Another week, another 17-15 win not assured until the final minute of regulation. There’s never a dull moment as the Washington Football Team seems destined for another December drive to the postseason.
(Note that I didn’t say that Washington “controls its own destiny,” because nobody actually controls their own destiny. Destiny is, by definition, something out of your control. So naturally, there’s no possible way you can control it.)
But WFT does control their path to the playoffs with five weeks remaining. And it’s our destiny to enjoy this roller coaster ride while it lasts.
Taylor Made: Heinicke completed 23-30 passes for 196 yards and both Washington touchdowns. His passer rating is now 92.1 and 18th among qualifiers, right behind Patrick Mahomes and right ahead of Ben Roethlisberger. He also ran three times for 10 yards with two of those carries coming on third down.
Running On Medium: Antonio Gibson tallied 88 yards on 23 carries while notching a team-high five catches for 23 yards and a score. He was minus his running mate with J.D. McKissic in the concussion protocol, but Washington still gained over 100 yards for the third straight game (they’re averaging 140 per contest during the current winning streak).
Pass Catch Fever: Nine different receivers caught passes, with Logan Thomas returning from injury to make three catches for 48 yards and the game’s first touchdown before departing with a knee injury later in the game. Backup tight end John Bates added three receptions for 42 yards and will no doubt be called on more this upcoming Sunday against Dallas. There was plenty of underneath activity with Adam Humphries (four catches for 38 yards) and Terry McLaurin (three receptions for 22 yards) moving the chains without stretching the Raider secondary.
Third and Good Enough: Washington moved the chains on 7-13 attempts, calling 10 passes (6-10) and three runs (1-3 but with a draw play on third and 23). Heinicke completed six of eight passes for five conversions while one of his two scrambles secured a first down. The top target? Logan Thomas and Terry McLaurin were each thrown to twice, with each making one catch for a conversion. Yardage breakdown: 2-2 on short-yardage, 4-6 when four to six yards were needed, and 1-5 on long-yardage.
D Earns Another Good Grade: For the fourth time in five games, the much-maligned defense has allowed fewer than 20 points. Cole Holcomb tallied 10 tackles while Kendall Fuller added eight stops. The pass rush generated a pair of sacks and the defense got off the field on six of eight third downs, making all three stops in the second half.
Special Situations: I was thunderstruck at Brian Johnson’s 48-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that put Washington ahead to stay. The new kicker in town also connected on a pair of extra points and two of his four kickoffs were touchbacks (the others landed at the Raider 1- and 5-yard lines). Tress Way averaged 49.3 yards per punt while DeAndre Carter had an 18-yard kickoff return plus punt returns of 13 and 16 yards. Washington allowed a 6-yard punt return as well as kickoff returns of 19 and 24 yards. No kicks were blocked this week, and that’s a relief.
Flying Flags: Six penalties (one was declined) for 47 yards may not seem like much (the team averages 5.67 and 50.58 yards), but many times it’s when and where the flags happen. The offense was whistled three times (two false starts and a hold) while the defense drew four penalties (an illegal use of the hands was declined while a hold, roughing the passer and pass interference stood). Brandon Scherff’s false start gives him three this fall to go with three holds and place him one penalty behind William Jackson III for the team lead. False starts (14) are the most common penalty this fall, with offensive holding (12) and defensive pass interference (9) not far behind. The most costly penalty? Actually a sequence in the fourth quarter of three flags in four snaps that led to three first downs in Raiders territory: a defensive hold, roughing the passer and pass interference helped move the ball from the 44 to the 1-yard line.
Digesting the Division: Dallas (8-4) leads the NFC East and would be the fourth seed if the playoffs began today. Washington (6-6) owns second place and the sixth seed (second Wildcard) thanks to a 5-2 NFC record (San Francisco is 5-5 in the conference). Philadelphia (6-7) is in third place and eighth in the NFC while the New York Giants (4-8) currently occupy last place and 13th in the conference (a better NFC mark than Chicago and Seattle the tiebreaker there).
Comparing the Quartets: The NFC West (28-20) pushes past the AFC North (27-20-1) with the AFC West (27-21) just one game off the pace. The NFC East (24-25) has the sixth best record while the AFC South (19-30-1) holds down the cellar. The AFC currently owns a 32-30-1 advantage over the NFC with 17 inter-conference games remaining.
Elimination Island: Detroit (1-11-1) avoids being done for the year with their last-second win over Minnesota while Houston was not so lucky. The Texans’ 31-0 loss to Indianapolis drops them to 2-10, and although they currently own the tiebreaker over Jacksonville, getting swept by the Colts puts them to pasture as the first team eliminated from playoff competition.