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Redskins Are A New Team Since Last Playing The Panthers

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The Redskins were beaten handily by the Panthers last year in a game that included five turnovers. Since then, Washington has made some major strides.

Left tackle Trent Williams knows exactly how to describe the Redskins' 44-16 loss to the Panthers last November.

"We went up there and got outclassed," Williams said. "There wasn't too much else to say about that one. It was our worst loss of the season, so they got after us pretty good."

It was last season's largest margin of defeat, a somewhat understandable outcome considering Carolina's flirtation with perfection in 2015 and an offense that could only be stopped by the Denver Broncos in last February's Super Bowl.

"Last year they were hot – I mean, red hot," head coach Jay Gruden said. "Cam [Newton] was putting up numbers that not many quarterbacks have in the history of the NFL."

The Redskins certainly didn't help themselves in November's affair. The offense was responsible for five turnovers and while Washington kept the game close in the early going, Carolina took away momentum with a couple of penalties and good field position and never looked back. As they prepare to face each other for "Monday Night Football," both have changed considerably since then.

Since the Panthers rescinded cornerback Josh Norman's franchise tag last spring, and since he joined the Redskins days later, Carolina has struggled to find the same consistency on defense. Quarterback Cam Newton has struggled with a shakier offensive line and an offense that seemed unstoppable last season now ranks 19th in yards per game and 13th in points per game.

In other words, the Redskins will be facing a different team, or at least a team in a different situation, than the one they remembered. So will the Panthers.

The Redskins have made significant strides since their visit to Carolina last year, most notably in their mentality. While Washington won its division, much of the season was a work in progress, finding a rhythm with each other under general manager Scot McCloughan and plenty of new faces on the coaching staff. This year, expectations have been higher.

"I think a lot of guys who were still here from last year dealt with, or understand, the adversity from last year," safety Will Blackmon said. "Last year was an interesting year because it was Scot's first year as GM, there were a lot of moving parts and that's just how it was. So guys know now what it takes. It's a grind, every game's been a grind to the last second. Right now it's cool to have a winning record and make a run to the playoffs."

Quarterback Kirk Cousins was thorough in his memories of the Panthers' game last season, in which he managed a 48.4 quarterback rating. He remembered with specificity a few of the mistakes he made against the Panthers defense, and how he believes he's moved past some of those younger errors.

"One was an overthrow to DeSean for an interception," Cousins said. "You'd like to think that that ball would maybe would be thrown a little bit more accurately now. You'd like to think so. I'm still going to miss throws but you'd like to think that as you get better those plays don't happen. One was a corner blitz that ended up hitting me in the back and I fumbled. One was a short edge where I was looking left and I fumbled getting stripped. Another one was a running back fumbled.

"You just hope that as a football team you're a little more mature and you protect the ball better and can avoid those turnovers."

Cousins has proven this to be true, throwing 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He's also established better rapport with wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who has been at his disposal for the majority of the season, unlike in 2015.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera sees a much different quarterback on film this year than the one he prepared for last year.

"The young man has gotten better and better," Rivera said. "He's got a tremendous amount of confidence and I thought he finished last year on a strong note for the team. Watching him this year, he's in that same mode. I see him building his confidence. I see him making good decisions, delivers a good ball, has got the ability to make most throws, you know? He's a very headsy guy. I think he has got great command of Coach [Jay] Gruden's offense and I really do, I see why they like who he is."

With that production has come a greater command of the offense, which has seen production from a variety of contributors. The Redskins have four players with more than 500 yards receiving (tight end Vernon Davis has 498), with wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon and Jamison Crowder each already eclipsing 700 yards each.

"When you look at them, there's a lot more to who they are now because they're a year more into their system," Rivera said. "That group has really come along. You see their offensive line playing better and better and better and better. This is one of those things where the more consistency you have at a position – especially at offensive line – the better they're going to be."

Acknowledging all of that perspective, but respectfully unwilling to let it comfort him, defensive end Ricky Jean Francois is approaching this rematch with the Panthers as just another obstacle on the Redskins way to a playoff berth.

"I understand most people call this a redemption game or a game we own, this is just another game we play to make sure we get into the playoffs," Jean Francois said. "What happened last year, happened last year."

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