Containing Cam Newton was the Redskins' primary defensive concern heading into the game, and it looked early on that Washington might be in for a long afternoon. The rookie put together a highlight-film run out of the gate, then directed Carolina down the field on a 12-play opening drive that ate up nearly half the quarter. But Washington kept Newton out of the end zone, with London Fletcher popping the airborne QB out of bounds on third down near the goal line to force the Panthers to settle for a field goal. From there, it was Tim Hightower stealing the show. Back in the lineup after missing last week's game, Hightower appeared energized as he slashed through holes and built up a head of steam heading downfield. With 67 yards in the opening quarter, he kept the pressure off John Beck as the Redskins tried to settle in offensively.
Both offenses continued to sputter in the second quarter, leaving kickers Olindo Mare and Graham Gano to handle the scoring load. In fact, perhaps the most suspenseful sequence of the second 15 minutes was Mare making, in a matter of minutes, field goals from 30, 40 and 45 yards — and getting only three points out of the deal thanks to penalties on his first two successful attempts. The Panthers had been penalized nine times for 70 yards by halftime, which went a good way toward balancing out the two turnovers they had forced on defense. The latter of those, a fumble by Jabar Gaffney with 21 seconds remaining in the half, allowed Mare the opportunity to give Carolina a 9-6 lead heading into the break. That the deficit wasn't worse could be attributed to the pressure Washington managed against Newton, sacking him four times in the opening half.
Newton and Beck finally got their arms going after halftime, with the Carolina QB holding the upper hand by relying on the kind of weapon his Washington counterpart didn't have. After Beck was sacked on fourth-and-2 early in the quarter, Newton took over and rolled his team down the short field, first with his arm and then on a quarterback draw for the first touchdown of the game. The ensuing drive saw Hightower go down with a knee injury, leaving the entire burden of moving the Redskins to Beck — who already was without the injured Santana Moss. But Beck was up to the challenge initially, hitting Logan Paulsen twice and driving Washington into the end zone for the first time to close the deficit to 16-13. The next drive, though, saw Newton lean on star wideout Steve Smith for a couple of big catches before Carolina punched it in again.
The Panthers haven't had much experience protecting leads this season, but Newton and his mates certainly did the job in the final quarter. A drive that began late in the third ate up a total of 8 minutes, 26 seconds and ended in a short TD pass from Newton to Brandon LaFell that gave Carolina what proved to be an insurmountable 30-13 lead. Circumstances and lack of a go-to running back left Washington's hopes entirely on Beck's shoulders at that point, and though he managed to lead an immediate scoring drive, hooking up with Fred Davis for a 7-yard score with 5:05 remaining, the ensuing onside kick was poorly executed and landed safely in the Panthers' hands. Beck did get another shot and was moving the ball down the field before Chris Gamble picked him off (his only interception of the game) on a play in which rookie receiver Leonard Hankerson appeared to run the wrong route.
The Redskins trailed by a manageable 10 points with about 11 minutes to play and had Carolina in a second and 17 at the Washington 37 after yet another Panthers penalty. It would have been a nice time for the defense to step up, but Cam Newton and Steve Smith ended up doing the honors.
Newton lofted a deep ball down the left sideline that glided between two defenders and into Smith's arms, putting Carolina on the 1-yard line. Three plays later, the Panthers scored the TD that iced the game.
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