The Western Force dealt the Reds a surprise home defeat on Saturday, overpowering the 2011 champions for a 19-12 Vodacom Super Rugby win in Brisbane.
The Reds, chasing a 23rd win from 26 home matches, never came close to their fluent best in a hard-fought encounter with Quade Cooper below par and handling errors throughout the team in the face of some ferocious pressure.
Alfi Mafi scored the only try and Sias Ebersohn kicked 14 points for the Perth outfit, who started the match next to last in the overall standings and were unlucky not to clinch their first win of the season by a bigger margin.
"We're bitterly disappointed with that performance," said Reds captain Will Genia, who made his comeback from a knee injury.
"It's very poor. We got a little possession there but we got carried over there trying to do silly things and we got what we deserved."
There could have been more tries for the visitors but for some valiant defending by the Reds and some bad luck for the Force, who have now won at all four of their Australian Super Rugby rivals.
There was some good news for the Reds, however, with the return of scrumhalf Genia after more than six months out following knee reconstruction.
After David Pocock and Berrick Barnes were injured on successive weekends, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans would also have been pleased to see Genia come through 40 minutes of rugby unscathed.
The game had mostly been a scrappy contest of handling errors and kicking, with the Reds winning 9-6, until Force scrumhalf Alby Mathewson broke artfully in midfield.
Dropping his shoulder and surging into space, Mathewson offloaded to Mafi, who headed diagonally to the left corner and, although he was tagged by the chasing Genia, managed to ground in the corner.
Ebersohn slotted the conversion from out wide and the Reds could respond only with Cooper's fourth penalty before the break.
The Force looked on course for another try after the interval as they rumbled toward the line but lost the chance when hooker Nathan Charles momentarily lost his grip on the back of the maul and was whistled by referee Angus Gardner for rejoining.
With the Reds down to 14 men for Ed Quirk's yellow card for a shoulder barge, Force replacement Solomoni Rasolea thought he had scored after chasing and grounding a loose ball, but the TV official ruled that he had lost control for an instant while rolling toward the line.
The Force camped deep in Queensland territory for long periods and Ebersohn extended the lead to seven points with his fourth penalty after James Slipper was penalised at the scrum.
Reds – Penalties: Quade Cooper (4).
Force – Try: Alfi Mafi. Conversion: Sias Ebersohn. Penalties: Ebersohn (4).