What we learned: Redskins' playoff hopes take big hit

The Washington Redskins' playoff hopes took a severe blow after falling to the Carolina Panthers 26-15 on Monday night. Here's what we learned in the Week 15 finale:

  1. In a sloppy performance, the Redskins (7-6-1) failed to take advantage of the break they caught via the Buccaneers' loss at Dallas. Veteran safety Donte Whitner's busted coverage cost seven points on Ted Ginn's 30-yard touchdown. Vernon Davis was blocked into Kirk Cousins on the first play of the second half, gift-wrapping another seven points when Carolina (6-8) converted the fumble recovery from a yard out via a short pass to Mike Tolbert. The Panthers' front seven shut down rookie Rob Kelley and the ground attack while Cousins missed throws and suffered from a spate of ill-timed drops. Before the end of the third quarter, the Redskins' offense already had more three-and-outs than any game all season.

Traveling to Chicago before hosting the Giants in the regular-season finale, Washington is now behind 8-6 Green Bay and Tampa Bay in the wild-card hunt. The Packers have a slight edge on the Bucs in the strength-of-schedule tie-breaker entering Week 16.

  1. Snapping out of a four-game slump, Cam Newton recorded his first 300-yard passing performance in more than two months despite aggravating his throwing shoulder injury in the first quarter. Newton attacked downfield, burning Washington's secondary for his most yards (177) in the first half this season. The reigning MVP had plenty of help in the form of a tackle-breaking, stiff-arming Jonathan Stewart. The ageless power back rushed for a season-high 132 yards on 25 carries -- leaping, shoving and dragging Redskins defenders for extra yardage throughout the evening. If Stewart closes out the season in similar inspired fashion versus the Falcons and Buccaneers, the front office might not balk at the roughly $6 million he's scheduled to earn in his age-30 season next year.
  1. Newton's early-season plea for protection on helmet-to-helmet hits resurfaced in the second quarter. After a sliding Newton took a blow to the head from Chris Baker outside of the pocket, it was the quarterback who was flagged for throwing the ball at his prone opponent after the play. It can certainly be argued that offsetting penalties were in order considering the landing spot of Baker's hit. Dean Blandino, NFL senior vice president of officiating, explained in September, though, that Newton's posture dictates his protection. When he's scrambling and tucking the ball, he has to learn to slide earlier to give the defensive player a chance to pull up and avoid contact. By the time he began his slide, contact with Baker was imminent. Expect Newton's protection to remain a storyline going forward.
  1. The Panthers can help decide the NFC South champion with bouts versus Atlanta and at Tampa Bay, but their own playoff odds are so faint as to be almost non-existent. In addition to winning out, they need the Saints to beat the Bucs, the Falcons to beat the Saints, the Lions to beat the Packers, the Bears to beat the Vikings and the Redskins to lose one remaining game and tie another.
  1. Greg Olsen became the first tight end in NFL history to post three consecutive seasons of 1,000 or more receiving yards. With Patriots legend Rob Gronkowski out of the picture following back surgery, Olsen is vying with the Chiefs' Travis Kelce for first-team All-Pro honors.
  1. Redskins tight end Jordan Reed was playing through a third-degree separation in his left shoulder, and the severity of the injury was evident every time he was involved in a play. He was ejected from the game after throwing a punch at safety Kurt Coleman late in the third quarter, finishing with one catch for six yards. It's tough to imagine Kirk Cousins' most valuable target as a significant factor in Washington's push for the No. 6 seed.
  1. Washington coach Jay Gruden won a pair of challenges, both occurring on spectacular sideline catches by DeSean Jackson. After taking a backseat to Reed and second-year slot receiver Jamison Crowder early in the season, Jackson has teamed with fellow veteran wideout Pierre Garcon to carry the passing game of late. Still one of the toughest covers in the league, Jackson has exceeded 100 yards in three of the past four games. It will be interesting to see if the Redskins open contract talks prior to the onset of free agency in March.
  1. Graham Gano's fourth-quarter miss from 38 yards out prevented Week 15 from becoming the most accurate kicking week in NFL history. Prior to Monday night's game, NFL kickers had converted 66 of 69 (95.7 percent) field-goal attempts. Gano's was the only errant kick under 50 yards.
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