Commanders Corner: Locking up last place

Happy New Year!

The Commanders went from having the No. 6 seed in their grasp at the end of November to being out of playoff contention entering the final week of the regular season.

The 24-10 loss to Cleveland brought home many of the fears that had remained under the radar for most of the year: subpar quarterbacking, a spotty secondary, and a return game that didn’t do anybody favors.

The loss coupled with wins by Detroit and Green Bay pushes the Burgundy and Gold out of the playoff party with no chance of re-entry. A sixth straight non-winning season and no playoffs for the 13th time in 16 seasons (the end of the Joe Gibbs 2.0 era).

To top things off, they get a 4:25 p.m. game against Dallas at FedEx Field in Week 18, where the Cowboys will potentially be competing for a division title and the top seed in the NFC. Who’s ready for Dallas Week?

Wentz was Worse: Carson Wentz completed 16 of 28 passes for 143 yards while getting sacked three times. He also tossed interceptions on two of the team’s first three possessions and fans were crying for Taylor Heinicke early in the second quarter. But Wentz also tossed three straight completions on third down late in the first half to direct a scoring drive that ended with a run for the touchdown by the quarterback. Even with the second quarter spark, his days look numbered in D.C.

Running to Daylight: Brian Robinson Jr. ran for 87 yards on 24 carries while Jonathan Williams added 30 yards on nine tries. But the running back room missed Antonio Gibson and his ability to pose a threat in the passing game out of the backfield. Will he be healthy for the finale? And what will the room look like next year?

Pass Catch Fever: Logan Thomas was the No. 1 option with six receptions for 56 yards (more on him below), while the power trio of Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, and Curtis Samuel combined for six catches and 68 yards. McLaurin’s two catches for 25 yards were the fewest of each since the week four loss to Dallas. Dotson made three catches for 37 yards while Samuel had just one reception (and no end-around or reverse runs).

Third and Sporadic: Washington moved the chains on seven of 16 third downs, including five straight on their 11-minute second quarter touchdown drive (they went for it and scored on fourth and goal from the one). But after intermission, the team converted just 1 of 6 third downs. Wentz completed eight of 11 passes for five conversions while getting sacked once. Two of his three incompletions were first half interceptions. The team ran four times with Robinson and Jonathan Williams each meeting the marker once while being denied once.

The top option? Logan Thomas was thrown to four times and three of his four catches moved the chains. Yardage breakdown: 2-4 on short-yardage, 3-7 when needing four to six yards, 2-5 on long-yardage.

D Bends and Breaks: The absence of Benjamin St. Juste and Kam Curl hurt a secondary started strong by holding the Browns to 0-4 on third down in the first half while also holding strong on a fourth down and goal from the three. But the second half saw Washington allow four straight conversions on the money down, including a pair of touchdown passes. Amari Cooper recorded touchdown receptions of 33 and 46 yards while also making a catch of 26 yards on third down that set up Cleveland’s other TD.

The run defense allowed 7.4 yards per carry to Nick Chubb. Jamin Davis led the defense with nine tackles while two of Daron Payne’s five tackles were sacks (he has 11.5 on the season after recording 14.5 sacks over his first four years). What about Chase Young? One week after playing 30 snaps (58% of the defensive snaps) against San Francisco he was on the field for 30 snaps (67%) against Cleveland.

Special Situations: Perhaps the Browns won the game by keeping the Commanders’ best player off of the field. And yes, I’m referring to the three interceptions and two failed fourth downs going toward limiting Tress Way to just a pair of punts (he averaged 45 yards with a long of 48). Joey Slye made his lone extra point attempt and a 43-yarder with two of his three kickoffs going for touchbacks.

The lone return netted 23 yards from the goal line while punt coverage allowed a 10-yarder that gave Cleveland the ball at their own 37. Jarret Patterson returned three kickoffs for 22, 22, and 26 yards while Dax Milne’s lone punt return was for 15 yards (brought the ball to the Washington 20). The average starting field position for Washington Sunday was their 16-yard line after punt returns and their 24-yard line after kickoffs.

Flying Flags: Washington was whistled five penalties for 24 yards with two on offense (a pair of fourth quarter false starts), two on defense (offsides and too many men on the field), and one on special teams (offsides). The two false starts gave the team 16 on the season, two shy of the 18 offensive/special teams holds for the team lead. Rachad Wildgoose had a clean penalty sheet but still leads the team with seven infractions (Charles Leno’s false start gives him five flags which ties the lineman with St. Juste).

Sunday didn’t deliver a “most costly flag,” instead the “most beneficial infraction”: The offsides on Khaleke Hudson during a made 25-yard field goal gave the Browns a fourth and goal from the three and they took the points off of the board, only to fail on fourth down. It’s just one of those weeks.

Digesting the Division: Philadelphia (13-3) hangs on to first place and the No. 1 seed in the NFC despite its second straight defeat without Jalen Hurts at quarterback. Dallas (12-4) is in second place and owns the No. 5 seed while the New York Giants (9-6-1) are assured of the No. 6 seed and their first trip to the postseason since 2016. Washington at 7-8-1 secures last place for the first time since 2019, fourth time in 10 years and 10th time in 19 seasons. Welcome home.

Comparing the Quartets: At least Washington can hang the banner of finishing last in the best division as the NFC East went a combined 41-21-2. The AFC South (21-41-2) locked up the honor of “Division of Depression” with the possibility of two 8-9 teams tying for first. The NFC won the conference contest by taking four of six games this past weekend, finishing with a 41-39 advantage.

In & Out: Tampa Bay and the New York Giants wrapped up playoff berths with wins on Sunday as the Buccaneers took the NFC South by beating Carolina and the Giants secured the No. 6 seed with a 38-10 victory over Indianapolis.

Washington wasn’t the only team banished to Elimination Island, with the Panthers, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and the New York Jets falling out of contention Sunday. Meanwhile, Houston and Chicago remain in contention for the first overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft. Washington is slated to pick 14th.

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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