NEW ORLEANS — The beginning of a playoff push appeared firmly in place for the Washington Redskins when they celebrated a touchdown giving them a 15-point lead in New Orleans with less than six minutes left.
What happened next left the Redskins mired in a slump.
They had no answer for quarterback Drew Brees, a resurgent New Orleans run game or a reinvigorated Saints defense in a stunning 34-31 overtime loss.
They also had few answers after the game for how they became so susceptible to such a collapse, or how costly it might have been for their postseason hopes.
“Perfect preparation prevents poor performance,” Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger said. “You don’t prepare right, you’re going to lose. It’s fair and simple. You play a playoff team and you don’t prepare right, you’re going to lose.”
Added quarterback Kirk Cousins: “There was pressure Week 1 when we were 0-0. There’s pressure if you’re 8-0. You just go one week at a time. It’s so cliché, but it’s the best way to operate.”
Washington must prepare on a short week for a critical Thanksgiving game against a division rival in the New York Giants.
For much of Sunday’s game, the Redskins (4-6) seemingly had solved the surging Saints and had a .500 record in sight.
Through three quarters, Brees was completing 62 percent of his passes with one interception and a 67.3 quarterback rating. New Orleans’ running game had just 87 yards.
Meanwhile, Washington had racked up 338 yards, with Cousins throwing two touchdown passes and 224 passing yards. The Redskins had converted 44 percent of their third downs.
And then the final six minutes of regulation happened.
Brees went 11 for 11 on New Orleans’ final two drives, leading the Saints to two touchdowns, including the game-tying 18-yard touchdown pass to Alvin Kamara.
“That’s what great quarterbacks do,” Swearinger said. “But at the end of the day we’ve got to make plays. It wasn’t like he was dicing us up. It was just guys, whether it was here or there, guys didn’t take their man.”
As well, Washington’s offense suddenly couldn’t get out of its own way.
Nearly in field goal range, Cousins was called for intentional grounding, then was sacked for a 9-yard loss to end the fourth quarter.
Less than three minutes later, the Redskins were watching New Orleans’ Will Lutz make a 28-yard game-winning field goal.
Now Washington has a tough road for postseason positioning.
“We just have to play hard, play fast, play strong, play to win, keep a good attitude, stay together, play together and understand it’s going to take a collective effort to win these next few games,” Washington tight end Vernon Davis said.
It won’t get any easier for Washington, which must finish its season without its top running back.
Chris Thompson, who had a 16-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, left the game with a broken right fibula in the third quarter.
“He’s one of the most important players on our offense, especially when you get the ball back and you need him for pass protection routes coming out of the backfield at the end,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said. “We’ll just have to obviously make do with the guys we have and we will.”