Commanders Corner: Double dip against division leaders doesn’t begin well

We’re going to call the Commanders 20-17 loss to Minnesota on Sunday the “seeing your ex and not getting jealous but not really being happy with your relationship status at the time” game.

Kirk Cousins came back to FedEx Field for the first time since he left via Free Agency after the 2017 season, and while he hasn’t been wildly successful with the Vikings he’s provided that team starter stability as opposed to the hot mess that has been the Burgundy & Gold. On Sunday, he was just good enough to lead the Vikings past his former team (but for the record, once again they failed to cover).

The come-from-ahead defeat prevents the team from snaring the third Wild Card in the NFC, and gives them plenty of things to think about entering the Monday Night Football showdown with division-leading Philadelphia.

Taylor Time: Heinicke hit 15-28 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns while tossing an interception. He was sacked three times and had four runs for 17 yards. We saw the roller coaster in full force, from his 49-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel to his fourth quarter interception.

Running in Place: So much for the “Thunder & Lightning” talk surrounding Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson as the duo combined for 80 yards on 24 carries. Each had a third down attempt as Robinson was stuffed and Gibson moved the chains. The biggest run was an end-around by tight end Armani Rogers for 24 yards on a third and one.

Pass Catch Fever: Curtis Samuel caught three passes for 65 yards and a touchdown, while Terry McLaurin made five grabs for 56 yards. McLaurin is now on a pace for 71 catches and 1,150 yards while Samuel’s on pace for 85 receptions and 859 yards (a world of difference from last year). Now if they can only get Jahan Dotson and his hamstring healthy enough to reform the trio. Remember the 28 and 27 points scored in the first two weeks? Meanwhile tight end Armani Rogers made his biggest impact on a third down run that moved the chains.

Washington Commanders wide receiver Curtis Samuel (10) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Third and Ouch: The team converted 3-10 third downs and were assisted by a pair of penalties that moved the chains for them. Heinicke completed 2-4 passes for one conversion while getting sacked twice and scrambling once (it failed to meet the marker). They ran three times on third down, with Armani Rogers and Antonio Gibson getting the job done while Brian Robinson was stopped short. Samuel was the top option, making two catches on three targets with a conversion.

Yardage breakdown: 3-5 on third and short, 0-2 when four to six yards were needed, and 0-3 on third and long. Not to put on burgundy colored glasses here, but it’s nice to see half of your third down chances needing three yards or less.

Defense Bends and Finally Breaks: The D held the Vikings in check for most of the day, from holding on 9-16 third downs to intercepting Kirk Cousins in the end zone (thank you Danny Johnson). Camren Kurl led the team with 11 tackles, while Daron Payne tallied a sack among his six stops. But when they needed to shut the door on Minnesota in the fourth quarter, they allowed drives of nine and 15 plays that led to field goals and chewed up a combined 9+ minutes.

Special Situations: Tress Way averaged 48 yards on five punts, with one touchback and three others landing inside the 20. Joey Slye connected on a 44-yard field goal while converting both of his extra point attempts. Three of his four kickoffs were touchbacks. Antonio Gibson had kickoff returns of 23 and 45 yards-the 45 yarder set up the go-ahead touchdown in the second half. Four of the six punts fielded by Dax Milne were returned for 11+ yards (one was wiped out by penalty).

Flying Flags: Washington was penalized only three times for 26 yards, with two of those whistles coming on special teams (holding, unnecessary roughness) and one on defense (pass interference). Rachad Wildgoose’s hold gives him the team lead with five infractions (the other four are defensive pass interference). The other two penalties were rather costly: Benjamin St. Juste’s pass interference took a pick six off of the board, while John Ridgeway’s unnecessary roughness allowed Minnesota to burn 1:40 of the remaining 1:52 in the fourth quarter.

Digesting the Division: Philadelphia (8-0) remains atop the NFC East and owns a one-game lead for the best record in the conference while Dallas (6-2) owns second place and the fifth seed thanks to their week two win over the New York Giants (6-2). Washington (4-5) is ninth in the NFC … for now.

Comparing the Quartets: The NFC East owns the best composite record at 24-9, just ahead of the hard-charging AFC East (23-12). The NFC South (13-23) becomes the new division of depression with New Orleans’ loss to the Ravens on Monday Night Football. Monday’s game also titled the inter-conference contest with the AFC taking a 19-18 lead.

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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