The Washington Redskins (3-6) looked to post big numbers against the Carolina Panthers (2-6) in Sunday afternoon’s battle of the Heisman winners, but penalties and poor performance in the red zone proved costly as the Redskins fell 21-13 at FedEx Field.
Regardless of your party affiliation or your belief in the Redskins Rule – whereby a Redskins win this week would spell four more years for the Obama administration – Sunday’s match-up was a must-win for the sub-.500 team as they looked to salvage hopes for a playoff run.
For the first time ever in NFL history, the two most recent Heisman trophy winners went head-to-head in their first season in the NFL together. Robert Griffin III went 23-for-39 with 215 yards and an additional 53 yards over 11 carries, but the 2010 trophy winner emerged the victor Sunday, despite posting less impressive numbers than his rookie counterpart.
Put simply, the Redskins failed to pose any kind of threat against the Carolina defense. In fact, their performance in the red zone was downright awful.
Washington made its way just outside the red zone on their first possession, but a holding penalty on Trent Williams cost the Skins a potential touchdown drive as both Evan Royster and Santana Moss failed to make it past the Panthers’ front line. On fourth and 10, Kai Forbath sent one between the posts from 47 yards to give the Redskins their first – and only – lead of the day.
It took the Panthers almost no time to answer.
Kealoha Pilares returned Forbath’s punt to the Panthers’ 31-yard line and Steve Smith and Jonathan Stewart helped bring the Panthers to Redskins’ territory. On first and 10 from the Redskins’ 30-yard line, DeAngelo Williams scrambled down the sideline to find the end zone as the referee blew the whistle to signal that he had stepped out of bounds on the run. However, Williams continued to run for the touchdown and, upon review, the touchdown ruling stood, despite the fact that the Redskins’ defense clearly came to a halt once the whistle sounded. Still the Panthers’ finished the second quarter with a 7-3 lead.
The Redskins seemed to have a knack for picking up yards without tacking on points. On their first drive of the second quarter, the Redskins managed to convert two fourth downs to find themselves within seven yards of a go-ahead touchdown. Alfred Morris ran the ball to the second-yard line, only to lose two yards on the next play and on third and 4, the Redskins entrusted the ball to Brandon Banks, who failed to make it past the two-yard line. Given the Redskins’ nearly perfect fourth down conversion rate, Coach Mike Shanahan stuck with Griffin and company on fourth and 2 for the QB draw, but Griffin failed to find a hole in the Panthers’ defense.
On the next drive, Newton ran the ball 15 yards on two plays and found Mike Tolbert and Greg Olsen for seven and 17 yards respectively.
However, the biggest help came from the Redskins’ defense as London Fletcher cost Washington 15 yards for roughing the passer and Josh Wilson brought the Panthers to the Redskins’ 19-yard line on a questionable pass interference penalty. Nevertheless, Newton found Smith for the touchdown and the Panthers headed for the locker room with a 14-3 lead.
The Redskins’ offense was slow to wake in the second half, but the defense held the Panthers’ to an 11-point lead long enough to allow Forbath to trim their lead to 14-6 with a 25-yard field goal.
In the fourth quarter, things fell apart fast for Washington.
After Griffin endured his second of four sacks on the day – all of which occurred in the second half – the Panthers regained possession of the ball with just over 14 minutes left to play. On the very first play, Newton fired to Armanti Edwards for an 82-yard catch-and-carry in just his second career possession. Then, Williams picked up another three yards and the Redskins lost an additional five yards on yet another pass interference penalty on Wilson. On the next play, Newton ran the ball for the touchdown to give the Panthers a commanding 21-6 lead.
Then, the Redskins failed to make it beyond their own 43-yard line on their next two possessions.
With just over three minutes left in the game, the Redskins’ offense finally broke into Panthers territory. On third and 4, Griffin tossed an incomplete pass to Santana Moss who suffered a concussion on the play and left the game. Griffin carried the ball himself to convert the fourth down and keep the drive alive and he tossed to Leonard Hankerson who picked up seven yards.
Penalties continued to hurt the Redskins, who managed 13 on the day. Twice, Griffin sent the ball into the end zone, only to have the touchdowns nullified – the first on a holding penalty by Will Montgomery and the second on an illegal formation penalty.
The third time was the charm, however, as Griffin found Royster for the two-yard catch. But, it was too little too late for the Redskins who fell 21-13 in front of a FedEx crowd that began filing out of the stands long before the game was called.
It will be a real challenge for Redskins fans to remain optimistic in the weeks ahead. Coming out of next week’s bye, the Redskins have three straight NFC East games and if they expect to position themselves as even a long-shot in their division, they will need to tally wins in at least two of their next three match-ups.