Burgundy & Gold Grab Bag: Playoff path goes through Panthers

Well, I guess now my 8-7-2 preseason prediction doesn’t look so ridiculous — I was thinking about 7-5-5 for a second, but wiser heads prevailed.

Washington’s 27-21 win over Carolina puts the team on the fringe of contention (just one game out of the sixth seed in the NFC) with a sinking Seattle team and a Las Vegas club in chaos before five straight against division foes.

Does anyone feel another December drive?

Taylor Made: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke completed 16 of 22 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns while running six times for 29 yards. No fumbles or interceptions. He’s drawing comparisons to Brett Favre, Trent Green and Alex Smith, and I’m sure Eddie LeBaron is not far behind.

Running with the Pack: Antonio Gibson gained 95 yards on 19 carries, and that was after taking a seat due to a first-half fumble. The 17-game season puts him on pace for a 1,000-yard year. J.D. McKissic adds 46 yards on seven tries while his one reception converted a fourth down. Lastly, Jarret Patterson carries seven times for 23 yards (his second biggest output of the season). All told, the 190 yards were the second most on the ground by the team this fall (195 in the loss at Green Bay).

Pass Catch Fever: Curtis Samuels wasn’t active against the Panthers, but Terry McLaurin made you think that perhaps the injured offseason acquisition was: TMC caught five passes for 103 yards and a touchdown, keeping him on pace for career highs in catches and yards. Another development has been the emergence of tight end John Bates: the fourth-round pick out of Boise State notched three catches for the second straight week to fill the void at an injury-ravaged position.

Third and Just Enough: The offensive converted six of 13 money downs and both fourth-down attempts. Heinicke competed three of nine passes for four conversions while also scrambling for a first down. His top option? Adam Humphries caught both passes headed his way with one turning into a first down and the other setting up a fourth-and-three that was converted. McKissic converted a third-and-one while Patterson was held short on his third-and-one rush. Gibson’s lone third down carry was a 7-yard pickup on third-and-10 late in the fourth quarter. Yardage breakdown: 2-4 on short-yardage, 2-3 on third and 4-6 yards needed, 2-6 on long-yardage.

D holds its own: Despite allowing 21 points, the defense held the Panthers to 2-9 on third down and a pair of fourth downs in the fourth quarter. Cole Holcomb paced the team with 10 tackles while 2018 first round pick Daron Payne and 2020 seventh-rounder James Smith-Williams shared the unit’s lone sack. There were two explosive plays (a Cam Newton 24-yard run for a touchdown and a 27-yard TD pass to McCaffery) they’d like to have back but considering the fact that they were minus Chase Young and Montez Sweat, the defense did what was necessary.

Special Situations: Joey Slye stays perfect in field goals (two for two with a long of 36) and extra points (three of three) while delivering five touchbacks in six kickoffs (the sixth was returned to the Carolina 25-yard line, so no harm done). Tress Way averaged 46.3 yards per punt with a long of 56, one inside the 20, and zero touchbacks. DeAndre Carter had kickoff returns of 23 and 30 yards, while there were no punts returned. Washington allowed the 21-yard kickoff return and one 10-yard punt return. Anytime the kicking game gets an inside page, it’s not a bad day.

Flying Flags: Eight penalties for 65 yards with one infraction (ineligible downfield pass) declined after a missed third down. Five were on offense (two delays of game, two false starts, plus the declined penalty), three were on defense (horse-collar tackle, face mask, unnecessary roughness) and one was on special teams (offsides while receiving a punt). The two false starts makes that infraction (11) the most-often called against the team this fall. The most costly penalty? Kamren Curl’s face mask in the second quarter that moved the ball from the Washington 39 to the 24. Newton scored on the very next play.

Digesting the Division: Dallas (7-3) leads the NFC East even though they failed to get a touchdown in their double-digit loss at Kansas City. The Cowboys own the 4th seed in the NFC, due to Tampa Bay holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. Philadelphia (5-6) is in second place and 9th in the conference while third-place Washington (4-6) is 11th. The New York Giants (3-7) are in fourth place and 13th in the conference (thanks to better NFC record than Seattle and Chicago).

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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