KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Washington Redskins gutted one out, ignoring injuries, a hostile crowd and a firecracker offense. And now they’re in position to make the sort of move few envisioned after the season opener.
That could have been the story, instead of this: The Redskins (2-2) learned a valuable lesson in a 29-20 road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night. That lesson is if you want to join the top teams and win a tough game on the road, you can’t make silly mistakes. You can’t mishandle a pitch. You need to line up properly. Basic things. Crucial things.
It's the difference between 3-1 and being a big topic in the NFL and 2-2 with people wondering what direction you'll go.
The Redskins lost a number of players to injury, including running back Rob Kelley (ankle) and cornerback Josh Norman (ribs). If you’re into silver linings: The Redskins played a team many consider the NFL’s best right now -- and the league's only undefeated squad -- fairly evenly. The Skins stunned the Chiefs early -- and rallied late. There's reason to remain optimistic.
However: “It’s no moral victories,” Redskins linebacker Preston Smith said. “We know we killed ourselves with penalties. If we eliminate the penalties, it’s a better outcome for us.”
The Redskins even -- for a split second -- appeared to have won in regulation. Receiver Josh Doctson makes acrobatic catches all the time in practice. Teammates often get wide-eyed discussing them. Doctson turned and jumped for a ball in the end zone Monday -- and made the catch -- but then lost it as he hit the ground. It wasn’t a bad play; it was nearly a great one to win a game. Instead, it merely set the Chiefs up to drive for the winning field goal with four seconds left. A touchdown off a fumble recovery after a series of Redskins pitches completed the scoring.
Washington lost because of youth. On Kansas City’s winning drive, rookie cornerback Fabian Moreau and rookie safety Montae Nicholson lost coverage on a 37-yard pass play. With Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith rolling to his right -- and appearing to run -- they were caught looking at him instead of covering receiver Albert Wilson, who was wide open. Lesson learned. Moreau was playing because Norman was hurt; Moreau is an aggressive corner in practice but hasn't played much. When he sees something, he bites hard. It happens.
It wasn’t the only costly mistake on a night that could have gone better for Washington. Yes, the Redskins competed and hung with the Chiefs, though Kansas City controlled the game after the first quarter. Yes, it could mean good things for the Redskins.
"Hats off to them, but I feel like we could have did something special tonight," Norman said.
There were more mistakes. The Redskins stopped the Chiefs on a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line. But linebacker Preston Smith lined up offside. The Chiefs were given new life -- and scored a touchdown on the next play. Instead of a 10-10 tie (assuming a chip-shot field goal), the Redskins trailed 14-10.
Smith said he usually checks with the officials when he lines up. This time? He failed to do so.
"I felt like I was onside," Smith said. "It's not for me to call it. It's for the ref to call it. I have to learn from that mistake and make sure I get myself enough space and check with the ref like I've been doing. I forgot, and it cost us."
All seven Redskins penalties occurred on defense. Three came on the same drive, capped by Smith's gaffe. Washington committed five penalties on third down -- one of which was declined. Three resulted in automatic first downs.
"We gave them opportunities, and they took advantage," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.
Corner Bashaud Breeland had a hands to the face, an illegal contact, a horse collar and an illegal use of hands. It added up.
“I was just trying to make a play, but in those moments I have to be more careful,” Breeland said. “There were critical times in the game where I hurt my team. ... Swallow that pill, and try to get better.”
In the fourth quarter, the Redskins’ offense started to put together a nice drive and faced second-and-5 inside Kansas City territory. But on a simple pitch play, running back Samaje Perine couldn’t control the ball. He had room to pick up a first down but fumbled out of bounds.
The result: a 7-yard loss. The Redskins punted two plays later.
It went like that too often. The Redskins had a chance for a 3-1 record and building momentum heading into the bye week. They let it slip away. The Chiefs are tough to beat at home. But they -- and all good teams -- are even tougher to beat when you give them extra chances.