LANDOVER, Md. -- Turnovers defined the game early, and the miscues ended up costing the Panthers as they fell 23-17 to the Redskins at FedEX Field on Sunday afternoon.
Down 17-0 in the first half, Carolina threatened to pull it out late after quarterback Cam Newton found wide receiver Torrey Smith for a 3-yard touchdown pass with under nine minutes remaining. Smith would follow up by hauling in the two-point conversion to put Carolina within three.
On the subsequent drive, Washington ate away at the clock with a 10-play, 64-yard series that ended with a 29-yard field goal by kicker Dustin Hopkins to extend the lead to 23-17. The Panthers had one last chance and drove into the red zone, but a pair of incomplete passes from the 16-yard-line ended the threat and allowed Washington to run out the final seconds after holding on downs.
"Some throws got away from me today. Some passes got away from certain receivers but, at the end of the day, we just have to find ways to win football games and I can't stress that enough,"Newton said afterwards.
Newton completed 27 of his 40 pass attempts for 275 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, and added 43 yards on nine rushes. Tight end Greg Olsen made a few big plays in his first game back from injury, finishing with four receptions for 48 yards. Wide receiver Devin Funchess led the team with 74 receiving yards and a touchdown while Smith caught all five of his targets for 43 yards and a score.
Washington quarterback Alex Smith went 21-for-36 for 163 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Adrian Peterson earned 97 yards on 17 carries.
In a bright spot for the defense, linebacker Thomas Davis made his 2018 debut and finished with six tackles and two deflections. Three different players earned a sack in the loss, including defensive end Julius Peppers as he inches closer to becoming third all-time in that category.
"It's a four-quarter game and when you don't play well in the first quarter-and-a-half, you make it hard on yourselves and we did," said head coach Ron Rivera. "We, as coaches, need to go back and evaluate this and make sure we're putting these guys in position to have success."
Early turnovers created a huge hole for Carolina. The defense forced a three-and-out on Washington's first drive of the game, but a fumble by rookie wide receiver DJ Moore on the punt return gifted the Redskins with great field position. Smith would capitalize on the mistake with a 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis - the pair's 31st TD dating back to their days in San Francisco - to give the Redskins a quick 7-0 lead.
After Smith kept Washington's second drive alive with a QB sneak on fourth-and-1, the Redskins would complete a few chunk plays to set up a 2-yard pass from Smith to wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr. to increase their lead to 14-0.
Newton looked to build steam on Carolina's third drive, connecting on four straight passes, two of which found Olsen for a combined 23 yards. The momentum would be short-lived as former Panthers cornerback Josh Norman climbed the ladder to snag a long Newton pass intended for Funchess. The interception was Norman's first in 20 games.
Turnovers would continue to plague Carolina later in the second quarter when Norman forced a fumble after a completion to Moore - his second giveaway of the day - to set up a Washington field goal for a 17-0 lead.
The Panthers ended a tumultuous first half with a seven-play, 75-yard drive capped off by an incredible touchdown catch by Funchess over Redskins cornerback Quinton Dunbar. Kicker Graham Gano would miss the PAT but Carolina narrowed the deficit to 17-6 heading into halftime.
The third quarter started with promise. A Davis pass break-up on fourth-and-4 forced a Washington turnover on downs. His defense turned into offense as Carolina put together an 11-play, 47 yard drive that ended with a 32-yard Gano field goal to cut the deficit to 17-9. Hopkins would respond with a career-high 56 yarder to give the Redskins their fourth scoring drive and a 20-9 lead.
Carolina will now regroup and travel to Lincoln Financial Field in Week 7 for a matchup against the reigning Super Bowl Champion Eagles and quarterback Carson Wentz.