A few inches provided Carolina with a chance to win.
Before Westbrook’s unfortunate bounce, the Redskins built their 15-point lead on Portis’ 10-yard touchdown catch (set up by Kedric Golston’s forced fumble on the first play from scrimmage), Shaun Suisham’s 38-yard field goal and Portis’ 1-yard run. Carolina’s only production had come when Portis was tackled in the end zone for a safety two plays after the Redskins completed four consecutive goal-line stops.
Carolina’s comeback started immediately after Portis’ second score when Kenneth Moore returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards. Four plays later, tight end Jeff King took advantage of man coverage against rookie Brian Orakpo and got open for a 17-yard touchdown catch.
Following Portis’ touchdown, the Redskins’ three offensive drives finished with a loss on downs and two punts. They managed only 74 yards rushing against a Carolina unit that entered allowing 182.7 a game.
“It’s going to be blocking,” Zorn said. “They stopped us. We knew we could run the ball on them, but they stopped us.”
The game swung in the Panthers’ favor for the first time moments after the Redskins forced another Carolina punt.
Westbrook was blocking Quinton Teal when Antwaan Randle El called a fair catch. The kick deflected off Westbrook an instant before he was blocked into Randle El.
“Because they were both engaged, then that’s why there wasn’t a foul or anything wrong with that play,” referee Walt Coleman told a pool reporter. “If the Washington player is stationary and just standing there and the Carolina player had come down there and had knocked him, then it would have been totally different.”
Said Westbrook: “It was just a freak play. I didn’t want to let my guy have a free hit on [Randle El], so I have to stay on my guy until I hear the referee blow the whistle.”
Zorn challenged that the ball didn’t hit Westbrook, but the call was upheld, costing the Redskins the second of their three timeouts.
“I don’t think we’re jinxed,” Zorn said. “I thought it was the right call to challenge. If I didn’t challenge, I would be kicking myself if it could have been in my favor.”
Randle El admitted he didn’t know the rule - he assumed the play was dead because Westbrook was pushed into him.
The Redskins drove to their own 49 before one last protection breakdown forced Campbell to scramble 5 yards short of the first down.
Carolina converted two third downs to run out the clock, which invited another week of outside speculation and inside examination for the Redskins.
“Everybody has their own opinion about the team, about me, about the coach,” Campbell said. “It’s something we can’t worry about because no matter what we do, it won’t please everyone. That’s not our motto. Our motto is to keep fighting, plug away and get some wins. This would have been a big start, so it definitely hurts a little more.”