Brian Orakpo sighed as he put on his white, red and yellow Jordan sneakers, exhausted from the Redskins' eighth loss of the season and the questions it raised.
The Washington Redskins linebacker missed 14 games with a torn pectoral muscle in 2012. He had high hopes for this year; hopes that look distant after a 27-6 loss to the 49ers at FedExField Monday Night.
"Obviously, we had a lot of high expectations, but this game was hard. You can't really live with what's going on with the past," Orakpo said.
"It's what have you done for me lately. Right now we're struggling."
The defense struggled again Monday night, giving up three touchdowns through the air to a team that entered the game ranked 32nd in the NFL in passing, but Orakpo continued to show signs of his old self, a player that set the Redskins' rookie sack record in 2009.
When the linebacker beat San Francisco tackle Joe Staley, a Pro Bowler for the past two seasons, to drop Colin Kaepernick for a 4-yard loss, Orakpo recorded at least one sack in his third-straight game for just the second time in his career.
Orakpo has not had such a consistent stretch of production since stringing together five sacks in three games during the 2010 season. As a rookie, he had four games in a row with at least half a sack.
"It's just kind of getting my groove back a little bit as far as the way I'm rushing," Orakpo said. "I'm able to go out there and make plays.
"It still sucks we lost."
Orakpo's 36 career sacks are fifth all-time in Redskins history. On Monday night, he also added three tackles, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit.
"Each week [Orakpo]'s getting better. You're talking about a guy who missed all last season," fellow linebacker London Fletcher said.
"From Day 1 in the offseason, he's really been a difference maker. He's made his presence felt. He's disruptive even though he doesn't always come up with a sack."
Orakpo said he used a flurry of pass rush moves against Staley on Monday night, mixing the speed rush with the bull rush, going inside and countering outside.
After the game, the pass rusher shook his head at the thought of losing to the 49ers when the defense had stopped the run so staunchly. The Redskins held Frank Gore to 31 yards rushing, his second-lowest total this year.
The 49ers only accumulated 76 yards on the ground as a team, their lowest total in the past two years. The 2.3 yards per carry was their lowest average in 40 regular season games.
Washington wanted to force Kaepernick to win from the pocket, and he did. "That's what surprising, because you hold [Gore] to 31 yards and you'd think you win the ballgame," Orakpo said.
"They're a run, run, run heavy team, but they found another way to keep the ball moving."