Familiar script dooms Redskins on the road again

CHARLOTTE -- The momentum swung with one referee’s decision, taking a touchdown away from the Washington Redskins and leaving Carolina in position to score one. But to blame this loss on anything other than the Redskins’ poor play would be to miss a huge point: Good teams don’t cave after one negative play. It’s not just that the Redskins lost, it’s the way they did so that must be cause for concern.

They turned the ball over five times. They rushed for 14 yards. Do you need to know anything more than those two stats? Because both of those help explain a 44-16 defeat. It’s hard to take them seriously if they can’t play better than this; it doesn’t matter who they are playing. Quarterback Kirk Cousins, coming off a good stretch of three games, did not extend that streak to four. His first-quarter interception set a negative tone and his two fumbles hurt as well.

But, as usual, this goes beyond the quarterback. The Redskins missed tackles. Their offensive line did not offer much protection nor did it open holes in the run game. That’s the tough part here: It was a team effort. Just when you think the Redskins start to grow, they provide proof of how far they really have to go.

This wasn't about playing poorly because they were on the road, either. You play this way at home and you lose to anyone. One week after a 33-point win, the Redskins "built" on their momentum with this type of outing.

What it means: The Redskins are 4-6 after their fifth straight road loss. But they’re still alive in the playoff chase thanks to the NFC East. The Redskins are tied with Philadelphia for second place, a game behind the New York Giants. And, because the Redskins host the Giants Sunday, they have a chance to move into a tie for the division lead. So, when talking about the standings, the loss does not kill them. But from a psyche standpoint, it should. The Redskins felt they could compete with Carolina, and yet they looked like what they are: a mediocre-at-best team that can’t beat anyone on the road.

What were they thinking? Corner Chris Culliver appeared to make the play of the game, popping tight end Greg Olsen, then grabbing the ball in the air en route to a long touchdown -- and 21-14 lead. But officials flagged Culliver for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his hit on Olsen, who was ruled a defenseless receiver. It was an unfortunate call -- and it’s become very, very tough for defensive backs to tackle on bang-bang plays. According to the rule, the onus is on Culliver to stay low, even if the receiver lowers his shoulder first.

One reason to get excited: After this game? How about this: The Redskins only have three more road games. They’re 1-12 on the road under coach Jay Gruden and have lost four of their five road games by double digits. But none of their final three road games are against teams that currently have a winning record. So they have that going for them.

One reason to panic: Just one? The Redskins looked so bad on both sides of the ball there are plenty of reasons to panic. Perhaps the biggest was the continued lack of a run game and the return of the numerous missed tackles.

Fantasy watch: The fantasy, apparently, was thinking the Redskins could beat Carolina. From a stats perspective, I thought Jordan Reed would have a strong game and he did not. He caught six passes for 46 yards and fumbled once.

Ouch: Running back Alfred Morris left the game in the first quarter because of a rib injury and did not return. Left tackle Trent Williams was carted to the locker room midway through the fourth quarter. Morris has not had a great season, but with Matt Jones having ball security issues, the Redskins can’t afford to lose Morris.