Mike Shanahan was all smiles when DeAngelo Hall's pick-6 put the Washington Redskins up 21-7 over the bumbling Denver Broncos early in the third quarter Sunday.
He slapped hands with those around him, congratulated his players and enjoyed the sound of silence — 76,939 fans who had stood before kickoff to salute the man who brought the city two Super Bowl wins in 14 seasons as the head coach now looked on in stunned disbelief, save for the few 'Skins fans here and there.
Shanahan's homecoming was going to be a happy one.
Then, everything went haywire on the Redskins.
The Broncos (6-1) scored the next 38 points, led by Peyton Manning's trio of touchdown throws, to ruin Shanahan's first game in Denver since his firing five years ago.
Robert Griffin III was on the sideline with Shanahan by the game's merciful end, having scraped himself off the grass after being pile-driven into the ground by 335-pound defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
"It's like a blur," Hall said. "Someone asked me what went wrong, what happened. To be brutally honest, I don't remember. I looked up at one point, 21-7. Felt good. Everybody's smiling. Turned around and it felt like it was 38-21. Don't really know what happened, what went wrong."
So much went wrong for the Redskins (2-5) that it was hard to keep up.
Three touchdown throws from Manning, including one on fourth-and-goal. A sack-strip by Von Miller. Montee Ball's first career touchdown run. A shanked punt that went 15 yards and led to a field goal. An interception at the Washington 25. Another by Rahim Moore at midfield. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie pick-6.
So certain backup quarterback Kirk Cousins couldn't catch him, Rodgers-Cromartie started high-stepping at midfield on his way down Denver's delirious sideline for a 75-yard TD to cap the Broncos seventh win in eight games.
Cousins was in because RG3 was out, having been squished by Knighton and grabbing his left knee — not the one with the brace that was surgically repaired in the offseason, but the other.
"Those two or three seconds when you have a 300-plus-pound guy laying on your legs, it's going to scare you a little bit," said Griffin, who was cleared by the team's doctors to return to the game before Shanahan nixed that notion.
"I feel fine right now," Griffin said afterward, noting he didn't need any further medical tests. With the game out of hand, he agreed, "there was no point in risking anything at that point."
Griffin took a beating even before Knighton knocked him from the game. He completed just half of his 30 throws for 132 yards. He threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. He was sacked three times and knocked down 15 more times.
His receivers had trouble getting open and the Redskins' vaunted ground game was bottled up by the league's best run defense. Although Alfred Morris ran for 93 yards, Roy Helu Jr. gained 11 and RG3 just 7.
The Redskins allowed Manning (30 for 44 for 354 yards) to overcome three interceptions with four TD throws, including three during a 31-0 fourth quarter that had Shanahan staring blankly by game's end.
The Redskins had trouble comprehending how they could have been blown out by 24 points after taking a 21-14 lead into the fourth quarter, but they insisted they didn't let their guard down when they went ahead by two touchdowns.
"It was still early, their offense is potent and scores a lot of points," nose tackle Barry Cofield said. "No way we felt the game was over at that point. You also don't expect to lose lopsided the other way after being up so late in the game."
Shanahan left town on a bad note once again.
"I was just disappointed. We were up 21-7. All we had to do was get a couple drives offensively going, keep Denver off the field and we could have dictated the outcome of the game."
He did appreciate the hospitality of his hosts, the pregame video tribute and the standing ovation.
"I thought it was great," Shanahan said. "Denver is just a classy place. It was nice of them to take that time to put something together. Great memories. Hopefully we can bring some of those memories back to the fans in Washington like we did in Denver."
Notes: The Redskins' five defensive touchdowns this season mark the most since 1994. ... The Broncos had never scored more than 28 points in a quarter.
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