Burgundy & Gold Grab Bag: The 7-10 Split

The best thing about Sunday’s 22-7 win over the New York Giants was that the game ended at 3:50 p.m. EST, allowing us to follow the rest of the league’s fantastic (or frustrating if you’re from Indianapolis) finishes in the early window.

From Pittsburgh and Baltimore dueling into overtime, to the Lions roaring against NFC No. 1 seed Green Bay, there was plenty of theater that was only eclipsed in the late-afternoon and evening. We saw San Francisco make a statement on the road, and we almost saw a tie help two teams advance to the playoffs.

And thankfully, we didn’t have to be distracted by Washington’s final game as the “Football Team.”

The 7-10 season is the team’s fifth straight losing campaign (longest stretch since 1957-65, which includes five seasons as the NFL’s last segregated squad) and now, all eyes are on Feb. 2 when the team is rebranded as the “Commanders,” “Admirals” or “Bee Sharps.”

So while 44% of the league heads toward the postseason party that begins with “Super Wild Card Weekend” (I’m hoping for “Super Divisional Playoff” and “Super Conference Championship” to be introduced this month), let’s take a look behind the numbers at the game that was.

Taylor made: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke completed 9 of 18 passes for 120 yards while getting sacked three times. He also ran the ball twice for three yards in the win, while his 71.5 rating was the lowest he’s had in a victory this season. Washington was 6-1 in games where Heinicke had a passer rating higher than 90, and 1-8 in other games while going 0-5 in games where his passer rating was lower than 71. He finishes the year with the most starts, yards and touchdowns passing since Kirk Cousins in 2017 and will likely be in the mix in 2022. The only question is will Washington draft, trade for, or sign a free agent quarterback this offseason. Because they’re not going to enter training camp with Heinicke as the clear-cut starter, right?

Running away with ourselves: How about a season-high 226 yards rushing? How about a career-high 146 yards for Antonio Gibson? The second-year pro’s second 100-yard game of the year propelled him past 1,000 yards (although his 1,037 equals 976 over 16 games) and gives one confidence that the ground game is in good hands. Jonathan Williams added 45 yards on seven carries (including a 23-yard scamper on third and short) while Jaret Patterson added 21 yards on six tries (along with two catches for 14 yards). The team finishes 12th in the league running the ball which is much better than the air attack (21st).

Pass catch fever: Terry McLaurin caught four passes for 93 yards to finish with 77 and 1,053 for the season, slightly down from last year (87-1,118) even before accounting for the extra regular season game (the numbers prorate to 72-991 for 16 games). But that’s without a solid No. 2 threat in the passing game, unless you count running back J.D. McKissic who’s been out for a month. Offseason acquisition Curtis Samuel never got healthy, appearing in five games (tallying 20+ snaps in only three of them) and the tight-end combination of Logan Thomas and Ricky Seals-Jones averaged under 11 yards per catch. Getting a threat opposite McLaurin should be priority this offseason.

Third and thankful we’re done: The offense moved the chains on 3 of 13 attempts with Heinicke completing 1 of 7 passes for no conversions while getting sacked once. Jonathan Williams made the marker on both of his runs while Gibson came up short on both of his attempts, while DeAndre Carter ran for a first down on third and seven. The top target? McLaurin was thrown to twice (both incomplete) while Patterson made an 8-yard catch on third and 14. Yardage breakdown: 2 of 4 on short yardage, 0 of 3 when needing four to six yards, and 1 of 7 on third and long. Most encouraging sign? Ten of the 13 third downs took place on the Giants’ side of the field, meaning the offense didn’t put the defense in bad spots for the most part.

D earns a … hold on, these are the Giants: Washington held Jake Fromm and company to a paltry 177 yards and that includes consecutive quarterback sneaks facing long-distance inside their own 10-yard line. Bobby McCain intercepted a pair of passes, running the first back for a touchdown and collecting the second on the game’s final play. Cole Holcomb led the unit with 11 tackles. What I liked about Sunday was that six of the top seven tacklers were in the front seven. Holcomb finishes with a team-high 142 stops (43 more than runner-up Kamren Curl). But New York still had a few decent drives and the defense allowed its customary 14-play, 69-yard march for the Giants’ only touchdown. The D held on 11-17 third downs but allowed two fourth-down conversions in four attempts. And this was against Jake Fromm.

Special situations: Tress Way averaged 40.8 yards on six punts while Joey Slye kicked field goals of 23, 23 and 43 yards. Slye made his lone extra point attempt (they went for two up 12-0 in the second half) and two of his five kickoffs reached the end zone (one was a touchback, the other returned to the 20 yard line). The other three kicks were run back to the 24, 27, and 31-yard line. Punt coverage allowed a 16-yard return. Carter had punt returns of 0, 3, 8 and 12 yards while notching kickoff returns of 11 and 22 yards.

Flying flags: Only three penalties for 29 yards as the team finishes with 82 infractions (fifth fewest in the NFL) for 743 yards (seventh fewest) this season. Two were on defense (a neutral zone infraction on Matt Ioannidis and a pass interference on Darryl Roberts) and one was on offense (false start on Gibson). False starts took the frequent flyer award with 17 flags this fall while William Jackson III was the most penalized player (despite missing five games).

Digesting the division: Dallas (13-4) gets the No. 3 seed in the NFC (thanks to a better conference record than the Los Angeles Rams) and a first-round home game with San Francisco while Philadelphia (9-8) earns the No. 7 seed (due to their Nov. 21 win over New Orleans) and a showdown with defending Super Bowl champ Tampa Bay. Washington (7-10) gets 10th place in the conference because of wins over Seattle and Atlanta. The last-place New York Giants (4-13) are 15th in the NFC, but with six straight losses definitely not markedly better than a Detroit team that split its last six games with two wins over playoff teams.

Comparing the quartets: As mentioned last week, the NFC West locked up the honors of the league’s best division. They also are the only division with three playoff teams this winter and all four teams scored more points than they allowed (the AFC West had three, with playoff-bound Las Vegas checking in at -65).

Elimination island: Indianapolis, you had us all-in on “nobody wants to face the Colts in the playoffs” after back to back wins over New England and Arizona. Unfortunately, Sunday’s no-show at Jacksonville means the Colts won’t be facing anybody in the playoffs as they’re out. The Ravens were eliminated when they lost in overtime by a field goal to Pittsburgh (the 0-6 finish saw five losses decided by a total of eight points). New Orleans was next to go after San Francisco’s overtime win at the Los Angeles Rams and the final team sent to the island of misfit playoff hopes was everyone’s favorite Charlie-in-the-Box, the Los Angeles Chargers. And LA was bounced on the final second of the final game of the season in their overtime loss to Las Vegas (if the kick missed, Pittsburgh would have been done for the year).

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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