Washington began its five-game gauntlet of NFC East foes knowing they’d need to win three or four games (although some thought a 2-1-2 record would suffice) to keep its playoff hopes alive.
Unfortunately, a bad first half against Dallas and a slow fade after a fast start against Philadelphia has the team a game back in the Wild Card race at 6-8.
Tuesday’s 27-17 loss to the Eagles involved a roster reconfigured due to 20+ players going on the COVID-Reserve list that included a quarterback signed off the scrap heap. Though for the record, it’s a plucky scrap heap — Garrett Gilbert is now on his fourth regular season roster and has been on four practice/offseason squads.
Unfortunately. the defense that shined so much during the November surge — 17.5 points allowed per game– came up short Tuesday night after taking a 10-0 lead as the Eagles ripped off scoring drives of 75 yards on eight plays, 77 yards on 11 plays, and 75 yards on six plays.
Meanwhile, the Burgundy and Gold managed eight yards on eight plays from scrimmage over its first two possessions after halftime. It’s not over, but the team can see elimination from where they currently stand.
It’s not Gilbert Garrett, it’s Garrett Gilbert!: The third starting quarterback of the season completed 20-31 passes for 194 yards while getting sacked twice. And he wasn’t just dealing up the short stuff, dialing up passes of 29 and 46 yards. The guy who was practicing in Foxboro one week ago more than held himself well in the prime time spotlight. Does he start against Dallas in week 16?
Running it back : Antonio Gibson was held to 26 yards on 15 carries, a far cry from his average during the four-game winning streak. Gibson added a team-high six catches for 39 yards, but it was obvious the team was missing second-leading receiver and third-leading rusher J.D. McKissic (on Injured Reserve with a neck injury). Jaret Patterson’s 13-yard carry on the final play of the night gave the team 63 for the game right at three yards per carry.
Pass catch fever: Terry McLaurin caught a pair of passes for 51 yards while three of his four targets came on third down (one catch for a conversion). Fifteen of Gilbert’s targets went to wideouts, eight went to tight ends (Ricky Seals-Jones had four catches for 29 yards) and seven went to running back Antonio Gibson.
Third and not enough: The offense moved the chains on 6 out of 13 attempts, converting 2 out of 3 runs and 5 out of 10 pass plays. Gilbert completed 5 of 9 passes for four conversions while getting sacked once. His top target? Five throws to Adam Humphries (plus a pass interference that moved the marker) that yielded three catches and two conversions. Antonio Gibson converted on two of this three runs — all coming in the first half. Yardage breakdown: 4 of 6 on short-yardage, 1 of 2 when four to six yards were needed, and 1 out of 5 on long-yardage.
D earns a C: Anytime you allow over 500 yards, it’s not ideal. The unit began with a bang, turning the Eagles over on their first two possessions with Landon Collins notching an interception and a fumble recovery that set up 10 points.
Unfortunately, they allowed the Eagles to score on their final two possessions of the first half followed and then gave up a touchdown to begin the second half.
For a defense in the top five of the NFL at stopping the run, coughing up 238 yards on the ground spelled doom. In addition to Collins, Jeremy Reaves led the team with 12 tackles (you know how I feel about a DB leading the team in that category) with Cole Holcomb and Jamin Davis each registering 10 stops. Holcomb has quietly become Mister Consistency with his sixth double-digit tackle effort (he’s got two more games with nine stops and another with eight tackles).
Montez Sweat’s return saw the defensive end notch a sack while Jonathan Allen and rookie Bunmi Rotini also tackled Jalen Hurts in the backfield. All told, the defense allowed 7 of 13 third down conversions, including 6 of 9 on third and manageable (fewer than seven yards needed).
Special situations: Tress Way averaged 48 yards on his five punts while Brian Johnson made both of his extra points and converted his only field goal attempt (22-yarder) while one of his four kickoffs was a touchback. Kickoff coverage allowed returns of 17, 23, and 31 yards while punt coverage surrendered returns of 1, 10, and 11 yards. DeAndre Carter notched kickoff returns of 28 and 39 yards while the team did not return any punts.
Flying flags: Only two accepted penalties for 25 yards plus one (defensive offside on Jonathan Allen) that was declined during a made field goal attempt by the Eagles. One penalty was on offense (blind block on Saddiq Charles) and the other was on special teams (a hold on a kickoff return by Nate Orchard). While technically the flag on Orchard was a 10-yarder (marked from the infraction), the penalty turned a 1st & 10 from the Washington 48 into a 1st & 10 from the 30. They ended the first half at the Eagles 48, well out of field goal range (18 yards closer would mean a 47-yard field goal for the intermission lead).
Digesting the division: Dallas (10-4) can wrap up the NFC East the night after Christmas with a win or a Philadelphia loss, and the Cowboys currently hold the second seed in the conference standings (better NFC records than Tampa Bay and Arizona).
Philadelphia (7-7) with its win takes over second place and is tied for the third Wildcard with Minnesota and New Orleans, and while a better NFC record (5-4) puts both teams ahead of the Saints (5-5) the Vikings own the common opponents record tiebreaker.
Washington (6-8) drops to third in the East and 10th in the conference due to their wee four win over Atlanta.
The New York Giants (4-10) haven’t wrapped up last place yet, but they have the cellar in their sights. Unless Washington makes it their mission.
Elimination Island: Chicago (4-10) makes the uninvited party list five with their Monday night loss to Minnesota. Those who have seen this team play even once this fall are wondering how it took this long to be done for 2021.
Tis the season to be clinching: Green Bay (11-3) became the first team to wrap up a playoff berth with their 31-30 win at Baltimore. Get ready for this weekend where three divisions and at least one more playoff spot could be locked up.