LANDOVER -- The Dallas Cowboys did the Redskins a big favor with their Sunday night win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. On Monday night, rather than appearing energized, Washington promptly threw up all over its big Wild Card berth opportunity against Josh Norman's former team
Cam Newton threw two touchdown passes and the Redskins offense never found its usual high-flying form as Washington fell to Carolina 26-15 at FedEx Field and fell further back in the NFC playoff chase.
Per usual, the Redskins (7-6-1) started slow as the Panthers (6-8) drove easily for a field goal on their opening drive and broke a 3-3 tie with a 30-yard touchdown catch by Ted Ginn late in the first quarter. Though Robert Kelley's power 5-yard run before halftime pulled Washington closer at 13-9 -- Dustin Hopkins missed the extra point -- hope for another second half surge quickly faded. Carolina sacked Kirk Cousins on the opening play of the third quarter, recovered the quarterback's fumble at Washington's 1-yard line for one of the Redskins' three turnovers and scored two plays on Newton's second TD pass.
The Redskins have lost three of four.
The key: The defense kept hope alive at times, but the offense never heated up in a game where temperatures hovered in the upper 20's. Among the league leaders in avoiding three-and-out drives this season, Washington's offense did just that on four of its opening six possessions and six times overall. The Redskins converted only 2 of 12 3rd down conversions with the final miss coming before Hopkins' third field goal made the score 23-15 with 3:44 left.
The quarterback: Want to say this was the worst Kirk Cousins this season? You might have an argument, even though his receivers dropped plenty of passes. Cousins finished 29 of 44 for 296 yards with one interception, which led to a Carolina field goal in the second quarter. He failed to throw a TD pass for the first time since Week 1, though two Red-Zone trips in the second half were doomed by drops and a punch.
The other quarterback: Cam Newton dealt with a shoulder injury entering the matchup which kept the 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player limited during some practices this week. The Redskins defense hit him plenty and the running threat rarely took off with the ball, but Newton gutted out the pain and the win. After throwing one or fewer touchdown passes in six of his previous seven games, Newton had two against Washington while completing 21 of 37 passes for 300 yards.
The moment: Let's get to Norman, who faced his Carolina for the first time since the Panthers surprisingly and perhaps angrily let the Pro Bowler enter free agency last April. The months-long hype carried all the way to kickoff. The result didn't go the way Norman desired. That sentiment also applies to Ginn's touchdown. Norman raced in late in vain after it appeared safety Donte Whitner blew the coverage against Carolina's speedster.
The moment, part 2: Down 23-9 in the third quarter, Washington's best drive moved the Redskins to the Panthers 10-yard line with 36 seconds left. As Robert Kelley's first down run lost two yards, tight end Jordan Reed and Carolina safety Kurt Coleman tangled. As they separated, Reed threw a jab at Coleman, who intercepted Cousins earlier. His helmet intercepted the punch and the referees ejected Reed while moving Washington back 15 yards. The Redskins eventually settled for a Hopkins field goal down 14 points.
The runners: Stop us if you heard this before, but the Redskins struggled stopping an opposing ground game as Jonathan Stewart had 132 yards on 25 carries. Washington rushed 13 times for 29 yards (2.2)
The pain: Already without linebackers Su'a Cravens (elbow strain) and Will Compton (knee), the injury report grew longer Monday night. Ryan Kerrigan (shoulder) was among those needing a trainer consult, though he re-entered. Houston Bates (leg) and Quinton Dunbar (concussion) were ruled out. Reed, who has been dealing with a shoulder sprain, went to the sideline after taking a big hit before his ejection. Greg Toler (concussion) also left the game.
The stat: With the loss, Washington fell to 2-16 at FedEx Field on Monday Night Football. Unreal.
The big picture: The Redskins entered Week 15 outside the playoff picture, but with Tampa Bay losing, they would move into Wild Card position with a win. That didn't happen. Now what? Basically, the dream remains alive, but now lots more help is needed beyond a Buccaneers setback. Washin