Washington Football Coach Ron Rivera said that the game at Buffalo would resemble a “measuring stick.” What he didn’t say was that the Bills would pick up the measuring stick and beat the Burgundy & Gold senseless over a three-hour stretch.
The 43-21 rout was a tough pill to swallow, and now, the team has to pick up the pieces and work their way back into the playoff picture. But can they tinker with what has been a disappointing defense on the fly? They’ll need to.
Entering Monday Night Football, Washington allowed the fourth-most points per game and the second-most yards per outing. They’re also giving up third-down conversions at an alarming rate of 58.7%, second-worst in the league. Right now, the whole unit is less than the sum of the high draft picks on that side of the ball.
Taylor Made: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke completed 14 of 24 passes for 212 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions while running eight times for 21 yards and a score. Naturally, the TD run was a stretching the ball over the pylon. The question is moving forward, were the interceptions part of a young starter’s maturing process or the fact that defenses now have more than one game’s worth of tape on the QB?
Ground to a Halt: The running game — after gaining 133 yards in Week One and 87 in Week Two — were held to 78 yards on 25 carries by the Bills. Now it’s tough to commit to the ground game when you’re down 21-0 in the first half, but Antonio Gibson was held to 31 yards on 12 carries (less than 3 yards per attempt). Gibson did catch a screen pass that he took 73 yard for a touchdown that breathed new life into the team.
Pass Catch Fever: Terry McLaurin caught 4 passes for 62 yards despite being the focus of yet another defensive game plan. Logan Thomas had 4 receptions for 42 yards and while one of them was for a touchdown, another catch was fumbled, setting up a Bills touchdown drive.
Third and Aching: Washington moved the ball on 2-11 money downs, with Heinicke completing 5-9 passes with 2 conversions while both of his scrambles came up short of the marker. His top target? Logan Thomas (3 catches for one conversion) and Adam Humphries (one catch that moved the chains) were thrown to 3 times apiece. Yardage breakdown: 1-3 on third and 4 to 6 yards needed, 1-8 on third and long. You read this correctly: Washington didn’t have a third and short.
D earns an F: Linebacker Cole Holcomb paced the defense with 14 stops but the next three top tacklers were defensive backs. The vaunted pass rush was held without a sack while the Bills rolled up 359 yards passing. Josh Allen had three touchdown passes before 2 p.m. and Buffalo tallied 312 of its 481 yards in the first half. But the real soul-sucking sequence came in the form of a 17-play, 93-yard march over 8:17 that expanded the lead to 33-14. Washington allowed Buffalo to convert 9-15 third downs, and that’s with a kneeldown at the end of the fourth quarter. Seven of their 14 third downs where they were trying to convert were for short yardage (three yards or fewer needed). But while Washington allowed 4-7 of those third and shorts, they also allowed the Bills to move the chains on all three third and longs (7+ yards needed). The tone was set early with a 23-yard completion on 3rd & 15 on Buffalo’s first drive. This unit has a lot of work to do.
Special Situations: Tress Way averaged 47 yards per punt with one touchback and one landing inside the Bills’ 20-yard line. Dustin Hopkins converted all three of his extra point attempts and drilled three of his four kickoffs for touchbacks, while the fourth took an odd bounce and was recovered by … Dustin Hopkins. DeAndre Carter had punt returns of 12 and 21 yards, and there were no kickoff returns. Punt coverage allowed a 15-yarder while the Bills produced a 28-yard kickoff return.
Flying Flags: After eight and nine flags the first two weeks respectively, an improvement with just five for 38 yards. Three were on offense, while defense and special teams each had one infraction. Offensive holding was the leader this week (twice, although one took place on a punt return). After three weeks offensive/special teams holding is the most common infraction (five) with defensive pass interference (four) close behind. William Jackson III was whistled for pass interference for the third time this year, tying him for most flags on the team with Chase Young (two neutral zone infractions plus one roughing the passer). And just like the game with the Chargers, three penalties took place in short order (four snaps) that turned a 1st & 10 from the Washington 28 yard line into a 3rd & 12 from the 9 (Heinicke would be intercepted). The most costly flag was early: an offensive pass interference turned a 1st & 10 from the Washington 45 yard line into a 3rd & 12 from the 19 (they failed to convert).
Digesting the Division: Dallas (2-1) owns the NFC East lead while Washington (1-2) is in second place thanks to a better division record than Philadelphia (1-2). The New York Giants (0-3) are firmly entrenched in the cellar … and it appears as if they’re going to stay there for some time.
Looking West, and the Conference Competition: The AFC and NFC Wests are each 9-3 after three weeks. The NFC East is 4-8, just a little bit better than the woeful AFC South. The NFC is 9-7 against the AFC so far, but then again it’s only September.