LANDOVER, Md. -- If Washington Redskins' team history is to be read as an indicator in the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney can prepare his victory speech. When the Redskins win or lose their last home game before presidential balloting, the incumbent party's fortunes have been in sync of 17 of 18 elections since the franchise moved to Washington in 1937.
The Redskins lost 21-13 to the Panthers on Sunday in the first matchup of quarterbacks Cam Newton of Carolina, the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, and Robert Griffin III of Washington, the second overall selection in 2012. The Republican challenger to President Barack Obama had to be smiling, and so were the Panthers (2-6), who had lost five straight -- the last four by a combined 12 points -- before beating the Redskins (3-6), who have lost three in a row.
"These guys have been very resilient," said Panthers coach Ron Rivera. "They've given themselves chances to win and this is one of those times we've capitalized on those chances."
While the Panthers were relieved, the Redskins' frustrations mounted.
"Obviously very disappointing," said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who had called the game a must-win. "Must-win games give you a chance to play for a playoff spot. When you're 3-5, it's gotta be a must-win to get in the hunt. You lose a game like that, now you're playing to see who's going to be on your football team for years to come. Now I get a chance to evaluate players and see where we're at. Obviously we're not out of it statistically. Now we find out what kind of character we've got."
Washington scored first. A personal foul on Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy for a blow to Griffin's head prevented a three-and-out. Passes for first downs to receiver Josh Morgan and tight end Logan Paulsen sandwiched a 16-yard burst by running back Alfred Morris and set up Kai Forbath's 47-yard field goal with 4:20 left in the first quarter.
Running back Jonathan Stewart and then Newton gave Carolina a first down with two key runs that got the ball to the Washington 30. That's where DeAngelo Williams raced to the end zone for a 7-3 lead 24 seconds before the quarter's end. Line judge Thomas Symonette blew his whistle during the touchdown run, but referee Carl Cheffers ruled that Williams "had already crossed the goal line," upholding the play.
The Redskins responded by keeping the ball for 10:11, converting fourth downs on a pass to Morgan and a run by fullback Darrel Young, but Griffin was stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 2.
Newton then marched the Panthers 98 yards in 12 plays, capping the drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to receiver Steve Smith on third-and-10 with just 57 seconds left in the half.
"It was very big," Newton said of the long march. "It was a way for us to impose our will. They had a lot of momentum because they converted a couple of fourth downs. We were just ... trying to get first downs to change the field position."
Washington narrowed the deficit to 14-6 on Forbath's 25-yard field goal with 6:02 to go in the third quarter after a 10-play, 69-yard possession that halted at the 3. Newton then put the game out of reach, hitting wide-open receiver Armanti Edwards on an 82-yard bomb to the Washington 9 before taking it over from the 1 just two plays later for a 21-6 margin with just 12:46 remaining. Evan Royster's 2-yard run with 1:28 to play rounded out the scoring.
"We're not going to feel sorry for ourselves," said Griffin, who outgained Newton 53-37 on the ground on three more carries and through the air 215-201 on 16 more attempts. "Guys have to make sure they continue to stay tough between the ears. We'll come back [after the bye] ready to go. I think you'll see a different team. People are gonna criticize the coaches. They're gonna say a drastic change needs to be made. I don't feel that way. I feel it's on us. We're the ones out there playing. We gotta make plays."
Notes: After Washington's Leonard Hankerson was guilty of two of a season-high 10 dropped passes in last week's loss at Pittsburgh, he was benched in favor of fellow Class of 2011 receiver Aldrick Robinson. ... Carolina receiver Brandon LaFell was inactive because of a concussion suffered in last week's loss at Chicago. Louis Murphy replaced him. ... Washington receiver Santana Moss left the game during the fourth quarter with a concussion. ... The Redskins welcomed back dozens of alumni, including nine Hall of Famers, as part of their 80th anniversary celebration for which they wore throwback uniforms resembling those from their 1937 championship season.