Burgundy & Gold Grab Bag: Bedeviled by the big play

What do they say, figures do not lie but liars do figure?

The Washington Football Team’s 33-22 loss to New Orleans came on an afternoon where they outgained the Saints, had more first downs, and owned an 11-minute edge in time of possession. Turnovers were even and penalties were in Washington’s favor.

Yet they lost by double digits, thanks in part to a pair of big plays: Jameis Winston’s secondary-scorching 72-yard touchdown pass to Deonte Harris and Winston’s 49-yard Hail Mary at the end of the first half. Both plays seemed improbable until you saw the Washington defense trying to stop them and then each seemed unpreventable.

The 2-3 start is better than the past two seasons, but with games against Kansas City and Green Bay on the horizon, every loss stings a little bit more when it was there for the taking.

Taylor time: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke completed 20-41 passes for 242 yards but was intercepted twice as he posted his lowest passer rating of the season. But as Head Coach Ron Rivera said Monday, it’s only his sixth start. Could he have played better? Yes. But he is not the reason why this team lost Sunday. After five weeks, the formerly undrafted free agent’s rating ranks 22nd in the league.

Running aground: Antonio Gibson gained 60 yards on 20 carries and scored both of the team’s touchdowns while Heinicke added 40 yards on five attempts. The duo of Jarret Patterson and J.D. McKissic combined for six carries and 12 yards. But again, it’s tough to run the ball when you’re behind for a big chunk of the game.

Pass catch fever: Adam Humphries led the team with 73 yards on three catches while Ricky Seals-Jones had a team-high five receptions. Terry McLaurin and DeAndre Carter each had four grabs, with McLaurin on pace to finish with 93 receptions for 1,280 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Third down in the dumps: Washington converted 5-16 money downs, but only 1-7 in the second half. Heinicke completed 3-12 passes for two conversions, both on passes to Seals-Jones. The tight end was the top target (three) although McLaurin was thrown to three times on third down in the second half. He also got sacked once and scrambled to move the chains once. Patterson and Gibson each ran the ball once on third and short and converted. Yardage breakdown: 3-4 on short-yardage, 1-4 when needing 4-6 yards, and 1-8 on long-yardage. When half of your third downs need 7+ yards, you’re in trouble.

D earns a C: Washington actually kept the Saints in check for the bulk of the afternoon, holding on 7-11 third downs (they began the day near the bottom of the league). Cole Holcomb paced the team with seven tackles and his interception on the game’s first drive, setting up the team’s first points of the day. Chase Young notched his first sack of the season, which led to a fumble recovery by Daron Payne (Payne had the team’s other sack) and led to their first touchdown of the afternoon. But they allowed a 72-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and ended the first half by allowing a 49-yard Hail Mary for a score. And while the defense began the second half with consecutive three and outs, they allowed touchdowns on consecutive fourth quarter drives and couldn’t get off of the field at the end when it mattered.

Special situations: Tress Way averaged 51.3 yards per punt while Dustin Hopkins didn’t miss an extra point attempt and kicked field goals of 23, 24, and 45 yards. Four of his five kickoffs were touchbacks. DeAndre Carter had a 10-yard punt return while his kickoff returns were for 22 and 26 yards. Punt coverage allowed a 14-yard return while kick coverage surrendered a 27-yarder.

Flying flags: Five penalties for 37 yards, or their best day of the season (they were whistled five times for 38 yards in the loss at Buffalo). Four penalties were on offense (two holds, a false start and an ineligible man downfield) while the one flag on defense was a familiar face (William Jackson III’s unnecessary roughness call was his team-high fifth infraction of 2021). The most costly penalty? Jackson’s penalty turned a 1st & 10 at the Saints 49 into a 1st & 10 at the Washington 36 and New Orleans would score three plays later.

Digesting the division: Dallas (4-1) owns first place and would own the second seed in the NFC if the playoffs began today (they won’t for three more months). Washington (2-3) owns the division record tiebreaker over Philadelphia (2-3) and is one game out of the final playoff spot while the New York Giants (1-4) find themselves in 15th place of the conference (thank you Detroit).

West is best: The NFC West (13-7) owns the best record with four of those losses have come inside the division. The NFC East (9-11) is tied for fifth with the NFC North, standing just one game ahead of the AFC East. The weakest quartet remains the AFC South (5-15) with three of its five wins coming against itself. The NFC owns a 15-9 lead after five weeks (goal is to be the first to get to 48.5).

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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