Burgundy & Gold Grab Bag: Bending but not breaking against the Bengals

There are those who will point to Joe Burrow’s knee injury in the second half as the turning point of the Washington Football Team’s 20-9 win over Cincinnati, but it’s worth pointing out that while the Bengals gained just 17 yards on 18 plays from scrimmage after losing their starting quarterback, the WFT defense had just generated a pair of three-and-outs to begin the second half.

Cincinnati’s window of opportunity was in the first half, when they had chances to score on all five possessions but instead missed two field goals and lost a fumble at the goal line. Even on their touchdown, they missed the extra point. So instead of trailing 23-7 at the half, the Burgundy and Gold were within a field goal. That’s well within the range of the team’s regular second-half surge: They’ve outscored opponents in seven of 10 second halves this year, to the tune of 121-70. Does this mean that they’ll have a similar surge in the second half of the season?

Passing Chancy: Alex Smith completed 17 of 25 passes for 166 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Now, this is the Alex Smith we grew to know and love during the 6-3 start in 2018! His steady hand will come in huge, especially with the tight turnaround as they visit Dallas on Thanksgiving Day before games at Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

Ground Control: The offense gained 164 yards rushing, their second-best total of the season. Antonio Gibson ran 16 times for 94 yards and a touchdown (giving him eight on the season, which leads the league rookies), while J.D. McKissic added 43 yards on six carries (he also notched 3 “long handoffs” for 26 more yards) and Peyton Barber rejoined the tandem with eight carries for 28 yards. They also ran the ball on four of six 3rd-and-short plays.

Run TMC: Terry McLaurin caught five passes for 84 yards; the second-year pro is on pace for 99 catches and 1,393 yards. This week, he received help from Steven Sims (three catches for 13 yards and a TD) in the red zone. Cam Sims added two catches for 20 yards, while Logan Thomas caught a pair of passes for six yards.

Third and Hmm: The Burgundy and Gold converted four of 13 third downs, and moved the chains just once in the second half. The running game actually moved the chains on three of five tries, with a draw play on 3rd and 14 the outlier. Alex Smith completed three of six passes on third down for one conversion, while getting sacked once and kneeling down to end the game once (moving forward, we won’t count the victory formation on third down). His top option? J.D. McKissic was targeted twice, catching one pass for a conversion. Yardage breakdown: four of six on short yardage, zero of one on medium (four to six yards needed), and zero for five (with the kneeldown) on long yardage.

D Earns Another Good Grade: Kamren Curl led the defense in tackles for the third straight week, notching nine stops. As wary as I am whenever a defensive back is tops in tackles this often, I’m impressed with how he’s been making plays each week. Chase Young may not be putting up major numbers this fall (25 tackles and 3.5 sacks), but he’s drawing double and triple-teams. Fabian Moreau notched his second interception of the season, while Ronald Darby’s fumble recovery may have turned the day around.

Special Situations: Tress Way averaged 50.4 yards per punt while tallying three placements inside the 20 and nary a touchback. Dustin Hopkins made field goals of 32 and 50 yards in the second half to help seal the victory while missing from 38 yards; he’s now 14 of 20 on the season (70%) after finishing over 80% in each of his previous five seasons in Washington. All five of Hopkins’ kickoffs went for touchbacks. Danny Johnson recorded a 25-yard kickoff return while Steven Sims tallied punt returns of three and 10 yards. The punt coverage team held its own.

Flying Flags: Six penalties for 55 yards gives the team 52 on the season (fifth-fewest in the NFL) for 429 yards (seventh-fewest). Three were on offense (two delays of game and one clip), while three were on defense (neutral zone infraction, offsides and a face mask). Neutral zone infraction is the most common foul for this team in 2020, while Montez Sweat is the most-flagged WFT player with seven infractions. The most costly penalty Sunday? Daron Payne’s face mask turned a 3rd and 16 at the Bengals’ 42 into a first down at the Washington 37. Cincy would score their only touchdown of the day four plays later.

Digesting the Division: Philadelphia (3-6-1) is in first place despite two straight losses and a winning percentage of .350, one-half game ahead of the 3-7 trio of the New York Giants, Washington and Dallas.

How do you separate the chaff from the worse than chaff? The Giants are elevated thanks to their 2-1 record inside the division; the Cowboys are dropped thanks to their loss to Washington. The trio are 13th, 14th and 15th in the NFC; each owns a better conference record than Atlanta. The Eagles would be in 12th place in the NFC if we were looking at straight records; instead, they’ll get the fourth seed and a home playoff game.

The UnFab Four: John, Paul, George and Ringo this division is not. I wouldn’t even compare the NFC East to the Monkees. Perhaps the Archies, but you need five for that, unless you’re going to drop Jughead (highly underrated drummer, just listen to him playing on “Sugar, Sugar”).

The NFC Least did go 2-1 Sunday to improve to 12-27-1 on the season, slowly inching toward the 22-and-a-half-win mark that would push it past the 2007 NFC West. Speaking of the West, they’re 24-16 after the Rams’ Monday night win, which is good enough for second-best behind the AFC North (25-14-1 even with Cincinnati). The interconference contest has the AFC leading 22-17-1.

Elimination Island: The New York Jets’ 34-28 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers dropped the club to 0-10. They’re six games behind Miami, Baltimore and Las Vegas for the final playoff spot with six games left. But the Raiders and Dolphins play in Week 16 (and at worst will tie), so the Jets are the first team eliminated from playoff contention — even with the field having been expanded this year to seven teams per conference.

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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