LANDOVER, Md. – Nothing goes right in football's worst division. So there was Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III running like last season on Sunday, slicing past the Detroit Lions for a first down and more when suddenly a tackler approached.
Slide, 80,111 in FedEx Field seemed to say at once.
Slide Griffin appeared to think. After all, he had promised to do this after last year's knee injury.
Except RG3 doesn't know how to slide very well. He hurtled himself forward like an awkward diver belly-flopping in the pool. His elbow hit the ground, the ball rolled into the hands of safety Glover Quin.
"I was declaring myself down to avoid the big hit," he later said, forgetting he was required to hold onto the ball when sprawled flat on the ground untouched by a defender's hand.
After the euphoria of seven straight wins and an NFC East title, the Redskins felt they were Super Bowl contenders this year. It was a feeling supported by Griffin's fast return from knee reconstruction he underwent in January. Hope burned in Washington.
Hope has all but died here now after a 27-20 loss to the Lions, just as it has flickered out in New York where the Giants were vanquished 38-0 by a Carolina Panthers team that had been struggling to score. The two teams who were supposed to contend for the NFC East are both 0-3 – for the first time ever at the same time, according to the Elias Sports Bureau – and yet only a game worse than the Philadelphia Eagles whose dazzling new offense has won them but one game of the season's first three.
To put into perspective Sunday's loss for the Redskins: They were beaten at home by Detroit for the first time in forever. Literally. In the 76 years since the Redskins moved from Boston to D.C., the Lions have never won in a Washington stadium, whether Griffith Stadium, RFK or now FedEx – a stretch of 21 straight games of heartbreak and despair finally broken in a year the NFC East can do little well.
[Photos: NFL hard hits and tackles]
If there's any solace for the Redskins and Giants – beaten this year by a combined score of 213-121 – it's that they are chasing the Cowboys, who squandered a third-quarter lead in Kansas City last weekend.
But history does not side with Washington or New York. Before this season there were 22 NFL teams who had started 0-3 and of those 22 only three made the playoffs. Nothing in what the Giants are doing says they have a chance of changing that ledger and the Redskins' best hope might have disappeared when Griffin tried to dive instead of slide.
That came early in the fourth quarter when he did this: The game was tied 17-17 and he had run all the way to the Lions' 25-yard-line when the ball slipped from his hands. Detroit took three plays to get to the Redskins' 10 and took the lead for good on a field goal.
"No one consciously loses the football," Griffin said. "I hit the ground, thought I was down and the ball came out. I'm looking at the ref and they told me I wasn't."
Just another empty moment in a failing division.
"It sucks," Griffin said of the losing, "The good thing is we have a family-like atmosphere in this locker room. We have guys who are going to stick together and that's what you need in times like these. Everybody's got to dig deep together."
As if digging was simple. The Redskins and Giants have a recent history of turning midseason disasters into playoff appearances. Last year the Redskins were 3-6 when they went on their seven-win run to the NFC East title. Digging doesn't always work. And there is a big difference between 3-6 and 0-3. When you are 0-3 it means you haven't won at all. At least last year's Redskins had stirring victories over the Saints, Buccaneers and Vikings to build upon. This team has nothing.
"We can't hang our hat on seven in a row," Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall said as he left the locker room on Sunday.
At least the Redskins showed signs of improvement on Sunday. A defense that had been dreadful in losses to the Eagles and Green Bay Packers played decently against the Lions, allowing Griffin and Washington's offense to do something more than throw over and over. RG3 played the best he has this year with 326 yards passing and 37 rushing and gave the Lions a hint of the run – something he didn't do against Philadelphia and Green Bay.
"That guy is still running a 4.5 [40-yard dash] and he's still hard to tackle," said Lions defensive end Willie Young, who nonetheless chased down Griffin as he scrambled to throw in the first half, something few if any would have done last season.
[Related: Lions TE does 'N Sync dance against Redskins]
New York appears to be going nowhere, managing just 195 yards and 10 first downs against a Panthers team that looked hopeless in the season's first two weeks. Shock lives there as much as it does in Washington and also Philadelphia, where the Kansas City Chiefs showed football that the Eagles' explosive video-game offense can be controlled with a basic man-to-man defense.
When asked what surprised him most about this year, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said: "0-3."
Asked later if there is a sense of urgency to this season that was supposed to bring much happiness, Shanahan chuckled.
"Yes there is," he said. If only he knew how to stop the losing in the year the NFC East went bad.
Someday, years hence, we may consider the 2012 NFL draft the richest quarterback haul in NFL history. You already know about Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. Now Ryan Tannehill, the No. 8 pick, is making his bid to join that esteemed crew.
Tannehill is guiding a Miami Dolphins attack that's catching people by surprise because, frankly, nothing decent football-wise has come out of Miami in more than a decade. But the Dolphins are 3-0 with victories over two of last year's playoff teams. Sunday's 27-23 victory over Atlanta showed that Miami, and Tannehill in particular, are looking legit.
Down by three with just under five minutes remaining, Tannehill guided the Dolphins through a masterful 13-play touchdown drive that covered 75 yards and ate almost all of the remaining clock. And it fell to Falcons QB Matt Ryan, usually a steady hand, to make the typical young-quarterback mistake of throwing into overwhelming pressure and turning over the ball.
So, the good news: Miami is undefeated and rolling. The bad news: Nobody is overlooking Tannehill and the Dolphins anymore.
– Jay Busbee