Commanders’ loss to 49ers was chaotic but their playoff path is simple

Commanders' loss to 49ers was crazy but the playoff path is simple originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

For the first half in Week 16, the Commanders and 49ers played an even matchup. It was encouraging for Ron Rivera’s side.

In the clash’s last 30 minutes — and particularly the final 15 — San Francisco’s superiority over Washington shone through. It was upsetting for Ron Rivera’s side.

Yet, despite the distressing finish at Levi’s Stadium, Ron Rivera’s side should be comforted by one thing: A trip to the playoffs is still completely within reach.

In fact, if the Commanders go on to defeat the Browns in Week 17 and the Cowboys in Week 18, they’ll be among the NFC’s seven postseason participants.

Quarterback change or not, two-game losing streak or not, criticisms of coaching or not, that’s simply the truth.

That should take at least a bit of the sting for Washington out of the 37-20 West Coast result — even if, for certain stretches, there was the possibility for so much more than consolation.

At the contest’s peak, the Wild Card hopeful took it to the Super Bowl contender. Taylor Heinicke’s offense was uncharacteristically converting third-and-longs and Jahan Dotson was dominating down the field, while the defense, featuring a charged-up Chase Young, was holding the Niners down.

The momentum disappeared eventually, though, and so did the poise Heinicke initially displayed versus one of the sport’s most relentless units. So, following a fumble and an interception, fourth-quarter mistakes that occurred in quick succession, Rivera chose to pull Heinicke and insert Carson Wentz. Wentz, to his credit, was sharp on his first drive, capping it with a six-pointer to Curtis Samuel.

In addition to that landmark lineup adjustment, the tilt included a 71-yard touchdown run by a San Fran wideout, a score each from Dotson, Samuel and Terry McLaurin, fourth-down stops by each team and three other giveaways. There was certainly no shortage of action in the Christmas Eve affair.

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Thanks to losses by the Lions, Seahawks and Giants, the Commanders’ flop fortunately won’t actually cost them in the standings.

Having established that, it’s not like that luck ought to totally wipe away what transpired on Sunday. Washington was thoroughly beaten, will likely be leaning on a new signal-caller, needs to figure out the health of Kam Curl and, finally, summon the energy to outdo Cleveland and Dallas. 

Regardless, there is reason to remain somewhat optimistic about this squad’s 2022 campaign extending into mid-January. The only issue is achieving that will require a rapid turnaround and, currently, the Commanders don’t necessarily look primed to pull such a reversal off.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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