DENVER -- This is what bad teams do when the moment arrives for them to respond. When a home crowd is foot-stomping loud, their cheers shaking the stadium. When a play must be made to swing the momentum back.
They run 14 plays, gain 22 yards and punt three times. One of those punts traveled 15 yards. And landed at their own 35-yard line. Followed one play later by the go-ahead touchdown.
And then they followed that with four straight drives ending in interceptions.
A 21-7 lead and potential season-defining win for the Washington Redskins not only slips away, it is carried away in a tornado of mistakes.
“It was like a blur,” Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall said. “I looked at one point, 21-7. Felt good. Turned around and it was 38-21.”
The score ended up 45-21, in favor of the 7-1 Denver Broncos. It's not a surprise that Washington lost; it would have been stunning had the Redskins won, truth be told. But they looked so sharp in building a 21-7 lead, more on defense of course. The offense, though, had contributed a 95-yard scoring drive and the special teams had been successful in winning the field position battle.
But a 24-point loss courtesy of a last-quarter meltdown? That's not a way to build any belief that they'll ever find the necessary consistency to turn anything around.
“I just don't believe we're a 2-5 team,” quarterback Robert Griffin III said.
Oh, but they are 2-5. And it's deserved, too.
It starts on offense. Denver scored 45 points, but the Redskins had held the Broncos to 14 points through three quarters. They did not finish strong in the fourth quarter, but the way the offense responded put them in a bad spot. Again and again.
Before the season, Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon boasted of this group possibly being the most prolific ever. Funny how long ago that seems. Maybe it seemed silly at the time; it's even more so now. They'll show flashes. They don't sustain anything.
“As an offense we've been struggling all year,” Garcon said. “We have to finally put it together. It's our fault.”
Garcon was frustrated and it shows at times during games. Like on the deep post in which he was wide open -- by a good 15 yards perhaps -- and not seen. On a play in which the coordinator told him earlier in the week that he'd be wide open. It happens, they say. It stands out when not enough is going right. Not that it hurt Washington as the Redskins still scored on the drive. But it's just where the passing game is at, even against a defense that had struggled before this game.
“Doesn't matter who [you're playing]. If you suck at passing, you suck at passing,” Garcon said. “We've just got to figure it out.”
Garcon was not pointing the finger at Griffin, but rather at the whole group. Santana Moss dropped a touchdown pass (again, they scored on the drive). Aldrick Robinson dropped a pivotal third-down pass with the game still tied early in the fourth quarter. Sav Rocca then shanked a 15-yard punt. One play later it was 28-21.
Garcon was asked if he felt the offense had turned a corner after the previous two games in which they moved the ball well.
“We haven't put up a fair amount of games where we played equally good running the ball and passing the ball,” he said, “so that's a no.”
So much of what they do returns to Griffin. And he was bad Sunday, completing 15 of 30 passes for 132 yards and finishing with a 45.4 passer rating. Denver wanted to take away his legs and the Broncos succeeded for a variety of reasons, from their 3-4 front against the zone read option to the way they stunted and applied pressure. He was hit more than in any game this season. The luster of his golden rookie season has faded.
This is not all on him; at times last season his scintillating play covered up a lot of sins that are now evident. But it's clear that his passing needs to improve.
“We had times where we had guys open and we couldn't make plays. There are times where you have to have those tough catches and tough throws and we didn't make those either,” Griffin said. “We have to be better as a group.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Griffin failed on all seven pass attempts of 15 yards or more. He was pressured or sacked on 42 percent of his dropbacks, the highest percentage of his career. Makes life tough under those circumstances, but Griffin needs to help himself, too, and defeat the rap that he struggles when he can't hit his primary target.
Maybe this was just one bad game. But you heard Garcon: They know they haven't played the way they're capable. The Redskins have a chance to still climb back into respectability the next two weeks with a home game against San Diego and a road game at Minnesota. Their outlook would then change considerably. And a week ago Griffin's impact on the game looked a lot like last year. But the impact was real and there's no reason it can't happen again.
In many ways the Redskins and Griffin are going through the growing pains you would have expected them to endure last season when he was a rookie. The kid is not a finished product and that can't be underestimated. Until he gets there, ugly games like Sunday will arise.
For the Redskins to really be optimistic, they need to play a complete game. Then repeat it the following week. Until then they'll keep believing.
“That's all we've got,” Redskins end Stephen Bowen said. “There's no other choice.”