ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins lost a 15-point lead on Sunday to the New Orleans Saints for a variety of reasons, mostly stemming from their own mistakes: a failure to gain less than a yard on third down, an inability to play well in coverage or tackle or make a stop.
They also were hurt by a call that perhaps should not have been made. The Redskins were called for intentional grounding when quarterback Kirk Cousins threw a ball away with 31 seconds remaining in the game with the Redskins in field goal range. The 10-yard penalty moved them back to the 44-yard line, and on the next play Cousins was sacked, resulting in a fumble and the end of regulation. The Saints went on to win 34-31 in overtime.
"It doesn't sit very well with me," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said of the call. "I can handle non-calls, but I can't handle calls that aren't calls if that's the fact."
One source said the league did contact Washington about the penalty, informing the team it should not have been called, confirming a report by USA Today. Regardless, Gruden said they will seek clarification from the NFL.
On the play, the Redskins were going to run the ball, Gruden said after the game. But the Saints countered with eight defenders in the box -- two defenders were creeping closer to the line in an apparent run blitz. So Gruden yelled for Cousins to throw the ball instead. None of the receivers clearly knew it might be a pass because all went to run block. However, because Cousins unloaded the ball right away in the general area of two receivers, the Redskins felt they'd be OK.
The NFL rule on intentional grounding states that the quarterback must be under duress. Cousins was not under duress.
"It is perfectly legal for a quarterback to overthrow a receiver or a receiver not to be looking and the ball fly over his head," Gruden said. "It happens all the time. He wasn't under duress. Maybe I don't understand the rule. We will get clarity on it, and if I'm wrong, I'm wrong. Costly mistake. If I'm right, then that's too bad.
"Kirk Cousins did what he was coached to do. I told him to throw it out of bounds. We have two receivers right there in the area. He wasn't under duress so that, to me, wasn't grounding."
That was just one among the litany of plays or calls that went against Washington late.
Having another timeout in that situation would have helped. But Washington was out of timeouts, partly because of a failed challenge on New Orleans' first scoring drive in the final six minutes. The Redskins challenged a catch by tight end Coby Fleener because, Gruden said, one assistant in the box thought he saw the ball move as Fleener hit the ground.
At the time, the Redskins held a 15-point lead.
"We needed a blow anyway, so it was worth a shot," Gruden said. "Bad challenge. I could have used that timeout later."
But that wasn't the only issue late in the game for the offense.
The Redskins failed to pick up a first down on third-and-1 from their own 34-yard line, leading to a punt and the Saints' game-tying drive. On the play, Washington needed perhaps half a yard for the first down. Earlier in the game they scored on a 1-yard run to the right side on second down, though with a different action by the linemen -- center Chase Roullier pulled to his right and there was no lead blocker. But they had picked it up.
This time, when the Redskins could have sealed the win, they failed to pick up a yard. Roullier got slowed in traffic, allowing inside linebacker Manti Te'o to shoot a gap unblocked. That froze lead blocker Niles Paul, who then had two free defenders to worry about -- Te'o and safety Vonn Bell on the outside. He blocked neither and both Te'o and Bell made the stop.
"We have athletic linemen that can pull and, for that front, we thought it'd be a good play," Gruden said. "But they made it -- we didn't."
The Redskins had just picked up 9 yards on the previous two runs -- but a lot of that was on Samaje Perine. On both runs, Perine dodged a defender in the backfield -- the first one missed an arm tackle attempt, but the second required him to cut hard inside to avoid a potential 2-yard loss.
With such little yardage needed, Gruden said they did consider a sneak. The Redskins' line did not generate any movement off the snap, especially on the inside.
"Sneak was an option," Gruden said. "They covered the center and both guards and we figured they were going to pinch down in there and stop the sneak, which basically they did.
"Maybe just throw it, but if I throw it and that's not successful, no telling what would have happened. You make a call in short yardage based on what you think can work."