Burgundy & Gold Grab Bag: Deja vu, not destiny

The Washington Football Team’s 23-15 win over San Francisco moves the team into first place of the NFC East at 6-7 with three games remaining. Just like 2015. Four straight wins entering week 15 just like 2012.

The backup takes over midway through week 14 to give Washington a sixth win, just like 2007. When are we just going to realize that the football gods have been toying with us all year? At 6-7 the team controls its path to the playoffs for the first time since early in the season. Yes, I refuse to use the phrase “control your own destiny” because destiny by definition is not controllable.

They control their path to the NFC East title, and that’s enough for me at this time. And before we get too crazy, let’s enjoy the year for what it is. Previous playoff runs have had us confident that “the good old days of Joe Gibbs are back” in 2005 (they went 14-19 over his final two years at the helm), “the pieces are in place for contention” in 2007 (they’d go 18-30 over the next three years) and “they finally have a quarterback for the long-term” in 2012 and 2015 (both RG3 and Kirk Cousins were gone within three years of their playoff starts). So during this run we will be tempted to think of this as a brand new era. I’m not saying that this isn’t the start of something special long-term, but let’s enjoy 2020 for 2020 and not what it may become. I know — it sucks trying to appreciate 2020.

Quarterback Calf Carousel: An injured calf moved Alex Smith to the bench late in the first half after completing 8-19 passes for 57 yards and an interception, and before you could say, “Here goes the playoff fortunes,” Dwayne Haskins completed 7-12 attempts for 51 yards and did not turn the ball over while directing one scoring drive. During previous playoff runs this century the WFT has relied on backups for key wins, from Todd Collins in 2007 to Kirk Cousins in 2012 so this bend in the road wasn’t a huge surprise. Will we have Alex Smith back for Seattle? If not, it’s just another expected twist in this improbable journey.

Running On Medium: There was concern with Antonio Gibson gone for a second straight week with a toe injury, but the ground game gained 98 yards on 28 carries, with J.D. McKissic gaining 68 yards on 11 tries and Peyton Barber running 12 times for 37 yards.

Run TMC: Terry McLaurin caught just a pair of passes for the second straight week, notching 24 yards receiving. But the team captain crossed the 1,000-yard plateau and remains on a pace of 89 catches for 1,232 yards despite being the major weapon opposing defenses game plan for each week. Logan Thomas didn’t notch nine catches like he did against Pittsburgh, but the tight end still grabbed 6 balls for 43 yards (his 49 catches rank third on the team and his 469 yards receiving rank second).

Third and Down: The team moved the chains on just 3-15 attempts, 1-7 under Alex Smith and 2-8 under Dwayne Haskins. Smith completed 2 of 5 passes for no conversions while getting sacked once. Haskins connected on 4 of 7 passes with two conversions while taking a knee once. The top target was Terry McLaurin (four passes thrown to) while Logan Thomas caught all three passes thrown his way with one conversion. Peyton Barber ran the ball on a first half 3rd & 2, gaining three yards. Yardage breakdown: 2-3 on short-yardage, 1-3 on medium (4-6 yards needed), and 0-8 with a kneel-down on long-yardage.

Defense the Difference: On a day where the offense spun its wheels for most of the afternoon, it was nice getting 17 points off of turnovers. A forced fumble by Chase Young resulted in a first half field goal and Young’s 47-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown gave Washington the lead for good. Kamren Curl recorded a 76-yard interception for a TD. Jon Bostic led the team with 10 tackles while Cole Holecomb added eight stops. I always like it when the linebackers are consistently leading a defense in tackles. During this four game winning streak the “D” has earned an “A+,” allowing just 14 points per game.

Special Situations: Tress Way dominated with eight punts averaging 49.8 yards (he’s fifth best in the NFL at 48.5 on the year). Dustin Hopkins converted three of four field goals (making 21, 31 & 51 yarders while missing the attempt from 53), both of his extra points, and all seven of his kickoffs were touchbacks. Steven Sims had punt returns of 14 and 22 yards while the punt coverage team didn’t get burned.

Flying Flags: Five penalties for 30 yards were accepted with one declined and another offsetting. Two more false starts (McLaurin & Sprinkle) gives the team 11 on the season while Montez Sweat’s roughing the passer gives him a team-high eight whistles in 2020. The most crucial flag? Perhaps the roughing the passer penalty on Sweat that turned a 4th & 4 from the San Francisco 31 into a 1st & 10 from the Niners’ 46 en route to their only second half touchdown.

Digesting the Division: The Washington Football team is in first place at 6-7, the latest in the season they have led the NFC East since 2015 when they were 6-7 and owned tiebreakers with Philadelphia and the New York Giants. Their final three opponents are a combined 17-21-1 on the season thus far. The New York Giants (5-8) are one game back after their loss to Arizona and in 12th place of the conference. New York’s final three foes are a combined 21-18. Philadelphia (4-8-1) woke up from their hibernation in their 24-21 win over New Orleans. That’s good enough for 13th. The Eagles remaining opponents are 17-22. Dallas (4-9) remains in last place of the division and 14th place in the conference but on the precipice of contention thanks to their 30-7 win against Cincinnati. Their remaining foes are 14-25.

North Sun Setting? The AFC North barely owns the best division record at 30-21-1, with the NFC West (30-22) nipping at its heels.  Yes, the NFC East is still in last place but at 19-32-1 is no longer in danger of being the worst in modern history. The interconference competition has the AFC leading 29-26-1 with four more meetings over the next two weeks to determine bragging rights.

Elimination Island: Houston’s loss to Chicago ends the Texans’ faint playoff hopes for good, joining the New York Jets, Jacksonville, and the Los Angeles Chargers. Atlanta’s loss to the Chargers this past Sunday drops the Falcons to 4-9, and with tiebreakers favoring Arizona Matt Ryan & company become the first NFC team to look forward to 2021. But after the 2020 we’ve all had, aren’t we all?

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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