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Officials' calls can't obscure real issue: Redskins must play better

CHARLOTTE -- It’s tough to be a defensive back these days. Cornerback Chris Culliver made a bang-bang play that could have given the Washington Redskins a seven-point lead. Instead, the officials ruled it was unnecessary roughness, giving Carolina the ball at the 13-yard line. Perhaps, by the letter of the law, it was a penalty. But that doesn’t mean the rule is always a good one.

But let’s also start with this: The game was still tied. The Redskins could have held the Panthers to a field goal. They had only one turnover at this point. Yet the game unraveled.

There were other penalties, too, such as the holding call on tight end Jordan Reed that nullified a first down at the Panthers’ 3-yard line. Tough penalty, no doubt.

The problem, though, was not the penalties. When you lose 44-16, turn the ball over five times and miss too many tackles, there’s one place to direct the blame: at yourself. There’s a difference between being upset about calls and using them as a reason for a loss. The Redskins toggled around that line Sunday.

Blaming the officials might feel good for a moment. But the harder thing is to look at the real reasons behind the loss -- because some of them keep happening on the road.

Take a look at these numbers:

  • The Redskins have 19 turnovers this season; 14 on the road.

  • Quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown five touchdowns and eight interceptions on the road; he has 10 touchdowns and two picks at home.

  • The run game has averaged 2.55 yards per carry away from home. Worse: Matt Jones and Alfred Morris have a combined 69 carries on the road -- and the longest run between them is 10 yards. That’s a massive indictment of the run game. And when you average 1.17 yards per carry on the ground, as they did Sunday, it’s hard to be committed to running the ball.

  • The defense allows 5.54 yards per carry on the road. Actually, that’s the same number they allow at home.

  • The Redskins are 1-12 under coach Jay Gruden on the road.

Go ahead and add up those numbers. The answer: trouble.

Granted, they’ve played two undefeated teams in their past two road losses -- the Patriots and now the Panthers. OK. But you can still compete well and play a clean game. Maybe you lose, but not in an embarrassing way. Instead, the Redskins have looked outclassed in all but one road game this season.

“In order to be a good team, you’ve got to win games on the road,” Redskins safety Dashon Goldson said. “These games have been killing us.”

The Redskins are a rebuilding team whose 4-6 record shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s who they are; they have a stronger talent base to develop, but developing it takes time and patience. But games such as Sunday -- and most of their road games -- test that patience. Every time the Redskins take a step at home, they give it back -- plus a little more -- on the road. This doesn’t undo everything they’ve done well; it just provides a reality check.

Yes, a couple of calls hurt them. They still could have held Carolina to a field goal after the Culliver play. They still could have scored after the Reed penalty instead of sack/fumble. They still could have held onto the ball or perhaps done a better job defensively; on a second-and-22 from their own 10-yard line, the Panthers gained 19 yards en route to their second touchdown drive. Talk about a momentum-killer.

So was Jones’ fumble after the score was 21-14. So was Cousins’ interception when it was 0-0. So was ... take your pick. Five turnovers led to 27 points.

The Redskins responded well to two Carolina touchdowns, answering both times. They’ve responded well after bad road losses with home wins.

“It’s a trickle-down effect on the whole team,” Baker said. “We have to figure out a way to stop turning the ball over, and when we do turn it over, we have to figure out a way to keep them out of the end zone or at least hold them to a field goal.”

Three turnovers occurred in Redskins territory.

“Five turnovers on the road is not a good recipe,” Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said. “I don’t know any team that can overcome five turnovers on the road. “

That’s why discussing calls obscures the larger and more important point: The Redskins have plenty to clean up.

“It feels like it counts for 20,” Gruden said. “It’s not the end of the world that we lost to the Panthers. We’re all disappointed but we’re not devastated. We’re going to bounce back from this.”

They have no choice. They’re still in the NFC East race because, well, it’s not a good division. To stay in the race, they can’t get sidetracked from fixing the real issues.