LANDOVER, Md. — Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III met on the field for a postgame embrace. Griffin said Newton offered his phone number and said to be in touch.
If Griffin makes the call, he might hear something he's already starting to learn: Enjoy being the new "it" kid – it might not last very long.
The first meeting of the last two Heisman Trophy winners went Newton's way Sunday, with the probably-going-nowhere Carolina Panthers beating the probably-going-nowhere Washington Redskins 21-13. Newton threw for a touchdown and ran for another to help his team break a five-game skid, while Griffin's team was kept out of the end zone until the final two minutes and lost its third straight.
"We're both two young quarterbacks in this league, trying to get better, trying to lead our teams to victory," Griffin said. "I told him that I think his team has a lot of talent and the possibilities are endless for them. I feel the same about our team."
Griffin's optimism is tempered by the harsh reality of a 3-6 record that is prompting coach Mike Shanahan to essentially throw in the towel as far as making the playoffs. Shanahan is 14-27 in his third season in Washington, and even the addition of a must-watch, rookie sensation like Griffin hasn't put the team at a point where it is set to play meaningful games in December.
"You lose a game like that, now you're playing to see who obviously is going to be on your football team for years to come," Shanahan said. "I'll get a chance to evaluate players and see where we're at. Obviously, we're not out of it statistically, but now we find out what type of character we've got and how guys keep on fighting through the rest of the season."
The Panthers are even further down the NFC totem pole, with a 2-6 record that has raised questions about team morale and leadership – just one season after Newton made a thrilling, RG3-like first impression on the league. For one week, at least, those questions get shoved aside.
"Winning solves a lot of problems, and losing puts you under a microscope," said Steve Smith, whose 19-yard reception in the second quarter was his first touchdown catch of the season. "We've got some older guys like myself, we've got some guys in the middle, and we've got some young guys. Everybody at different moments will have peaks and valleys throughout their career, and obviously for some of the young guys this is the depths of the valley. At the same time, when you go through things like this, you're going to learn."
Newton completed 13 of 23 passes for 201 yards, ran for 37 yards and engineered a touchdown drive with a bloodied thumb. His 1-yard scoring run was set up by his 82-yard pass to Armanti Edwards against the NFL's worst pass defense. Recently demoted DeAngelo Williams added a 30-yard touchdown, his longest run of the season.
Griffin hit 23 of 39 throws for 215 yards, ran for 53 yards and was sacked four times. But a tide-turning play came when he was stopped on a fourth-and-goal run at the 2, ending a drive that lasted 10:11 with no points and the Redskins trailing 7-3.
The Panthers responded by marching 98 yards, aided by personal foul and pass interference penalties and capped by the pass to Smith that put Carolina ahead by 11 at the half.
The Redskins cut the deficit to 14-6 with a field goal in the third quarter, but Edwards' catch set up Newton's touchdown run to give Carolina a 15-point lead early in the fourth.
Washington's only touchdown came on Evan Royster's 2-yard run with 1:28 remaining, and the Redskins finished with the same number of points as penalties. Already leading the league in infractions, they were whistled for 13 for 97 yards.
"That's what nauseates you," Shanahan said.
After the game, Williams reached into his locker and pulled out the Game Day program the Redskins sold to the fans. He and his teammates had found motivation by the fact that the Panthers were scheduled as Washington's "homecoming" game, which included throwback uniforms and appearances by dozens of former players.
"You don't give a team extra motivation by putting that on your program," Williams said. "Just blatantly coming out and saying, `You're our homecoming game.'"
NOTES: Griffin had sore ribs after the game. X-rays were negative. ... Other injuries: Panthers WR Kealoha Pilares (shoulder), Redskins WR Santana Moss (concussion). ... An official blew an inadvertent whistle during Williams' touchdown run, but the crew met and decided it did not affect the outcome of the play. "By the time the whistle blew, he had already crossed the goal line," referee Carl Cheffers told a pool reporter.