They weren’t going to win nine straight, right?
Sometimes, a playoff drive stalls. Washington’s 27-20 loss to Dallas feels about right after back-to-back 17-15 wins over Seattle and Las Vegas. But for one shining moment, it looked as though this team was going to rally for another fantastic finish in the fourth quarter. But just like you can’t expect to win the make the playoffs after starting the season 2-6, you can’t expect to win after spotting a playoff contender 24 first-half points.
Taylor Made on the Mend: Heinicke completed 11-25 passes for 122 yards, a touchdown and an interception before leaving with a knee injury. It was his lowest-rated outing since the loss to New Orleans. He also lost a fumble that was returned for a Cowboys touchdown in the first half. Kyle Allen rallied the team to a fourth-quarter score and completed 4-9 passes for 53 yards while losing a fumble. Heinicke’s one of many question marks for the Philadelphia game.
Running Aground: Antonio Gibson carried the ball ten times for 36 yards while catching two passes for five yards and losing his fourth fumble (most for any running back this fall). Jarret Patterson added 29 yards on four tries, while Jonathan Williams added 16 yards on four carries. The offense that lived by the run only had 23 attempts (with five of those coming on quarterback runs or scrambles). But it’s tough to stay committed to the run when you’re down 24-0 at the half or when your top back keeps putting the ball on the field.
Pass Catch Fever: Terry McLaurin didn’t register a reception on four targets before suffering a concussion. Cam Sims caught three passes for 69 yards and the team’s first touchdown while Adam Humphries added four receptions for 34 yards. Six other receivers caught passes against the Cowboys.
Third and Rough: The team converted 3-14 money downs with 12 pass plays and two runs called. Heinicke completed 3-8 passes for one conversion while Kyle Allen went 2-2 with one conversion. Each was sacked once, with Allen fumbling in the fourth quarter on the play that slammed the team’s window of opportunity shut. Humphries was the top target (three passes thrown to with one reception that moved the chains). Yardage breakdown: 1-3 on short-yardage, 1-3 on four to six yards needed, and 1-8 on long-yardage. It’s tough to move the marker when 57% of your money downs need seven yards or more.
D earns a C: What do we take, the 24 points (and 226 yards) allowed in the first half or the three points (and 82 yards) given up after intermission? Cole Holcomb led the way with eight tackles, and an interception returned for a touchdown, while Landon Collins added two sacks and an INT. The defense notched four sacks (their most since their Oct. 31 loss to Denver) while holding the Cowboys to 7-17 on third down, not including the game-ending kneel-down.
Special Situations: Tress Way averaged 50.9 yards on his seven punts while Brian Johnson’s lone extra-point attempt of the day was blocked. One of Johnson’s four kickoffs was a touchback with the other three landing at the Dallas 5, 7, and 8-yard lines. DeAndre Carter had kickoff returns of 20 and 28 yards while there were no punt returns. Punt coverage allowed returns of zero, one, and four yards, while the kick coverage team allowed returns of three, 15, and 21 yards.
Flying Flags: Seven penalties for 65 yards, plus two declined and one offsetting flag. Four of the accepted penalties were on offense (false start, pass interference, holding, delay of game) and three were on defense (pass interference, offside, roughing the passer). False starts (15) and offensive/special teams holding (13) remain the leaders in the clubhouse while William Jackson’s pass interference gives the cornerback a team-high seven penalties this fall. The most costly infraction? I’m going with a defensive offside on a third and ten from the Washington 12 that moved the ball to the seven. The Cowboys scored a touchdown on the next play and took an 11-0 lead.
Digesting the Division: Dallas (9-4) owns the best mark in the East and would take the fourth seed in the NFC if the playoffs began today (and for the record the playoffs do not begin for another month). The Cowboys victory also puts them within shouting distance of their first NFC East title since 2018, as a win next weekend plus a Washington-Philadelphia tie (a guy’s gotta dream) clinches things. Washington (6-7) is in second place thanks to a better division record than the Eagles (1-1 to 0-2), and the WFT slip from the sixth to the seventh seed in the NFC due to owning a better conference record (5-3) than Minnesota (4-4) and Atlanta (3-6, plus they beat the Falcons in October). Philadelphia (6-7) is in third place of the division and in ninth place of the conference while the New York Giants (4-9) are closing in on a last-place finish in the East and are 14th in the NFC thanks to barrel-scrapers Chicago and Detroit. The G-men may be out of contention for the division, but they’re still in contention for a Wild Card spot.
Comparing the Quartets: The NFC West (31-21) owns the best record of the divisions and may get three playoff teams again this year while the AFC West (30-22) and AFC North (28-23-1) are close behind and may very well do the same. The NFC East (25-27) is tied with the AFC East for fifth-best but already has more wins than they did in last year’s nightmare of a season. That role this year is being played by the AFC South who has 50% of the double-digit loss teams at this point.
Elimination Island: Houston has company this week with Jacksonville, Detroit, and the New York Jets joining them in the world of non-contention. The beauty of the seventh playoff team and 17-game regular-season delivers more teams in contention past the midway point of December even if they’re not worthy of being in the playoffs.
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