- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 22, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jay Gruden stood near the 50-yard line, his hands on his hips and his headset around his neck. The Washington Redskins’ coach looked exasperated by the thought of enduring the final 15 minutes of Sunday’s 44-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Just a few moments earlier, with 1:36 to play in the third quarter, tight end Jordan Reed fumbled after a 13-yard gain — the Redskins’ fifth turnover of the game.

Gruden and his team did not have to suffer through the final quarter to grasp what had already become so painfully obvious. The Redskins ultimately failed to compete, let alone win, on the road, remaining winless in five games away from FedEx Field.

Sunday’s loss to Carolina (10-0) sent the Redskins hurtling back to Earth after a 47-14 win against the New Orleans Saints and their porous defense. Just a week after rushing for 204 yards, the Redskins rushed for 14 against the Panthers, and had gained just six until Chris Thompson picked up six yards with 4:49 to play. It was just the third time in franchise history they rushed for 14 or fewer yards in a game.

Yet no matter how far the Redskins seemed to plummet on Sunday, the blow is softened by the mediocrity of the NFC East. Whether the Redskins (4-6) lost by five or 50 points, they will still face the New York Giants (5-5) next Sunday with a chance to pull even for the lead in the division.

“It felt like it counts for 20, as bad as the game was, but really, it counts for one game,” Gruden said. “We’re 4-6. This is a very good football team. They’ve won nine games before they played us. It’s not the end of the world that we lost to the Panthers. We’re disappointed, but we’re not devastated. We’re going to bounce back from this and we’re going to move on and get ready to play the New York Giants. We’re sick about it. We felt good coming into the game. We were riding a very emotional win against the New Orleans Saints.

SEE ALSO: Redskins’ series of blunders lead to thrashing by Cam Newton, Panthers

“However, we just didn’t play very well. We didn’t coach very well today. Our season’s not over. I’m not going to cry and come up here and say, ‘Oh, God, it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened.’ It’s a bad experience for all of us, but we will bounce back and get ready for the Giants.”

Perhaps that is the right attitude, to just take the lumps and move on. Forget about it as fast as possible. The Redskins did that last week when they put a 27-10 loss to the New England Patriots behind them by beating up on the Saints so badly that former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was studying teams from a television studio this week.

There is no doubt that the Redskins have improved from the team that limped to a 4-12 finish last season. The problem with the glass-half-full approach is that it makes it difficult to quantify the improvement.

Is there really any consolation in being in the hunt for a division title without a win in a road game all season? Gruden now has a 1-12 road record in his first two seasons as the Redskins’ coach.

The division lead is just outside the Redskins’ grasp, but performances like the one they submitted on Sunday will keep it that way.

“We’re trying to get a victory,” free safety Dashon Goldson said. “We didn’t play so well on the road. In order to be a good football team, you have to win games on the road. We understand we’ve been playing well at home. You’re supposed to win at home. You outnumber the opponents. But, it’s tough. These games on the road have been killing us.”

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Unlike the game against New England, when the Redskins fell behind, 17-0, they were tied with the Panthers, 14-14, after the first quarter.

Then the Panthers scored 30 unanswered points. It wasn’t quite the same path, but the end destination was all too familiar. In a game that the Redskins needed to be nearly perfect, they continued to cost themselves. Instead of dropped passes, like against New England, it was fumbles, penalties and more poor tackling.

The inconsistency has been maddening for the Redskins this season. There is no doubt they’ve faced tough teams on the road and not-so-tough ones at home. That is the easy explanation for the discrepancy in performance, but it’s more complex than that.

Gruden held himself accountable, blaming himself and the coaching staff for not having the team ready both physically and mentally. Left tackle Trent Williams said the opposite.

“Jay has nothing to do with fumbles, with penalties, with interceptions,” Williams said. “That’s the players. Him being the leader, he’ll take the blame but that’s on us. We have to play better.”

The truth is, the answer lies somewhere in between. Until the Redskins find that solution, there is hardly anything encouraging about Sunday’s result, no matter how close the division lead may be.

“It’s disappointing any time you perform like that,” Williams said. “It ain’t about thinking about how close or far we are. It’s thinking about today. Today was a disappointment. There’s no silver lining in that.”

• Anthony Gulizia can be reached at agulizia@washingtontimes.com.

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