LANDOVER, Md. — Kirk Cousins threw an interception and fumbled near his goal line as Washington coughed up its easiest path to the playoffs with a 26-15 loss to the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers on Monday night.

Washington (7-6-1) could have clinched a playoff berth by winning its final three games but now needs help. Carolina (6-8) kept its astronomical wild-card hopes alive and dealt a serious blow to Washington’s chances with two weeks left in the season.

After being picked off by Kurt Coleman in the first half to set up a Carolina field goal, Cousins was sacked by Wes Horton and fumbled on the first snap after halftime as the Panthers took over at the 1-yard line. They scored two plays later to take a 20-9 lead.

Cousins finished 32 of 47 for 316 yards with far too many missed throws in a game with such high stakes.

Reigning league MVP Cam Newton showed no ill effects from a shoulder injury suffered last week, throwing for 300 yards and two touchdowns as the Panthers took advantage of blunders by Washington, which lost its sixth consecutive Monday night home game.

It was Washington’s most lopsided loss since being routed 38-16 by Pittsburgh in the season opener, also on a Monday night.

BROWNS: RG3 is getting chance No. 3. And maybe his last one for the Browns.

Still looking for that elusive first victory, Coach Hue Jackson is keeping Robert Griffin III as his starting quarterback this week against San Diego for the Browns, who are desperately trying to avoid an 0-15 start and perhaps the second 0-16 season in NFL history.

“We’ll go out there and give him another opportunity to take a swing at it,” Jackson said.

Jackson had considered changes following Sunday’s 33-13 loss in Buffalo, the Browns’ sixth straight by double digits. However, after watching the game tape, Jackson felt Griffin made more progress in his second start since Sept. 11 and will give him another one.

 A torn finger ligament could keep wide receiver Terrelle Pryor out of Cleveland’s final two games. Pryor was hurt against the Bills.

Jackson said Pryor’s ability to play through pain will determine whether he’ll be on the field for Saturday’s home game against San Diego.

TEXANS: Tom Savage will start at quarterback for Houston on Saturday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Coach Bill O’Brien announced the decision on Monday, a day after Savage took over in the second quarter when Brock Osweiler was benched against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Savage threw for 260 yards to help Houston rally from a 13-point deficit for a 21-20 win in his first regular-season action since 2014.

O’Brien wouldn’t say if he planned to start Savage for the rest of the season, saying the team is focused on the Bengals.

Osweiler has struggled in his first season in Houston after signing a $72 million contract to join the Texans from Denver.

He threw two interceptions before he was benched on Sunday.

BEARS: Receiver Eddie Royal will miss Chicago’s final two games because of a toe injury.

Royal will become the 18th Bears player on injured reserve after Coach John Fox announced that the nine-year veteran is done for the year.

RAMS: Sean Mannion has only been active for one game this season for Los Angeles, as the backup quarterback in the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.

He could get back in the lineup Saturday – with a chance to start, too.

Starter Jared Goff is in concussion protocol after being knocked out of last Thursday’s 24-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks with a head injury. The rookie No. 1 overall draft pick participated in team meetings and a light workout Monday, and interim coach John Fassel said Goff is day to day.

VIKINGS: Adrian Peterson was hoping his faster-than-expected return would help catapult Minnesota into the playoffs.

Instead, the Vikings fell flat in a 34-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, a curiously uninspired performance that all but eliminated them from postseason contention.

Peterson, who had not played since September because of a torn meniscus in his right knee, had just 22 yards on six carries, including a crucial fumble in the first half on a rare trip into Colts territory.

Before he came back, Peterson said he would not play the remainder of the season if the Vikings were out of contention. He didn’t want to risk any further injury with an uncertain future. But after the Colts loss, Peterson said he planned to play Saturday in Green Bay.

JETS: Coach Todd Bowles says during a radio interview that a CT scan on Bryce Petty’s chest was negative and the quarterback could play Saturday at New England.