NFL: Panthers 20. Redskins 17
By Jason Reid
The Washington Post
CHARLOTTE óó In the moments immediately after another unsettling defeat that prompted the Washington Redskins to question much about themselves, many team leaders were united on this: Changing the head coach alone will not solve their problems.
To be sure, many things are going poorly for the Redskins, as evidenced by a 20-17 loss to the formerly winless Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium. Washington was undone, in large part, by a strange sequence of events on a punt in the fourth quarter that resulted in a turnover that Carolina quickly capitalized on to score the go-ahead touchdown.
The play, on which punt returner Antwaan Randle El signaled for a fair catch, ended with the Panthers recovering the ball on the Redskins’ 12-yard line after Byron Westbrook was pushed into Randle El and the ball hit Westbrook’s foot. Two plays later, Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart ran untouched through the right side of Washington’s defense for a touchdown. Then quarterback Jake Delhomme and wide receiver Steve Smith teamed on a two-point conversion pass.
With no timeouts (Washington had used its third and final one with 8 minutes 1 second remaining because the play clock was running down as Coach Jim Zorn attempted to change a play he thought would fail) and the passing game weakened by the loss of left tackle Chris Samuels early in the first quarter, the Redskins stalled on their next possession and did not get the ball back.
The Panthers (1-3) put away the victory behind the running of DeAngelo Williams and Delhomme, who caught the Redskins by surprise on a naked bootleg after the two-minute warning. On third and eight at Carolina’s 25-yard line, Delhomme went right, the rest of the offense went left and Delhomme, who appeared to be stopped by cornerback DeAngelo Hall after a six-yard gain, dragged Hall for three more yards and a first down. Delhomme then kneeled twice to complete a week that some in the locker room said was even more difficult for Washington (2-3) than what occurred after the loss to the Detroit Lions.
The job status of Zorn, the Redskins’ second-year coach, is expected to remain a topic of speculation as Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s team again took another step in a wrong direction.
“Coach Zorn is such a cool person, such a great guy, you want to go out there and lay everything on the line for him,” said Hall, whose 44-yard return of an interception set up the Redskins’ second touchdown. “We’ve lost because we’ve had some things happen, we don’t always execute the way we have to, but that’s not on Coach Zorn.”
Samuels ó who has remained in the lineup despite having knee problems since training camp ó was lost for the game on the Redskins’ first touchdown in a first quarter this season. Quarterback Jason Campbell avoided a fierce rush on the play, throwing on the run to running back Clinton Portis on the right side. Portis sprinted to the end zone and the Redskins led, 7-0.
Washington announced that Samuels suffered a stinger ó the term for a tingling sensation brought on by contact ó and listed his return as questionable. But with tackle Stephon Heyer struggling in pass protection and run blocking on the right side and D’Anthony Batiste, Samuels’s replacement, performing similarly on the left side, it quickly became apparent Samuels must have been in significant pain not to re-enter the game.
Samuels’s injury underscored the woeful lack of depth along the offensive line and the unit’s overall weakness. Tackle Mike Williams played right guard in place of Chad Rinehart, a third-round pick in the 2008 draft who replaced Randy Thomas after Thomas suffered a season-ending triceps injury Sept. 20. Rinehart lost his starting spot after only two weeks and was inactive in favor of Williams, who played guard only twice previously in his career.
With Batiste, a journeyman tackle, and Williams in the game and Heyer continuing to play poorly at key times, Zorn significantly pared down the passing game. The Redskins threw fewer deep passes than Zorn and Campbell would have preferred.
On the Redskins’ first four pass attempts, Campbell was sacked three times. Overall, the Panthers had five sacks, including two by defensive end Julius Peppers, who broke out of his early-season slump. Peppers also was credited with three quarterback hits.
The Panthers cut the Redskins’ lead to 7-2 in the second quarter when Portis was tackled in the end zone for a safety after Peppers pushed Heyer back into the end zone on a sweep play to the right. “Stephon got pushed back a little bit,” Zorn said. “Clinton had no chance.”
The Redskins had 198 total yards and 74 yards rushing with a 3.1-yard average. Portis scored both of the Redskins’ touchdowns but rushed for only 57 yards and a 3.0-yard average against one of the league’s worst defenses statistically.
The Redskins took a 15-point lead ó the biggest of Zorn’s 21-game tenure ó early in the third quarter on Portis’s one-yard leap into the end zone. Panthers wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad couldn’t handle Delhomme’s pass, and Hall intercepted and completed the long return.
Portis scored on the next play and Shaun Suisham (who also made a 38-yard field goal) converted the point-after attempt for a 17-2 lead with 10:09 to play in the third. Washington’s two touchdown drives covered 14 yards.
After a 55-yard kickoff return, it took the Panthers only 1:35 to get a 17-yard touchdown pass from Delhomme to tight end Jeff King. Rookie strong-side linebacker/defensive end Brian Orakpo was burned badly in coverage, and Washington’s lead was cut to 17-9. Carolina also got a 45-yard field goal from place kicker John Kasay to pull closer at 17-12.
With a little more than 10 minutes to play in the game, Carolina punted from its 46-yard line. Standing at Washington’s 23, punt returner Antwaan Randle El signaled for a fair catch. But Westbrook, moving into position to block for Randle El, was pushed back into Randle El by Panthers safety Quinton Teal.
Dante Wesley recovered at Washington’s 12. After the ensuing confusion about which team should have possession and coaches’ challenges, the Panthers took possession and the Redskins were headed to 0-3 away from FedEx Field.
“What happened was, the two guys were blocking each other,” referee Walt Coleman said. “The Washington guy got blocked into his own man, so there was no interference. All we had to figure out was who touched it first. If the Washington player is stationary and just standing there and not trying to block, then he can’t do that. … Because they were both engaged, then that’s why there wasn’t a foul or anything wrong with that play.”
Add that play to a long list of Redskins mistakes that could prove costly for Zorn.
“It’s another game where, if we don’t make the mistakes, we win, and the mistakes we’ve been making ain’t on him,” defensive lineman Phillip Daniels said. “I really feel for him. I really do think he’s a good coach. I really think he puts us in good positions. I hope he’s here.”