Burgundy & Gold Grab Bag: Sweet November sets up familiar December push

Do we have to turn the calendar page? The Washington Football Team won more games in November than they did in September and October combined, beating three Super Bowl quarterbacks in succession to do so.

The 17-15 stagger past Seattle wasn’t the prettiest win, but it puts coach Ron Rivera’s team in position to be in position. But those who have followed this team for the last 20 years should know that this is the proper order of battle for the Burgundy & Gold: the 2005 playoff team that started 5-6 and finished 5-0, the 2007 wildcard club went 4-0 after a 5-7 start, the 2012 RG3 team finished 7-0 after a 3-6 start, the 2015 Kirk Cousins crew went 4-0 after starting 5-7, and the 2020 team that began 2-7 won five of seven to make the playoffs.

It’s nice to cover a team playing meaningful games in December, especially since we know the alternative in these parts. Even if the December drive stalls, we’ll always have our sweet November. Watch the original Sandy Dennis version if you must instead of the Charlize Theron remake.

Taylor Made: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke completed 27 of 35 passes for 223 yards, a touchdown and an interception while running four times for 3 yards. The pick was a deflected pass and he was sacked once (a non-third down 4-yard loss). His 91.3 passer rating for the season ranks 19th in the NFL, right behind former first round picks Tua Tagovailoa and Patrick Mahomes.

Terrific Tandem: Antonio Gibson gained 111 yards rushing on 29 carries while adding seven catches for 35 yards to provide the thunder while J.D. McKissic provided the lightning with seven runs for 30 yards and a touchdown while catching five passes for 26 yards and Washington’s other score. Even though he left on a cart in the fourth quarter, the word from Ashburn is McKissic will be ready to play in Las Vegas. During the three-game win streak, the team has averaged 145 yards per game with a 38:54 time of possession. What year is this exactly?

Pass Catch Fever: Terry McLaurin and DeAndre Carter each caught four passes. While neither may have stretched the secondary as they did in previous weeks (McLaurin’s longest reception was 20 yards), that’s not where the completions were against the Seahawks defense. Tight end Logan Thomas in his return to the lineup added three catches and a near grab of a game-sealing touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Third and Fading: The offense moved the chains on 5 of 13 attempts, but failed to convert on their last five tries (going 1-2 on fourth down in the fourth quarter). They also moved the ball three times thanks to Seattle penalties (one hold, one pass interference, and the famous neutral zone infraction). Heinicke completed 4 of 6 passes for two conversions while his top target was McKissic (two catches on two passes thrown to) while Adam Humphries and Carter also helped moved the chains. Washington converted on three of seven running plays, with Antonio Gibson making 2 of 5 attempts, McKissic 1-1 and Jarret Patterson 0-1 on the night. Yardage breakdown: 4-8 on short-yardage, 1-3 when four to six yards were needed, 0-2 on long-yardage. What’s reassuring is that the team moved the ball well enough on first and second down to get into short-yardage on 5 of 13 money downs.

Defense Denies, Disrupts, and Dissolves: Seattle has scored more than 20 points just once since Oct. 3, and Washington held the Seahawks to just one touchdown through the first 59 minutes. But then Russell Wilson dialed up a drive, delivered a 32-yard touchdown pass and was a Kendall Fuller interception on the two-point conversion away from sending this one to overtime. Landon Collins, the “safebacker” (not a safety and not a linebacker), notched seven tackles while Kamren Curl added four stops with a sack. They also held D.K. Metcalf without a catch for the game’s first 58-plus minutes.

Special Situations: Tress Way averaged 43.6 yards per punt while Joey Slye kicked a field goal before having an extra point blocked and returned for a defensive two-point conversion. Slye then injured a hamstring on a return and missed the second half while Tress way sent a pair of kickoffs to the Seattle 3-yard line. Slye’s injury forced Washington into going for it on two late fourth downs in the red zone and cues up the fourth kicker (Brian Johnson) to arrive in Washington this fall. Carter had kickoff returns of 12 and 31 yards, and punt returns of zero and eight yards. Kick coverage allowed three 27 yard returns while there were zero punts returned.  The “good hands team” allowed an onside kick conversion by Seattle with under a minute to play that was wiped out due to an illegal procedure penalty on the Seahawks, and almost allowed the re-kick to wind up in enemy hands.

Flying Flags: Only four penalties for 38 yards with one offsetting flag (a hold on Brandon Scherff). The lineman would have a hold that would be accepted later in the game. There was also a false start (Cornelius Lucas) and a delay of game on the offense, while the lone defensive flag was a pass interference late in the fourth quarter on Kamren Curl. After twelve weeks, Washington has the seventh fewest penalties (62) in the league for the 12th fewest yards (560). False Starts (12) are almost one-fifth of that total, while the team has had 11 offensive/special teams holds. William Jackson III remains the leader with six penalties (none this past week) while Scherff is tied for second with four flags this fall. The most costly penalty? Scherff’s hold wiped out a 37-yard gain on fourth-and-1 from the Seattle 47-yard line that would have placed the ball at the Seahawk 10-yard line and turned it into a fourth-and-10 from the Washington 44. Instead of setting up the game-over touchdown, the ensuing punt would keep the drama alive.

Digesting the Division: Dallas (7-4) remains on top despite a second straight loss and their coach entering the COVID-19 protocol. The Cowboys currently own the fourth seed in the NFC. Washington (5-6) is in second place and owns the third Wildcard (seventh seed) thanks to a 5-2 conference record. Philadelphia (5-7) is in third place of the division and 11th place in the conference after their loss at the New York Giants (4-7). The Giants remain in last place and 13th in the NFC, but have won three of their last five.

Comparing the Quartets: Seattle’s loss ties the NFC West with the AFC West (both 25-19). The NFC East (21-24) is sixth best after another 2-2 week but still ahead of the AFC South (18-28 after an 0-4 week). The AFC is 31-27-1 against the NFC, putting the conference in position to win regular season bragging rights for the second straight season for the first time since 2008-10.

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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