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Faced with a 'must win,' Redskins falter

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Faced with a 'must win,' Redskins falter

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.”  

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Jay Gruden wants DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon back, but 'won't blink' if they're gone

Jay Gruden wants DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon back, but 'won't blink' if they're gone

The Redskins face the very real prospect of losing receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon via free agency. Head coach Jay Gruden wants both players back, but is prepared to roll with the guys on the team if Jackson and Garçon depart. 

"Obviously DeSean and Pierre had great years. 1,000 yards each. Those are going to be hard to replace," Gruden said to reporters in Indianapolis. 

It's still possible the Redskins keep both Jackson and Garçon, or keep one of the two, just as both players could leave the organization. In his comments, it seemed like Gruden does not expect one or both guys to be back, and that the team will move on without them. That could mean losing Jackson's 1,005 receiving yards or Garçon's 1,041. 

"Coach the guys that we have. Free agency you’re never going to be able to sign everybody you want as a coach," he said. "I’d like to have Alshon Jeffery, Pierre and DeSean. Heck, give them all to me. I know that's not going to happen."

Gruden tends to joke often speaking with the media, and clearly the prospect of signing Jeffery, a star wideout for the Bears that will hit free agency next week, along with Jackson and Garçon isn't going to happen. The receiver market in free agency will be interesting to watch, as a number of top options will be available. Jeffery, Jackson, Garçon along with Cleveland's Terrelle Pryor and younger prospects like Kenny Stills and Kenny Britt. 

Asked if it was "necessary" to bring at least one of Garçon or Jackson back, Gruden bristled. 

"Would never say necessary. I’d love to have them both back, I'd love to have one back. If we are unfortunate enough to lose them both, I'm not gonna blink."

The coach explained the team has a good crop of young pass catchers already on the roster. 

"I do feel very good about Jamison Crowder, Ryan Grant, Josh Doctson. I love the fact that Mo Harris got a lot of work in, he’s gonna develop."

The coach should feel good about the young receivers, their development is part of his job. Crowder looks like a future star in the slot. Still, Jackson and Garçon accounted for more than 40 percent of Kirk Cousins' passing yards in 2016. That's a lot of yardage to lose. 

Of course, Doctson's development will be a major theme this offseason. A first-round pick in 2016, the Redskins got next to nothing from him as a rookie as he dealt with an Achilles injury. A healthy 6-foot-2 Doctson could offset some of the lost productivity that would come with the departure of Jackson or Garçon.

And then there is always free agency. It's entirely possible Washington could sign another, perhaps cheaper, wideout on the marketplace should they lose two the same way. Gruden said the team has 'other free agents' the team could pursue.

"We have Plan B's and Plan C's ready to go," Gruden said. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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The Redskins aren't willing to trade Kirk Cousins unless they are

The Redskins aren't willing to trade Kirk Cousins unless they are

Shortly after Kirk Cousins got the exclusive franchise tag from the Redskins on Saturday, two sort of conflicting reports. One, from Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, was that Cousins “is not going anywhere” and a trade is essentially off the table. Mike Florio of Pro Football talk, quoting “a source familiar with the dynamics of the situation” reported that the Redskins would have to be “blown away” by a trade offer in order to pull the trigger on a deal.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 4.0

On the face of it, the reports conflict. One says that Cousins is available, the other says that he isn’t. But that valuation of them assumes the sources for these reports were intent on putting out the truth. The fact is that Cousins is very much available for the right offer.

A conversation along the lines of this one could well take place in Indianapolis this week:

“How much do you want for your house?”

“It’s not for sale.”

“No, really, how much do you want.”

“Really, it’s not for sale.”

“I’ll give you $50,000 over whatever it gets appraised for.”

“Sold!”

In short, you don’t need to have a “for sale” sign up in front of something to sell it. In fact, sometimes it’s better to act as though you have no intention of selling whatever it is. That can intrigue potential buyers even more.

The analogy falters a bit as it seems that the Redskins are unlikely to get a premium over whatever Cousins’ valuation on the open market might be. The receiving team will have to give the QB a massive contract. In addition, a team that wants Cousins is likely to be able to get him with no compensation in a year, when Cousins is likely to be an unfettered free agent. But you get the idea.

More Redskins: What happens next with Cousins?

The message from the Redskins is, don’t come at us with a couple of mid rounders. There is some point where the compensation for giving up Cousins a year earlier than they might have to isn’t enough. It literally would be better to rent Cousins for one more season than get, say, a third-round pick with a 2018 fifth thrown in.

That being said, they are not going to get the RG3 type haul—three firsts and a second—in exchange for Cousins. The likely would accept something south of that in exchange for Cousins’ rights.

So, he’s not available at any price—unless the price is right.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.