Burgundy and Gold Grab Bag: Bring on the Buccaneers!

Alex Smith practiced multiple days this week, a huge step towards returning to the field Sunday night, but nothing is certain yet.(Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports/Joe Camporeale)

PLAYOFFS!? Yes, Washington is in the postseason for the first time since 2015 thanks to their 20-14 win at Philadelphia.

The “SEC of the NFL” was more Sun Belt in 2020, with the 7-9 record tying for the worst ever for a division champ. And there are those who say the Eagles were tanking Sunday evening, especially when they inserted backup quarterback (and former Washington practice-squadder) Nate Sudfeld in the fourth quarter.

But the Washington Football Team is playoff-bound, and the season like none other gets to breathe for at least six more days. Bring on the Buccaneers.

Coming to a theater in 2022 — Alex Smith completed 22 of 32 passes for 162 yards while throwing for two touchdowns and tossing a pair of interceptions. Not the stuff dreams are made of, but he played well enough in the first half for WFT to lead them to a rare halftime lead.

And like in the Ryan Gosling movie “The Comeback,” which begins with Smith’s injury against Houston (there will be flashbacks regarding him being benched in San Francisco and Kansas City), the final scene will be the touchdown pass to Logan Thomas in the first half.

Smith finished the regular season with 1,582 yards passing over eight games with 6 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. His passer rating of 78.5 ranks 31st in the NFL. But we’ll focus on the film using James Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out” for his rehab/training montage.

Running to a Future — Antonio Gibson gained 75 yards on 19 carries to give the rookie 795 yards on the season (good enough for 20th in the league). Peyton Barber added 10 yards on four tries while J.D. McKissic caught five passes for 30 yards (a.k.a. the “long handoffs”) to finish the year with 80 catches, good enough for second on the team.

Run TMC — Terry McLaurin’s return gave the passing game a target it desperately missed last week against Carolina. The captain caught seven passes for 40 yards and his first touchdown since Nov. 8. The second-year player’s haul this year was 87 receptions for 1,118 yards and four touchdowns. His haul against NFC East foes was even more impressive: 40 grabs for 472 yards and three scores over six games. McLaurin caught seven passes in five of the team’s six division games this fall.

Meanwhile, Logan Thomas caught three passes for 37 yards and a touchdown, giving the tight end 72 receptions for 670 yard and six scores in his first season here.

Third and Troubling — Once again, a tale of two halves as WFT moved the chains on 6-15 attempts: from 5-8 before intermission to 1-7 in the last two quarters. If they convert any of those late chances, this doesn’t wind up a one-possession game.

Play breakdown was 11 passes and four runs. Barber moved the chains on both of his runs while Gibson had a nine-yard run on 3rd & 10 and a three-yard carry on 3rd & 4 on Washington’s final possession of the night. Smith completed 6 of 8 passes while getting sacked three times, converting four third downs with his arm.

The top target? McKissic saw three passes thrown his way, catching two with one conversion. Cam Sims caught both passes tossed his way to move the chains. Surprisingly, no passes were thrown to security blanket Thomas on the money down as has been the case for most of the season.

Yardage Breakdown: 1 of 3 on short-yardage, 2 of 7 when needing between 4 to 6 yards, 2 of 5 on long-yardage.

D earns an A for the semester — The defense finished 2020 ranked second overall (their highest ranking since 1974) as well as against the pass (WFT ranked third in defensive passing efficiency with an 81.4 rating). WFT allowed the fourth fewest points in the NFL (20.6 per game) and was the sixth stingiest on third down (opponents moved the chains 37.5% of the time) thanks in part to a pass rush that notched 47 sacks (sixth best in the league).

Jon Bostic led the team with 8 tackles against the Eagles and finished with a team-high 118 stops on the season while rookie Kamren Curl’s 88 tackles ranked second on the team. Montez Sweat recorded a sack, which gave him a team-high nine for the season, one and a half more than rookie dynamo Chase Young.

Special Situations — Dustin Hopkins kicked a pair of 42-yard field goals and made both of his extra points while sending all five of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. For the season, Hopkins ranked 24th in the league in connecting on 79.4% of his field goals and was 13th at 30-32 extra points. Six of his seven missed field goals were from 40 yards or longer.

Tress Way averaged 48.5 yards on his six punts and finished 2020 ranked sixth in the league with a 48.0 average. His net of 44.3 yards was fourth best in the league, and on Sunday, Washington held Philly to under five yards per return. Steven Sims had a 20-yard punt return and covered up his muffed punt this week.

Flying Flags — Washington was whistled five times for 56 yards, finishing the year with 87 (17th fewest in the NFL) penalties for 697 yards (12th fewest). Four were on defense (two holds, an unnecessary roughness and a pass interference) and the other was an offensive hold. For the season false starts (13) was the most common infraction, with offensive holding (12) a close second.

Sweat (10) was the most penalized player, with Morgan Moses and Jimmy Moreland tied for second with five flags apiece. Sunday’s most costly penalty? Actually three of them that occurred on the same drive: a defensive hold on Curl, a pass interference against Kendall Fuller (turning a 4th and 10 from the 30-yard line into a 1st down at midfield), and a defensive hold against Cole Holcomb that turned a 4th & 13 at the Washington 27 into a 1st & 10 at the WFT 15. Philadelphia would score their first touchdown three plays later and the potential rout had turned into a dogfight.

Digesting the Division — Washington (7-9) wins the NFC East for the third time since the 2002 realignment while the New York Giants (6-10) own the divisional record tiebreaker over Dallas for second place. Philadelphia (4-11-1) finishes in last place for the first time in four years. As the Eagles fall from first to fourth, there hasn’t been a repeat division champ since 2003-04 (Philly). While the WFT gets the 4th seed, the Giants finish 11th in the conference while the Cowboys are 12th. Philly (15th place) is kept out of the conference cellar by 4-12 Atlanta.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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