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Despite three consecutive losses, Washington finds itself still in first place in abysmal NFC East

somebody has to be in first place; it might as well be us

Baltimore Ravens v Washington Football Team Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Washington and Dallas both played in the 1 pm time slot, with the Giants playing the Rams at 4pm and the Eagles taking on the Niners on Sunday night. While Washington got handled by Baltimore to go to 1-3 on the season, Dallas was slaughtered by the Cleveland Browns, who scored 49 points and at one point, held a 27-point 4th quarter lead. Dallas drops to 1-3 as well, but by virtue of the fact that Washington has a division win, Dallas sits in the second spot, although the Cowboys are the only NFCE team to have a win outside the division.

The Giants lost to the Rams to drop to 0-4, along with the Texans and the Jets. The Eagles, who are playing on the West Coast in the late game, could take over the top spot in the division with a win, as they would go to 1-2-1, but they are a 7-point underdog. A loss by Philly would mean a clean sweep of the division with no change in the NFCE standings in Week 4.

Prior to today’s game, I said that, win or lose, there were four keys for Washington in the game against the Ravens.

Sustained drives

The first key that I wanted to see was for the Washington offense to avoid 3 & outs and put together some drives by making first downs.

Of Washington’s eleven offensive drives today, only one resulted in a punt after just three plays, though a second drive ended after three plays on a fumble.

The other nine drives were:

  • 9 plays - 3 first downs (one by penalty)
  • 9 plays - 46 yards - 3 first downs - ended with missed field goal
  • 10 plays - 75 yards - 4 first downs - ended with touchdown
  • 5 plays - 1 first down
  • 3 plays - Field goal at the end of the first half
  • 5 plays - 1 first down
  • 17 plays - 6 first downs - 87 yards - ball turned over on downs when Rivera eschewed the field goal
  • 4 plays - 1 first down
  • 4 plays - 42 yards - ended with touchdown

While the offense didn’t do enough to win, it got at least one first down and/or a score on 9 or 11 drives. The positive side of that is that it indicates that Haskins was making better decisions and the offensive players around Haskins were making some plays. While there’s no such thing as a good loss, I think that this aspect is encouraging for the future — later this season when the WFT is playing teams that aren’t as talented as the Ravens, and 2021 and beyond when the roster is likely to be more talented overall.

Turnovers

The second key was not to lose the turnover battle. In fact, officially, the WFT won the turnover battle with two Kendall Fuller interceptions trumping one ball fumbled away by J.D.McKissic on the second drive of the game.

Taking a broader view of turnovers, Hopkins missed field goal was an important play that saw a Washington leave points on the field and give Baltimore good field position. Furthermore, the decision by Rivera to go for it on 4th and goal from the 13 yard line following a 17 play drive had almost the same effect as a turnover given that the Football Team gave up 23 yards on a penalty and a sack after being set up at the 10 yard line. Of course, allowing a first down on the Raven’s fake punt belongs in this category as well.

Contain the QB

My third key for the game was to contain Lamar Jackson.

Jackson had 6 runs for a total of 3 yards.

Unfortunately, he had a 7th run. The “other” one was for 50 yards and a touchdown.

This is a matter of doing it right 6 out of 7 times, then getting killed on the one time when the defense didn’t get it right.

Non-McLaurin offensive production

My fourth key was that offensive skill players in addition to Terry McLaurin had to be productive and show that they could carry part of the load.

Antonio Gibson stepped up with 17 touches, 128 yards and a rushing touchdown.

Overall, Haskins threw for 314 yards to 7 receivers, including wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. Terry McLaurin led all receivers with 10 receptions for 118 yards, including a monster catch late in the 4th quarter for 39 yards that set up the team’s final touchdown following Fuller’s second interception.

Haskins had his most consistent game of the season, and, while the offensive line didn’t dominate, it looked the best it has all season, and the offense had two big playmakers in this game with a number of other contributors.

Bottom line

All in all, despite losing by two touchdowns, I thought this was the best 4 quarters of football Washinton has played in a single game this season and I saw reasons for optimism.

Depending on what happens in the Eagles-Niners game tonight, Washington will go into Week 5 either leading the division or a half-game back. Stunningly, there is still a chance that the team can put together a meaningful season in the worst division in the NFL.

What I saw from Rivera’s squad today looked like decent football, which seemed like a definite step forward for the Football Team. They’re not a good team yet, but they show signs of getting better.