With the spotlights on, the candle flickered out.
Any vestige of salvation of the Washington Redskins’ crumbling season emphatically ended on Monday night when they were humiliated by the San Francisco 49ers, 27-6, at FedEx Field.
For weeks, players and coaches held onto hope that one break here or there would be enough to change their course. After 11 weeks, eight losses and two sound defeats, the Redskins’ identity is clear.
They are not a good team. They are not improving.
“When you lose a couple of games, and you get embarrassed tonight like we did, it’s tough,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said.
Answers were infrequent following the game, where a locker room was tellingly silent and practically empty. They were not to be found on offense, where the Redskins failed to score a touchdown for the first time in over two years, nor did they reveal themselves on defense, where a considerable number of breakdowns once again enabled an opponent.
In truth, there may be too many questions to solve.
“Everybody expects you to come in this season and just run through anybody and everybody,” said wide receiver Santana Moss. “We got to go out there and work and earn it, so at the end of the day, I never had my mind on us being Big Billy Bad Ass. I just feel like we had to go out there and work to be able to be recognized like that again.”
The 49ers (7-4), the defending NFC champions, were reeling after two consecutive losses. Their passing game, stagnant for much of the season, had been especially woeful.
An opportunity such as the one presented on Monday could have done that. Washington frequently put on a show in front of a nationally televised audience last season, and quarterback Robert Griffin III often thrived under that pressure.
That the Redskins were now exposed on such a platform meant nothing.
“It doesn’t matter,” said cornerback Josh Wilson. “One o’clock, four o’clock, nine o’clock [starts] – they all suck.”
Griffin, followed all week by questions over his leadership and resolve, completed just one of his first five passes and then threw an interception. In finishing 17-for-27 for a career-low 127 yards, he ran an offense that gained just 30 total yards after halftime and ran 58 plays, tied for the fewest in a game this season.
Washington (3-8) trailed 10-0 with 12:09 remaining in the second quarter, and after a pair of field goals sent the Redskins into halftime down four points, they were on the cusp of taking the lead before their first drive of the second half stalled at the San Francisco 40-yard line.
After that, nothing. The 49ers added a pair of touchdowns and a field goal, the outcome never in doubt past the middle of the third quarter.
Even the Redskins’ top-ranked running game was held in check. It generated just 100 yards, its fewest since the season opener.
“We did feel like we had a great chance to come out here and win,” said running back Alfred Morris, who gained 52 yards on 14 attempts. “We just didn’t show up.”
Morris, soft-spoken and modest, suggested part of the reason for the troubles Monday traced back to last week’s practices. There were plenty of mistakes during the course of the week, he said, which is atypical at this point in the season.
“Unfortunately, I’ve been in this position before,” said strong safety Reed Doughty, in his eighth season with the Redskins. “There’s always something to play for. You play for pride, you play for the organization, you play for your family, you play for each other. … You’re a professional. To me, there’s always a lot to play for.”
Griffin has rarely had to deal with losing – a product of an accomplished high school and college career. He stressed the importance of not changing through defeat. Then, in the locker room after the game, Griffin sat face-to-face with his father for a serious talk.
Technically, the Redskins can still win the division title. Realistically, their shot is remote.
“You have to be ready to seize it,” Griffin said. “That’s all you can do.”
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