How do you top coming up short in a winnable game at a division leader? By delivering an underwhelming performance by losing a similarly winnable game at a team tied for last place.
Seven of the Washington Football Team’s nine offensive possessions progressed past the Denver 30-yard line, but they had only 10 points to show for it.
Sunday’s 17-10 defeat at Denver was the team’s fourth straight, making 2021 the fourth straight season where they’ve had such a losing streak. They’re also 2-6 for the second consecutive year, and it’s not three straight seasons because they began 1-7 in 2019.
With the week ahead, head coach Ron Rivera has talked about building culture over a 3-5 year stretch while staying with the same quarterback and kicker — two positions that we’ve already seen a change at because of injury or ineffectiveness.
Taylor Time: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke completed 24 of 39 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions (granted, one INT was on a Hail Mary) while also getting sacked five times — four of which were on third down. While he fared better on third down this week than in Green Bay, did anyone think that he’d pull victory from the jaws of defeat in the fourth quarter? Worse than the fourth quarter interception was the check-down pass on third down that was nowhere near the end zone. Let’s see how he fares coming out of the bye.
Ground Game Gains: Washington rushed for 112 yards on 24 carries, with Jaret Patterson leading the team with 46 yards on 11 carries. Antonio Gibson added 34 on eight tries (while not fumbling) and J.D. McKissic ran three times for 10 yards (as usual, his impact was greater in the passing game).
Pass Catch Fever: McKissic caught eight passes for 83 yards, while eight others notched receptions — from DeAndre Carter’s three catches for 51 yards and a touchdown to Terry McLaurin’s three receptions for 23 yards (his seven targets were second-most on the team). The ghost of Curtis Samuel (still out with a groin injury) reminds one of Junior Galette’s non-career in Washington minus the off-the-field issues.
Third Down in the Dumps: Washington converted 5 of 14 money downs in Denver, with 12 pass plays being called to a pair of runs (McKissic and Gibson each coming up short of the marker on 3rd & short). Heinicke completed 6 of 8 passes while getting sacked four times for five conversions, with his top target being McKissic, who caught both passes thrown his way and moved the sticks. Yardage breakdown: 3-6 on short-yardage, 2-5 on third & 4-6 yards needed, and 0-3 on long-yardage.
D earns an Incomplete: Once again, there was quite a bit to like as the unit held the Broncos to under 20 points. Cole Holcomb notched nine tackles while Landry Collins added eight stops and a sack (now that he’s a hybrid I don’t get bent out of shape with a true safety tallying so many tackles). The defense had four sacks and two forced fumbles (one by Chase Young). But when they needed to shut down Denver either late in the second quarter or when the Broncos gathered some second half momentum, the D allowed marches of 75 yards on seven plays and 63 yards on eight plays. Possessions were kept alive on passes of 11, 18, and 31 yards or runs (Denver was 4-4 on third and short when running the ball).
Special Situations: Chris Blewitt had a pair of field goal attempts blocked (45 and 47 yards) while connecting from 53 yards out, meaning that 60% of his attempts have been blocked (small sample size of 3-5, but still). Tress Way punted once — a 66-yarder. DeAndre Carter had a 12-yard punt return and there were no kickoffs returned. The punt coverage team allowed a 15-yarder while Blewitt made sure there were no kickoff returns with three touchbacks.
Flying Flags: Four penalties (with one flag offsetting) for 29 yards, with two on offense (false start and a hold) and two on defense (neutral zone infraction and a roughing the passer). After eight games, the team’s had 10 offensive/kick return holds and eight false starts. The most costly infraction was the false start on Saahdiq Charles that turned a 3rd & 6 from the Denver 22-yard line into a 3rd & 11 from the 27-yard line on the possession that ended with a blocked Blewitt field-goal attempt.
Digesting the Division: Idle Dallas (6-1) stays atop the NFC East and owns the No. 4 seed in the conference, while Philadelphia (3-5) owns second place, thanks to their 44-6 rout of winless Detroit (the Eagles are 11th best in the NFC). Washington (2-6) owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with the New York Giants, meaning the Burgundy and Gold are 14th best in the conference while the Giants are 15th.
Comparing the Quartets: The NFC West (20-11) has the best composite record after eight weeks, while the AFC North and NFC South (18-12) are close behind. The NFC East is 13-18 which isn’t ideal, but still a little bit better than the AFC South (11-20) which has not one but two one-win teams.