Monday Night Football is a four-letter word around the district, beltway, commonwealth and select Maryland counties.  MNF could almost be transposed to “MF!” (kids under a certain age, that stands for “Massive Failings!”).  The Redskins had a chance to hold on to the #6 playoff spot handed to them last night when Tampa Bay lost to Dallas.  Instead, they coughed up a 26-15 clunker loss to Carolina and slid back into the NFC wildcard swamp.  

Much like Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by three ghosts, the Burgundy and Gold was haunted by three visitors:  the Ghost of MNF Past (the team is now 2-16 in Landover on Monday night), the Ghost of Playoff Picture Present (Skins need to win out plus get help from multiple teams to make the postseason) and the Ghost of Kirk Cousins Contract Conversations Yet to Come (that’ll be a nice thing to focus on this offseason).  God bless us, everyone!

For Starters- the worst-kept secret around the league is how the Redskins are slow to get in gear.  Over the last four games they’ve been outscored  53-28 in the first half and 27-3 in the first quarter.  This means the team has had to abandon the run during the second half as they’re playing catch-up.  Monday three of their first six possessions failed to yield a first down…and a fourth saw an interception. If they get outscored in the first half by the Bears…watch out.

Captain Kirk- the face of the franchise threw for 315 yards…but tossed a first-quarter interception that set up a Carolina field goal and lost a third-quarter fumble that set up the Panthers lone touchdown after intermission.  Third down was a nightmare again…as the red zone was more maroon and black than burgundy and gold.  Star Trek Episode Equivalent- “That Which Survives”, an episode that gets off to a confusing start and meanders for sixty minutes while producing drama yet not delivering greatness.

Tragedy of Robert III- well, the House of Griffin continues to attempt to re-establish itself as a pretender to the thrown in the Bailiwick of Brown.  RG3 threw for 196 yards while running for 48 more and the team’s lone touchdown in a 33-13 loss to Buffalo.  Meaning he gets to start in week sixteen against San Diego.

Running in Place- 13 carries for 29 yards…and running the ball on fewer than 20% of their plays from scrimmage.  Robert Kelley had his lowest output since a 15 yard effort against Detroit.  As it gets colder, the ground game becomes more important…and since the win over Green Bay it’s become much less productive.

DeSean and Garcon- the duo combined for 14 catches and 189 yards but nary a touchdown.  Two of Jackson’s grabs were of the sweet-scraping-both-feet-in-bounds variety, while Garcon was the usual tough customer.  Makes up for Jordan Reed tallying as many punches reaching opponents helmets (he was ejected in the second half) as receptions.

Third Down and Really Down- the Skins moved the chains on 2 of 12 attempts…and were 0-for-6 after halftime.  Robert Kelley was stuffed on 3rd & 2 in a run up the middle on the Skins’ lone run.  Kirk Cousins completed 3 of 11 passes on the money down, moving the chains twice.  The top target?  A tie between…guess who?  DeSean & Garcon each were thrown to four times…each reaching the marker once.  Cousins was 2-for-6 with one conversion throwing short to his right…and 1-for-4 with one conversion throwing short to his left.  Yardage breakdown? An ugly 0-for-3 on short-yardage, 1-3 on 3rd & 4-6 yards needed, and 1-6 on 3rd and long.  That 50% of the team’s third downs needed 7+ yards was a symptom of an ineffective offense on first and second down.

Defense, for Starters- Martell Spright notched 15 tackles in his first NFL start.  Mason Foster adds 13 stops.  They also held the Panthers to 4 of 15 on third down…forcing field goals to prevent the game from getting out of hand.  The defense bent but did not break…although in a game where the 2nd ranked offense produces just 15 points, bending was bad enough.

Semi-Special Teams- Tress Way after six punts the previous three weeks had to kick six times against the Panthers, averaging 47.7 yards per attempt.  Kicker Dustin Hopkins made field goal attempts of 26, 34 and 43 yards but missed an extra point.  The return game saw Will Blackmon bring the second half kickoff out of the endzone and get stopped at the 14…preceding the possession that ended on Kirk Cousins’ fumble that set up a short field for Carolina.

Flying Flags- the Skins were penalized seven times for 70 yards.  Four on offense (two holds, illegal hands and an unnecessary roughness), one on defense (facemask on Greg Toler), and two on special teams (illegal block and illegal formation).  While Josh Norman avoided dirty laundry this week his 12 penalties remain the most on the team.  Brandon Scherff’s hold gives him four of those calls this year and seven penalties on the season, good enough for a tie for second with Vernon Davis and Bashaud Breeland.  Worst penalty?  Jordan Reed’s punch/unnecessary roughness that turned a 2nd & goal from the 12 into a 2nd and 27.  Down two scores they had to settle for a field goal.

Dissecting the Division- Dallas  (12-2) topped Tampa Bay 26-20 to move within one win or one Giants loss away from locking up the NFC East.  One victory or one New York Giants loss delivers the division.  The Giants 17-6 triumph over Detroit clinches at least second place in the division and puts Eli Manning and company on the threshold of the Wildcard.  The third place Skins’ loss means they’re 7-6-1, 9th place in the conference and needing to finish 2-0 plus get help from orators.  Philadelphia’s 27-26 loss at Baltimore means the Eagles are officially eliminated from playoff contention and assured of last place in the NFC East.

East is the Beast- even with the Monday night loss, the NFC East remains the gold standard (34-21-1) while the AFC West is one half game back at 34-22.  The AFC North remains the division of depression.

Path to the Playoffs-in order for the Redskins to make the playoffs as a wildcard, they need to finish 2-0 (I’m not going the 1-0-1 route, even though an 8-6-2 season would be divine).  They then need to have Green Bay or Tampa Bay each lose once…or one of those teams plus Detroit go 1-1.

 

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