Burgundy & Gold Grab Bag: Off the rails, over the railing

The Washington Football team’s 20-16 loss to Philadelphia may ensure another non-playoff season, but what a ride to reach elimination in Week 17.

Covering this team is rarely boring.

From starting 2-6 to winning four straight to dropping four in a row. From sewage pipes bursting in a 20-16 loss to the Chargers to a FedEx Field railing collapsing after a 20-16 loss to the Eagles. From bringing a heated bench to Philadelphia to a different sort of heated bench in Dallas.

A quarterback carousel only exceeded in quantity by the kicker carousel. And now they visit a New York Giants team whose coach is already talking smack.

A “meaningless” regular season finale? No such thing in the land of the Burgundy & Gold.

Taylor Made: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke completed 27-36 passes for 247 yards while getting sacked three times (twice on third down). He ran the ball twice for 14 yards and directed a last-minute drive that ended with the loss-sealing interception. His passer rating of 86.5 ranks 23rd in the league, and with 3,299 yards, he’s the first 3,000-yard passer for Washington since 2017.

Running in Place: Minus leading rusher Antonio Gibson, the team gained 94 yards on 22 carries with Jaret Patterson tallying 57 yards on 12 tries (along with Washington’s lone touchdown) while making five catches. Wendell Smallwood and Jonathan Williams each caught a pair of passes and carried the ball on third and short.

Pass Catch Fever: Terry McLaurin made seven grabs for 61 yards, his most receptions since October in Green Bay and his most yards since November at Carolina. Cam Sims (4-48) and Dyami Brown (1-25) also made contributions while tight end John Bates made three receptions for 35 yards. Target breakdown: wide receivers made 14 catches on 17 targets, tight ends made four catches on six targets, and the running back rotation made nine receptions on 11 passes thrown their way.

Third and Misleading: What isn’t to like? The offense moved the chains on nine of 15 attempts and was four of four when running the ball (Smallwood twice, Patterson & Williams once apiece). Heinicke completed 7-9 passes for five conversions, but three of those five were on their final drive of the day. He was also sacked on their first two third downs of the second half as the Eagles mounted their rally. His top targets? Patterson caught a pair of passes for conversions while Ricky Seals-Jones was thrown to twice while catching one pass and running into one wall (he had to leave the game while the cameraman he collided with on the play did return). Yardage breakdown: 6-7 on short-yardage, 1-3 when needing four to six yards, and 1-5 on long-yardage.

Defense Bends and Bends: There’s no shame in allowing 20 points. But the Eagles began the second half with one of those drives that’s haunted Washington all season. Remember the 17-play march in Buffalo? Philly began the second half with a 14-play drive that covered 75 yards and set the tone for the rest of the day. Cole Holcomb tallied 11 tackles while Kamren Curl made 10 stops. While the defense made stops on eight of 12 third downs, the Eagles successfully converted three of four fourth downs (two resulted in touchdowns).

Special Situations: Tress Way’s COVID-induced absence brought Ryan Winslow to FedEx Field, and the understudy averaged 42 yards on his two punts. Joey Slye made field goals of 31, 39 and 55 yards while connecting on his only extra point of the night. Three of Slye’s four kickoffs were touchbacks (the other was fielded in the end zone and returned to the 20). DeAndre Carter had kickoff returns of 23 and 34 yards. There were no punt returns. Kickoff coverage allowed a 21-yard return while punt coverage surrendered a 7-yard return.

Flying Flags: Say what you will about the December descent, but Washington has committed just four penalties over the last three weeks. And the false start by Saddiq Charles didn’t destroy the drive where it occurred, as the team would make two first downs on that possession before punting. The 79 penalties is the sixth-fewest in the NFL. That’s something to build upon.

Digesting the Division: Dallas (12-4) finds itself in the fourth playoff spot after its loss to Arizona, but could finish second with a win plus losses by the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay in Week 18. Philadelphia (9-7) currently owns the third Wild Card berth (losing the head-to-head tiebreaker with San Francisco) but is assured of a playoff berth after a one year absence. Washington (6-10) is going to finish third for the fourth time in six years and they’re currently in 11th place of the NFC (better conference record than Chicago, head-to-head win over Seattle). The New York Giants (4-12) have wrapped up their third last-place finish in the last five years and are currently 15th in the NFC, but can take 14th with a victory over Washington plus a Carolina loss to Tampa Bay.

Comparing the Quartets: With Week 18 all intra-division matchups, the NFC West (38-26) finishes two games better than the AFC West. Whither the NFC East? A 30-34 mark has them sixth-best, better than the NFC North (28-35-1) and the AFC South (26-38). The NFC went 3-1 against the AFC this past week, ending the season-long struggle with a 40-39-1 lead.

Tis the Season: Five teams wrapped up playoff berths Sunday, with Cincinnati and Tennessee locking up their respective divisions. Buffalo, New England, and Philadelphia also wrapped up spots with the Bills needing a win or a Patriots loss next Sunday to take its second straight AFC East title (Pats take the division with a victory plus a Bills loss). Three playoff berths are up for grabs: one in the NFC (San Francisco needs a win or a New Orleans loss) while two spots in the AFC are being pursued by Indianapolis, Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Elimination Island: Washington wasn’t the only team to have their status changed from “in contention” to “eliminated.” Atlanta, Minnesota, Miami and Denver saw their status downgraded as well with defeats while Cleveland was eliminated due to wins by Las Vegas and the Los Angeles Chargers.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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