When one feels lucky, one puts it to the test in Las Vegas — and Washington definitely beat the odds Sunday.
As I said in this week’s NFL Recap, the rather resilient Burgundy and Gold overcame a cross-country trip on a short week and played winning football in all three phases to knock off the Raiders for an improbable fourth straight win. The victory not only slides Washington up a spot in the NFC wild card race, but also sets up a division duel with first-place Dallas on Sunday that gives Washington the potential to cut the two-game deficit in half.
This win streak may have Washington fans of a certain age reminiscing about the glory years under Joe Gibbs. And, frankly, that’s not wrong.
An unheralded quarterback rises to prominence. A no-name defense plays well under the national radar. A team comes together in the face of key injuries. Sound familiar?
The common thread is, they’re underdogs in every sense of the word: overlooked and underrated by everyone outside their locker room.
Jonathan Allen said the team was motivated by “You guys, everybody who doubts us and doesn’t believe in us – and rightfully so” after Washington’s second consecutive 17-15 victory. “We’re not a star-studded roster. We don’t have those big celebrities. We’re not an L.A. or whatever the case may be. We just don’t care what anybody says; we believe in ourselves … Every NFL team is filled with stars, and for us to go out there and do that was huge.”
Washington has stars — definitely Chase Young, arguably Montez Sweat, Landon Collins and Ryan Fitzpatrick — but they’ve been sidelined for much, if not all, of this winning streak. Terry McLaurin is the biggest name currently playing, but his quiet, understated demeanor makes him the best receiver no one seems to know about — kind of like a modern-day Art Monk.
I’ve said for weeks Taylor Heinicke’s best-case closest comparison is Kurt Warner with a generous dash of Brett Favre, but he’s also got some Mark Rypien in him. Both Heinicke and Rypien were afterthoughts early in their careers; each had one magical season come together in their late 20s to spark a playoff run.
Rypien’s 1991 season, as you recall, ended with a Super Bowl XXVI victory to cap the greatest season in franchise history. I’m not suggesting Washington’s current iteration can replicate a run that deep, but the ingredients appear to be in place — and Rivera is basically using that as the team’s rallying cry.
I’m also not suggesting Washington will win out, but if they did, it would be their first 11-win season in the 30 years since the last real championship run. Given Dallas has a two-game lead in the division and there’s a big cluster of teams vying for the last two wild card spots, falling below .500 won’t cut it this year — Washington can’t afford to lose more than once during this five-game, season-defining NFC East gauntlet, and it dare not come against the Cowboys.
The Burgundy and Gold have certainly come close to some heartbreaking losses during this streak. They narrowly avoided some late-game Russell Wilson magic last Monday night. On Sunday, Raiders safety Trevon Moehrig dropped an almost-certain game-clinching interception of Taylor Heinicke on Washington’s final drive. That led to Brian Johnson’s knuckleball of a game-winning kick, which had us on the edge of our seats until the very moment the referee’s arms went up.
Heinicke’s near-pick six aside, it’s hard to have faith in anything flourishing in spite of Dan Snyder’s ruinous ownership, but we just saw the Washington Spirit win a NWSL championship amid years of dysfunction and toxicity coming to a head, right over their heads.
Could we see lightning strike D.C. twice? The most likeable Washington Football Team since Gibbs left town has at least made it plausible.