The direction of the Redskins' season changed Sunday, and it's obvious where they're now headed. And it's not in the direction they want. They continue to make bad mistakes. They continue to lose games. They continue to be a bad team.

At 3-6, that's the only conclusion that can be drawn after yet another frustrating home loss. It was Carolina's turn to beat them, handing the Redskins a 21-13 loss at FedEx Field, their third straight. Two weeks ago the Redskins were about to turn their season in a different direction, leading the Giants off a late score. Disaster followed, as did a loss, and that led to two more.

Instead of talking about a hot streak, the Redskins now are talking about words only losing teams play for: pride, jobs, etc. The Redskins dubbed Sunday a must-win game and somehow let a 1-6 team beat them.

"When you lose a game like that," Redskins coach Mike Shan?ahan said, "now you're playing to see who obviously is going to be on your team for years to come. Now we have a chance to evaluate and see where we're at. Obviously we're not out of it statistically. Now we find out what kind of character we have and how guys keep on fighting throughout the rest of the season."

That's quite a statement to be uttered on Nov. 4.

"When things aren't going well, you definitely see who really wants to play football," Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said. "I understand him saying that. Guys can go one way or another, especially at this point in the season. He talks all the time about the character of a team. True character will show."

No, the Redskins are not eliminated from the playoffs. Not mathematically at least. It would take a major hot streak just to reach .500. But any talk of three straight wins to get back to that mark is folly; they need a win, and with the bye, they now have two weeks to contemplate their situation. It's not pretty.

"I'm tired of being subpar," Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "You don't play this game to finish last every year. So it gets very disappointing that you can't break out of this funk as an organization, where we can't come out and compete. We have talent. We just don't put it together consistently enough to play at a high level."

That was true Sunday. The Redskins, as usual, had good moments defensively. But they also allowed a 98-yard touchdown drive, a 91-yard touchdown drive and an 82-yard pass play. In other games the offense could compensate but not Sunday. The Redskins have scored just 25 points combined the past two games, and one reason they stumbled Sunday was penalties. They committed 13 for 97 yards. Add it to the list of woes.

"I didn't think we'd stumble into the bye like this," Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield said. "I've been in the league long enough to know you should never feel comfortable. We were never that hot. To think guys were feeling comfortable, I'm not sure why that would be the case."

Players point to Robert Griffin III's presence and the offense's potential as reasons they remain optimistic. The Redskins are running out of time.

"If you want to give up, you can give up," Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said. "I'm not giving up. I'll think playoffs. I'm not going to have a negative attitude. That's just a cancer. If they see me having a bad attitude, it will spread. We're not trying to throw our season away just yet."