In summary: All week, Redskins players and coaches described Sunday’s game as a possible turning point in the season.
Well, after a humbling 21-13 loss to the last place Panthers, the 2012 campaign certainly turned. Just not in the direction Coach Mike Shanahan or his players would have hoped.
As a result, the Redskins enter the bye week 3-6, struggling on both sides of the ball and in serious jeopardy of seeing things spiral out of control in the second half.
“A must-win is a game that gives you a chance to play for a playoff spot,” Shanahan said. “At the midway point, when you’re 3-5, it’s going to be a must-win to get in the hunt. When you lose a game like that, now you’re playing to see who is going to be on your football team for years to come.”
“Now, we have a chance to evaluate players and see where we’re at,” Shanahan continued. “Now, we find out what kind of character we have and [which] guys keep on fighting the rest of the season.”
Indeed, Shanahan has much to evaluate following a defeat that ranks among the more disappointing of his two-and-a-half-season tenure in Washington.
The Robert Griffin III-led offense moved the ball but failed to finish drives and was limited to 13 or fewer points for the second week in a row. The unit averaged 29.7 points per game after the first six games.
The defense didn’t fare much better.
They were burned by an officials’ inadvertent whistle early, then got torched by Cam Newton, who rushed and passed for a touchdown. The dual-threat quarterback hadn’t thrown and run for a touchdown in the same game in four weeks.
“It kind of sucks because now we have to sit on this loss for two weeks,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said, referring to the upcoming week off. “It hurts [because] at 3-6, you’re kind of on the outside looking in.”
Turning point: Trailing 14-6 late in the third quarter, the Redskins got the break they needed – or so they though. Brad Nortman’s punt traveled only 14 yards and the Redskins got the ball at their own 40-yard line.
But instead of climbing back into the game, they sputtered. Kory Lichtensteiger was whistled for ineligible player downfield, then Griffin was sacked by Charles Johnson. Griffin was sacked four times for a total of 29 yards lost.
On the ensuing third and 20 from the Panthers’ 46, Griffin threw incomplete and the Redskins were forced to punt.
Offensive play of the game: The Panthers led 7-3 late in the second quarter, Newton was nursing a bleeding thumb on his throwing hand and the visitors were facing a third and 10 when the Carolina quarterback tossed a 19-yard pass to Steve Smith, who was blanketed by cornerback Josh Wilson.
Smith, however, leaped up over Wilson and made a spectacular catch in the end zone for a critical touchdown. The play was reviewed, but Smith was ruled to have gotten his left hand under the ball as he landed.
Defensive play of the game: The Redskins were behind 7-3 in the second quarter when they put together a 17-play drive that came down to a fourth and goal at the Panthers’ two-yard line.
Griffin bootlegged to the right and followed his blockers. But Johnson (who else?) sought out the Redskins’ rookie and tackled him well short of the goal line.
Special teams play of the game: Kai Forbath’s 47-yard field goal in the first quarter was the first of two field goals for the Redskins’ kicker. The first-year player is now 8 for 8 since replacing Billy Cundiff four weeks ago and has consistently been one of the few bright spots in recent weeks.
Quote of the day: Panthers’ running back DeAngelo Williams on the Redskins’ homecoming celebration before the game: “I'm looking at the game day [program] and it says homecoming. I'm thinking to myself, ‘This is the national football league. Are you serious? Homecoming? Homecoming.' It’s not you tried to hide it. You blatantly put it on the front of the [program]. You want to talk about somebody fired up today. I was pissed. The whole team was. That was definitely motivating.”
Quote of the day, Part II: Griffin: “The media will say the record is what you are, but I just don’t feel like our record is what we are."
Injury report: Wide receiver Santana Moss sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter collision with cornerback Josh Norman. …Griffin had X-rays on his ribs after the game but told CSN Washington there were no broken bones.
Game ball: Newton gets it. The struggling Panthers’ quarterback completed 13 of 23 pass attempts for 201 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 37 yards on eight carries and a score.
By the numbers: The Redskins were whistled for a season-high 13 penalties for 97 yards. Many came at the worst possible moments, including: Lichtensteiger’s ineligible downfield, London Fletcher’s roughing the passer and two pass interference infractions on Wilson. Each of Wilson’s penalties came on Carolina scoring drives.
“That’s what gnaws at you,” Shanahan said, “when you stop yourselves.”