For three days, the Washington Football Team enjoyed the view from the top. The team’s 41-16 thumping of Dallas gave them the NFC East lead, at least until the New York Giants nipped Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon.
They’re still in the playoff race, and this late-season run resembles each of their postseason appearances this century: from winning their last five games in 2005 to snag a wild card, to winning their last four games of 2007 to do the same; from winning their last seven games in 2012 to capture the NFC East, to winning four straight in 2015 to take the division again.
Does this team have a seven game surge in them?
Passing Fancy: Alex Smith completed 19 of 26 attempts for 149 yards and a touchdown while throwing an interception. Those are the type of numbers he put up two years ago when the team started 6-3. Is he great? No. But the team is 2-0 in games where he’s passed for under 200 yards this year, and was 4-0 in games he finished with under 200 yards in 2018.
Notorious AG: Antonio Gibson ran 20 times for 115 yards and three touchdowns, including 23 and 37-yard scampers in the fourth quarter to help put the game away. He’s now at 645 yards with 11 TD one year removed from playing wide receiver in the AAC. If the rookie averages 71 yards over the final five weeks of the season, Washington has a 1,000 yard rusher. Something not on anyone’s mind when they released Adrian Peterson in the preseason.
Run TMC: McLaurin caught seven passes for 92 yards and had perhaps the play of the game when he ran down the Cowboys Jaylon Smith on an interception return. That tackle prevented a tie game as Dallas would settle for a field goal. The second-year pro is on pace for 100 catches and 1,400 yards this year.
Third and Fortunate: Washington converted 7 of 13 money downs, running the ball on seven of those plays. Antonio Gibson moved the chains three times in four attempts (with one going for a 37-yard TD) while Peyton Barber reached the marker on both of his tries. Logan Thomas even took a direct snap for three yards on a 3rd and 1. Alex Smith completed 2 to 4 passes while getting sacked twice, moving the chains once. His top option? Terry McLaurin was targeted twice, but J.D. McKissic caught a 12-yard pass on 3rd and 9 late in the first half. Yardage breakdown: 4-5 on short-yardage, 2-4 when needing 4-6 yards, and 1-4 on long-yardage.
Defense: The stand in the third quarter that preserved a lead despite the Cowboys getting the ball on the Washington 4-yard line. The D held on 9 of 13 third downs and got off of the field on 3 of 4 fourth downs, while also tallying a pair of take-aways. Cole Holcomb led the way with 10 tackles and half a sack while Montez Sweat returned an interception for a touchdown. After 11 weeks, the unit ranks first in the NFL at stopping the pass and fourth overall.
Special Situations: Tress Way averaged 58.5 yards on his two punts, while Dustin Hopkins made both of his field goal attempts (23 and 36-yarders), all five of his extra points and recorded touchbacks on all eight of his kickoffs. Danny Johnson had kickoff returns of 18 and 23 yards while Steven Sims had punt returns of 5 and 10 yards. Punt coverage allowed one 9-yard return.
Flying Flags: Washington was whistled five times for 53 yards: three times on offense (two false starts and a hold), once on defense (pass interference) and once on special teams (hold on a punt return). No repeat offenders, and team-leader Montez Sweat stays at seven flags on the season. Offensive holding (eight) and false starts (seven) are the top two infractions; although holds on kick and punt returns count toward the offensive hold total like Jimmy Moreland’s grab this week. Most costly flag? Logan Thomas’ first quarter false start that turned a first and goal from the four into a 23-yard field goal.
Digesting the Division: The New York Giants’ win over Cincinnati gives them a 4-7 record, and thanks to their sweep of Washington, first place in the league’s worst division. The Burgundy and Gold still have a genuine shot at 4-7 and it’s the Giants quarterback Daniel Jones who is limping now. Philadelphia (3-7-1) is in third place after their loss on Monday Night Football to Seattle while Dallas at 3-8 is in last place.
East is Least: The NFC Quartet is 14-29-1 with a combined 5-20-1 mark outside the division, needing to finish 8-12 in order to avoid owning the worst modern day division record. The AFC North is 26-15-1 entering the Wednesday afternoon showdown between Pittsburgh and Baltimore, while the NFC West at 26-18 is close behind. The AFC owns a 25-19-1 edge over the NFC (thanks in part to the North’s 8-2-1 dominance of the NFC East).
Elimination Island: Jacksonville joins the New York Jets after the Jaguars fall 27-25 to Cleveland. The Jags are double-digit losers for the ninth time in 10 years (the outlier season of 2017 saw them take a double-digit second half lead at New England in the AFC Championship Game).