You thought a Washington season was going to be easy to digest?
Sunday’s 20-16 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers was only one step in the 17 game journey that involved everything from the earliest quarterback switch since Mark Brunell replaced Patrick Ramsey in the 2005 opener against Chicago to sewage pipes bursting at FedEx Field.
Buckle up for what is already a bumpy ride.
Quarterback Carousel: Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t last the first half, leaving with a hip injury after completing 3-6 passes for 13 yards while getting sacked once. He’s now on Injured Reserve and is expected to be on the shelf for six to eight weeks. That means Taylor Heinicke (11-15 for 122 yards and a touchdown) will start Thursday night against the New York Giants, making him the ninth QB to start a regular season game since Kirk Cousins departed after making 48 straight regular season starts.
Gibson on the Ground: Antonio Gibson rushed for 100+ yards twice during his rookie year, each during games where he carried the ball 20 times. Gibson began his second season by carrying the ball 20 times for 90 yards while catching three passes for 18 yards. Only three other carries went to running backs, similar to the Wild Card game where Gibson had 14 of 16 carries made by backs.
Pass Catch Fever: Terry McLaurin notched 4 catches for 62 yards, including a 34 yarder that set up Washington’s lone touchdown. Logan Thomas recorded 3 receptions for 30 yards and the TD. But Curtis Samuel remains on the sidelines with a groin injury, and with an offense that settled for field goals too much for its liking, the lack of a third dimension makes the attack look flat.
Third and Struggling: The offense converted 3-10 money downs. Gibson ran for two of those conversions (he was also held to 3 yards on a 3rd & 4). Fitzpatrick tossed an incompletion, scrambled short of the marker and took a sack. Heinicke completed 2-2 passes for one conversion while scrambling short of the first down. The top target? Dyami Brown was thrown to 3 times, making one catch for -2 yards. Yardage Breakdown: 2-2 on short-yardage, 1-3 on medium (4 to 6 yards needed), and 0-5 on long-yardage.
D earns a C+: Linebacker Cole Holcomb led the team with 11 tackles while cornerback Bobby McCain tallied 10 stops. If a defensive back makes that many tackles it’s often because either the opponent’s running plays get to the third level or the secondary allows too many completions. William Jackson III notched an interception in the red zone. But the defense couldn’t get off of the field on 14 of 19 third downs, and that includes a kneel-down to end the fourth quarter.
Special Situations: Dustin Hopkins made field goal attempts of 30, 43, and 48 yards while missing a 51-yarder. Tress Way averaged 46 yards on three punts, with two of his kicks landing inside the Charger 20. DeAndre Carter ripped off a 14-yard punt return and a 31-yard kickoff return. Kickoff and punt coverage held LA in check.
Flying Flags: After averaging 5.25 penalties per regular season game last year, Washington was whistled nine times with eight penalties accepted for 57 yards (there was one instance of offsetting flags). Three were against the offense (all in the second half), three were against the defense (all in the first half) and two were on special teams (both involving the same punting situation). Two were neutral zone infractions, two were holds, and two were false starts. Brandon Scherff is the early leader with two flags (false start and holding). Montez Sweat (10) was the leader in 2020, and was not whistled against the Chargers. The most costly flag? A sequence in the second half where there were three penalties in five snaps. Scherff’s hold turned a 2nd & 4 from the LA 25 into a 1st & 20 from the 41. Antonio Gibson’s facemask offset a horse collar tackle that would have resulted in a first down in the red zone. And Scherff’s false start pushed them back to the 31 and helped set up a 51-yard field goal attempt that was missed.
NFC Least: The division that went a combined 23-40-1 last year picked up where they left off, going 1-3 to start the season. Philadelphia’s 32-6 road win over Atlanta has the Eagles in first place while Dallas’ 31-29 loss to Tampa Bay puts the Cowboys in fourth place (due to NFC record tiebreaker). Washington’s in second over the New York Giants due to “Tiebreaker No. 6: Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.” They’ll play for second place Thursday night.
Divisions of Dominance & Depression: The NFC West and AFC West are both off to 4-0 starts while the NFC North is 0-4 after one week. The conference competition began with the AFC and NFC splitting their six games. The 17-week season means that there will be 48 interconference games this year. Just remember, the season is long.