The Washington Redskins were sitting in prime position coming into Monday Night Football. They had sole possession of the last spot in the NFC playoffs and were in control of their own destiny. And to add to it, Monday night was the first chance that their big acquisition this offseason had to face his former team. Josh Norman never thought in his wildest dreams that he would not be a Panther this offseason. But when the Panthers rescinded his franchise tag in part of financial issues they expected from him, they allowed him to hit the free agent market. And from there, Norman signed with the Redskins. Of course, we all know he was excited for this game. But unfortunately for Norman and the Redskins, they did not get the job done against Carolina Monday night. The Panthers came out and took it to the Redskins, winning the game 26-15. And with that, the Redskins now have fallen in the pecking order of playoff teams and will need to win the last two games of the season plus need some help. And with this loss, the Redskins only have themselves to blame.
Offensively, the Redskins have been pretty good all season. After a rough start to the season, Kirk Cousins got better in the passing game, hitting DeSean Jackson and others for big plays in the passing game. But what has been helping Cousins the most has been the running game with Rob Kelly. The rookie running back out of Tulane runs the ball hard and makes defenses have to defend the run and the pass. Well, against the Carolina Panthers, Kelly was definitely someone the Panthers were determined to stop. And to their credit, they held him to eight yards on nine carries. The Panthers front seven were physically dominating the Redskins up front and that left nowhere for Kelly to run. So instead of having some semblance of balance, the Redskins became predictable and had to throw the football more than usual. And with that, the Panthers knew where Cousins was going to be more times than not. The pressure the Panthers were able to bring allowed for them to force a fumble that led to a score and also led to Cousins throwing an interception into the waiting arms of Carolina safety Kirk Cousins. The Redskins offensive line and tight ends failed them in the running game (as well as the tight ends of the Redskins virtually disappearing in the passing game). And because of the loss in the trenches, the Redskins offense was never able to get in rhythm.
But the offense was not the only issue for the Redskins Monday night. The Redskins knew the key thing to do versus the Panthers was to stop the run. If the run gets going for the Panthers, then the rest of the field opens up and Carolina becomes dangerous offensively. Well, the Redskins definitely did not provide much resistance when the Panthers ran the football. Jonathan Stewart was running over and around the Washington defense while setting the physical tone. And when that tone was set, the Redskins defense was at the mercy of the Carolina offense, led by Cam Newton. Cam burnt safety Donte Whitner with a deep bomb after the running game got going and he also took advantage of the biggest weakness of the Redskins defense: pass coverage against the tight end. All season long the Redskins have not covered tight ends well and that continued with the Greg Olsen. There were several times that Olsen was running wide-open in the secondary and Cam Newton made the Redskins pay almost every single time. Olsen led the Panthers in receiving with six receptions for 85 yards and he could have had more than that actually. The only thing that stopped the Panthers were the Panthers themselves because they should have had more than 26 points. They just did not finish drives with touchdowns and instead kicked field goals.
With that loss, the Redskins will have a tough time making the playoffs now. The biggest game of their season and they came out flat, uninspired and looked underprepared. And the Redskins have to blame but themselves. They did not match the intensity of the Panthers for the entire game and they just did not make enough plays on both sides to win the game. And because of that, they could be booking vacations for the offseason in two weeks.