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Washington beaten by Panthers, fails to clinch NFC East

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon Zylstra (16) is surround by teammates after scoring a...
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon Zylstra (16) is surround by teammates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Football Team, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Landover, Md.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Published: Dec. 27, 2020 at 7:53 PM EST
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LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Dwayne Haskins turned the ball over three times before getting benched, Steven Sims muffed a punt return that turned into a Panthers touchdown and Washington blew its first chance to clinch the NFC East by losing to Carolina 20-13 Sunday.

Haskins was 14 of 28 with a fumble and two interceptions after starting in place of injured veteran Alex Smith, despite violating COVID-19 protocols last week. After being stripped of his captaincy and fined $40,000 for partying without a mask, he was stripped of the ball by Marquis Haynes in the first quarter and picked off by Tahir Whitehead and Tre Boston in the second.

Meanwhile, Washington’s defense allowed two Panthers touchdown drives and 202 yards in the first half alone. Had there been fans at FedEx Field, they would have booed Washington off the field at halftime.

Down 14 early in the fourth quarter, coach Ron Rivera pulled Haskins and handed the ball to Taylor Heinicke for his first NFL action since 2018 with Carolina. Heinicke was 12 of 19 for 137 yards in relief and threw a 29-yard TD pass to J.D. McKissic with 1:50 left.

With Rivera looking to get into the playoffs by beating his former team, the scene was instead eerily reminiscent of four years ago when Jay Gruden-coached Washington lost a potential win-and-in Week 17 matchup against the Giants, who like Carolina had nothing to play for.

New York’s loss earlier Sunday at Baltimore put the NFC East squarely in focus for Washington (6-9), which now must beat Jalen Hurts and the Eagles next week to wrap up the NFL’s weakest division.

Carolina (5-10) snapped a three-game skid behind 197 yards passing from Teddy Bridgewater and an opportunistic performance on defense and special teams. With Christian McCaffrey out again, Curtis Samuel had five catches for 106 yards and was the Panthers’ leading rusher with 52 yards on seven carries.

The Panthers host NFC South champion New Orleans next Sunday.

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