- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 22, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Sashaying into the end zone with DeSean Jackson was hope. Jackson’s first touchdown of the season was his standard tune, a swift long-distance strike. Jackson cut out, then in on the Carolina Panthers‘ third-string free safety, Colin Jones, rendering him helpless. The 52-yard touchdown yanked the Redskins into a tie with the undefeated Panthers 90 seconds after the home team had scored.

The Redskins sacked burly Carolina quarterback Cam Newton on the second play of the next possession. The Panthers were wallowing in a second-and-22 from their eight-yard line. On the road, against the NFC’s top team, the Redskins were standing and punching, even landing blows. The sweet tea tasted that way. The sun was out. Washington’s chance to dig in, prove last week’s boatracing of the hapless New Orleans Saints was not a blip, but rather a springboard, hovered.

Instead, of grasping the moment, the Redskins realigned their sights, directly targeting their foot. For the rest of the afternoon — save a surprising 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Andre Roberts — Washington fired round after round downward, systematically blowing off the full range from pinky to big toe.

“We’ve had a tendency here to, when we have a couple bad things happen, they get magnified, and some more things happen, unfortunately,” coach Jay Gruden said.

The down, distance and spot of second-and-22 at the eight-yard line did not faze Newton. Fresh from an inflated storyline about his end zone gyrations, and in the midst of a possible MVP season, he moved the Panthers forward. First, a 19-yard gain to chop the distance to three yards. An easy conversion followed: seven yards to Ted Ginn Jr.

The Redskins were not done giving. Newton helped the Panthers trek to the Redskins’ 11-yard line. A false start produced a first-and-15. Washington quickly ripped that detriment away. Consecutive neutral zone infractions, one by youngster Trent Murphy, and one by the eldest player on the team, Jason Hatcher, vaulted the Panthers to first-and-5. They scored two plays later. Reminded they were generous to an undefeated team on the road, Ryan Kerrigan said, “You can’t do that against any team.”

SEE ALSO: Chris Culliver’s interception return negated by helmet-to-helmet ruling

The drive worked off tone-setting blunders which forecasted the remainder of the afternoon. Carolina scored 28 first-half points, which was more than it had scored in six of the previous nine games this season. Newton set a personal and franchise record with four passing touchdowns in a half. He had never previously thrown more than two.

The game was unbuckled by the half. In the third quarter, it was promptly sealed.

A first-quarter interception of Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins was the first of his three turnovers. Cousins was being squeezed in the pocket and threw off his back foot toward an open Jackson. The launch was high over the middle, as inviting a throw to a defense a quarterback can provide.

Later, he was sacked twice, then fumbled, and did not recover the freed football. On the first play of the third quarter, Cousins was whacked from behind. Carolina, already leading 28-14, giddily took possession at Washington’s 11-yard line. It scored on third-and-4. It led, 38-14. Cousins has turned the ball over at least once in every road game of his career.

“Yeah, the turnovers hurt us,” Cousins said. “And, we didn’t have that many plays even in the first half because of the turnovers. We were doing some good things at times, but couldn’t get into a rhythm, couldn’t get going.”

Running back Matt Jones fumbled. Tight end Jordan Reed fumbled a play after the Redskins recovered running back Chris Thompson’s fumble. The Panthers scored following all five of the Redskins’ turnovers.

Other bungling was less numerically clear. Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart bounced off, ran around and slipped through innumerable prospective tackles.

“Seemed like a lot of missed tackles,” Kerrigan said. “Disappointing, because I think our coaches did a good job to put us in positions to make plays, we just didn’t make them. Not to sound like [former Minnesota Vikings coach] Dennis Green, but they were who they thought we would be. They ran the ball. Stewart, when something wasn’t there up the middle, he would bounce it outside, just like we saw on film, and he did that.”

With the fourth quarter winding down, more and more “Panther blue” seats were exposed. That their team was moving to 10-0 was clear to the Panthers‘ supporters, so they were up and out. Time to beat the traffic.

The Redskins had plenty to point to afterward. Chris Baker cited too many penalties. Hatcher lambasted the referees. Cousins explained away his fumbles when he was sacked, and took blame for his misguided throws. Chris Culliver went baseline Zen.

“It’s the NFL,” Culliver said. “It’s not going to happen the way you want it to happen. It’s going to happen how it’s supposed to happen.”

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