the rest of the Redskins’ offense couldn’t get much going against the Panthers’ middle of the pack defense.
Meantime, Cam Newton (one passing touchdown, one rushing) and the Panthers were exactly what Washington feared: A much better team than their 1-6 record indicated. Indeed, Newton connected with Steve Smith late in the second half to give the Panthers a 14-3 lead -- and all they would need to snap a five-game losing streak.
The Redskins thought they had caught the break they needed in the third quarter as trailed they 14-6. Panthers' punter Brad Nortman shanked a kick, which traveled only 14 yards and set up Washington at its own 40-yard line.
But 10 plays later, the drive stalled and Sav Rocca punted.
Newton and the Panthers clinched the victory on their next drive. Newton connected with Armanti Edwards for 82 yards, kickstarting a three-play scoring drive that culminated in a Newton one yard run for a touchdown.