There is one thing the Washington Redskins do better than any other team in the NFL.
Not running the football. Not starting Robert Griffin III-inspired memes. Not surrendering stadium-emptying pass plays.
The Redskins attract yellow flags. Enough to put officiating crews at risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. Thirteen more penalties in Sunday's 21-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers at FedEx Field upped the Redskins' league-leading total to 75.
The mistakes came from offense and defense, youngsters and veterans, in moments of pressure and irrelevance and, of course, carried no explanation from the home locker room that emptied quicker than the boo-infested stadium.
"It's just personal pride and professional pride," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "As a professional, you've got to do those things. You've got to think about the ramifications. How it hurts the team. How it hurts the whole momentum of the game. Guys have just got to look in the mirror and do better."
What constitutes better? One flag-draped 14-second sequence late in the fourth quarter demonstrated just how low the bar is.
Griffin used 10 plays to move the Redskins to the Panthers' 3-yard line. Then he scampered 3 yards into the end zone for a touchdown. Out came a flag for holding on center Will Montgomery.
Touchdown nullified. Back up 10 yards.
After Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis belted Griffin as he headed out of bounds, the ball moved back to the 3-yard line. Another chance, as the clock sank to 1:49 remaining. Griffin zipped a pass to Leonard Hankerson in the end zone. The drop-prone Hankerson hung on. Out came a flag for illegal formation on the Redskins.
Touchdown nullified. Back up 5 yards.
Later on in the locker room, the only yellow on the ground came from wads of discarded training tape. The team's oft-touted discipline seemed a relic. To believe the players who stuck around, the Panthers didn't actually win Sunday's game.
Instead, the Redskins beat the, well, Redskins, handing over the victory like the maroon sport coats issued to the sideline-clogging group of Redskins alumni on hand for the game. Fullback Darrel Young, for one, insisted the Redskins were more physical, played and executed better than the Panthers.
The final score was a different matter.
"I call it focus," tackle Trent Williams said. "It's not the discipline. We're a disciplined team. Some of the calls were real touchy. But we can't do nothing about that. We definitely could focus better."
Added coach Mike Shanahan: "That's what gnaws at you: when you stop yourselves."
The referees, however, didn't escape responsibility in the eyes of some Redskins. In the first quarter, Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams took a handoff, blew past safety Reed Doughty and 30 yards down the Redskins' sideline for a touchdown.
Linebacker Perry Riley had the angle to knock Williams out of bounds, but pulled up because of an inadvertent whistle: "I could've pushed him out of bounds if I hadn't heard the whistle." Replays confirmed the whistle from the line judge, as did referee Carl Cheffers in a postgame pool report.
"We just felt when the whistle blew that the player would have already scored a touchdown," Cheffers said. "By rule, we would have to put him down when the whistle blew and we tried to decide where that spot would be and we felt that spot would be in the end zone."
But penalties remained a problem the Redskins couldn't escape.
"They didn't outplay us, so it puts you in a situation where you know you did it to yourselves," Young said. "We've got to eliminate those things, to stop putting ourselves in a bind. It's everyone. It's not just one person that stands out. We've all got to get better."
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