Monday, November 20, 2017

Washington wasn’t supposed to win Sunday’s game at New Orleans.

Washington didn’t win Sunday’s game at New Orleans.

We’re exactly where we expected to be, staring at a 4-6 team with playoff hopes on life support.

But we’re in shock nonetheless.

The Saints’ 34-31 overtime victory delivered the cruelest type of loss, improbable victory morphing into undeniable defeat in the closing moments. Watching theevents unfold over the final few minutes felt like an out-of-body experience. Or was it déjà vu?

Either way, it was a nightmare scenario.

Washington couldn’t make a stop on defense during New Orleans‘ last three possessions, including the game-winning drive in overtime.

This wasn’t Case Keenum impersonating Drew Brees; Washington was dissected by the real deal.

The Saints’ future Hall-of-Famer completed 12-of-12 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns in the final 5:58 of regulation.

“It stings a lot of people,” coach Jay Gruden told reporters. “It stings everybody involved with the Washington Redskins, that’s for sure. We just have to bounce back.”

If there’s any spring left.

The defensive collapse was colossal and complete, finalized when halfback Mark Ingram gained 51 yards on two carries in OT to set up the decisive field goal. But that wasn’t the only factor. Multiple fingers can be pointed in a loss that’s so astonishing.

Untimely penalties? Sure. Three stick out. An interception by cornerback Kendall Fuller seemed to end New Orleans‘ comeback with 1:47 remaining in the fourth quarter. The play was erased, though, because Fuller was called for illegal use of hands to the face.

You can live with that infraction because the pick might not have been possible otherwise. But dead-ball penalties that lead to six-point swings just before intermission are killers. With 1:46 left in the first half, Washington lined up for a 50-yard field-goal attempt from strong-legged rookie Nick Rose. Instead, Gruden called for a punt after lineman Stacey McGee committed a false start, and the Saints kicked their own field goal to close within 17-13.

Making matters worse, Kirk Cousins was called for an intentional grounding penalty with 19 seconds left in regulation, just inside field-goal range. A 10-second runoff compounded the 10-yard penalty and Cousins suffered a sack/fumble on the next play. USA Today reported that the league admitted afterward that the penalty was incorrect.

“How do you define an inaccurate throw from an intentional grounding?” Cousins said. “I thought if (Jamison Crowder) he had turned and looked at me and the ball had been 10 feet over his head, I could just say, ‘Oh it slipped out of my hand.”

Instead, the lead and eventually the victory slipped away.

Of course, none of this would’ve mattered if Washington converted a third-and-1 just before the two-minute warning. The Saints were out of timeouts and a first down would’ve sealed the victory. But rookie halfback Samaje Perine was dropped for a 1-yard loss, setting the stage for New Orleans‘ game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion.

Perine was a bright spot, rushing for a career-high 117 yards and a touchdown. Washington will need much more of that, with Chris Thompson lost for the season, one week after Rob Kelley went down for good, too. According to nfl.com, Thompson was the league’s most efficient third-down back, averaging 7.8 yards per touch with six touchdowns through 10 games.

“He’s one of the best when it comes to running the ball and catching and making plays,” Washington tight end Vernon Davis said. “So to lose him is tough. It’s hard to replace a guy like that, with his ability to do what he does. It’s just a tough situation to be in.”

Ditto for the overall outlook.

Washington likely needs to win its final six contests to have any shot at the playoffs. Sunday was the beginning of a three-games-in-12-days stretch, which surely won’t help recovery time for the banged-up roster.

The fact that Washington went into the Superdome and nearly upset the league’s hottest team is amazing. For most of the afternoon, we were reminded of a similar shocker two weeks ago, when Cousins’ & Co. knocked off the Seahawks in Seattle.

It was happening again. An undermanned Washington squad was getting the best of a superior team on its home field. They were proving that their tenacity compensated for whatever they lacked in talent.

But then it all fell apart, quickly and slowly at the same time.

The final result was what we expected all along.

So why does it feel so unbelievable?

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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