It only takes one game to give life back to a team’s playoff hopes. So far this fall, we’ve seen “season-salvaging” wins in Week 2, Week 4 and in Week 10.
While it’d be nice for the Washington Football Team to win a “non-must win” game, Sunday’s 29-19 victory over Tampa Bay keeps them from entering Thanksgiving week as turkeys. The victory was sparked by a defense that made multiple big plays in the first half and cemented by an offense that ran a 19-play, 80-yard soul-sucking drive in the fourth quarter.
One is used to seeing those drives coming against the Burgundy & Gold (Buffalo & Kansas City come to mind). For one week, the rebuild is back on track and the light at the end of the tunnel is not a train coming in the other direction.
Taylor Made: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke completed 26 of 32 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown while running three times for 15 yards. He found nine different receivers (eight on third down) and did not shrink on the final drive of the afternoon. Does this mean he’s the next long-term starter in Washington? Not exactly, but it keeps the calls for Kyle Allen at 200 paces for the time being.
Running to Daylight: The numbers will read 94 yards on 34 carries with Antonio Gibson gaining 64 yards on 24 tries, but the team used their ground game to perfection on the final drive of the day. Thirteen of the 19 plays were runs, including two that moved the chains and one that scored the game-clinching touchdown. They also forced Tampa Bay to burn all three of its timeouts in that stretch. J.D. McKissic was more of a factor in the passing game with four receptions for 35 yards, including a pair on third and long reception and another that moved the chains on fourth down during the team’s first touchdown drive.
Pass Catch Fever: Terry McLaurin led the team with six receptions for 59 yards while DeAndre Carter added three catches for 56 yards and the game’s first touchdown. Carter’s grab came on a third and six and gave the team their first double-digit lead of the day — and season.
Third and Awesome: Washington moved the chains on 11-19 attempts, none bigger than the four straight made on that fourth-quarter drive that burned 10:26 off the clock. That possession saw two pass plays and three runs on the money down, with the longest third down needing five yards for the first. Heinicke completed 12 of 14 passes for eight conversions while reaching the marker once on two scrambles. His top option was Ricky Seals-Jones who caught three passes in four targets for two conversions. Gibson moved the chains on two of three runs with the third setting up a fourth and goal from the one that he’d score on. Yardage breakdown: 4-4 on short-yardage, 4-6 when four to six yards were needed, 3-9 on third and long.
D earns an A: Talk about setting the tone. The much-maligned unit intercepted Tom Brady twice (Bobby McCain and William Jackson III) in the first half and almost picked him off a third time (the ball grazing the ground). Kamren Curl led the team with eight tackles while Jamin Davis’ six stops were his second-highest total of the season. They also held the Bucs to 4 of 10 on third down.
Special Situations: New kicker Joey Slye kicked field goals of 28, 29 and 46 yards while four of his seven kickoffs were touchbacks. Tress Way averaged 44.5 yards per punt. DeAndre Carter had a 10-yard punt return and kickoff returns of 19 and 28 yards. Punt coverage was solid, allowing returns of 4 and 10 yards, while kickoff coverage allowed returns of 17, 19, and 34 yards, resulting in drive starts at the Tampa Bay 24, 30, and 33-yard line.
Flying Flags: Only three penalties accepted (and four flags). After nine games, Washington has the sixth fewest penalties for the eighth fewest yards in the NFL. Two were on offense (a false start on Seals-Jones and a declined hold on Ereck Flowers) and two were on defense (Daron Payne for taunting and Jackson for a face mask). While none was a game-breaker, the most costly flag was against Jackson that gave Tampa Bay a 31-yard field goal attempt on an untimed down to end the first half. Thankfully, those three points were not the difference.
Digesting the Division: Dallas (7-2) owns a two-game lead after their rout of Atlanta and is currently occupying the third seed in the NFC. Philadelphia (4-6) has won two of three to move into second place of the East while holding down 10th place in the conference. Washington (3-6) owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with the New York Giants, and the conference record tiebreaker with Seattle and Chicago for 12th place in the NFC (the Giants hold 13th place at this time).
Comparing the Quartets: The AFC North (21-15-1) edges the NFC West (22-16) for the best division record, while the NFC East (17-20) is closer to the eighth-best NFC North (15-21-1). The NFC holds a 26-24-1 advantage, with the first team to reach 40 wins locking up bragging rights until the Super Bowl.