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Three killer drives against the Lions

NFL: Washington Football Team at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The final nails in the coffin in the game against the Lions came in the waning seconds of the game. On 1st & 10 from the 50 yard line, Matt Stafford completed a 9-yard pass and the Detroit receiver stepped out of bounds, setting up a Matt Prater game winning field goal.

But what really killed the Washington Football Team on Sunday afternoon took place in the first half.

The first drive of the game

Washington got the ball first and put together a pretty drive, moving from their own 25 yard line to the Detroit 14-yard line, where the ball was in easy field goal range and the team faced short yardage on second down.

I swear this is true: sitting alone on my sofa in Bangkok, I said out loud that the team would, on the next two downs, suffer a penalty and a sack that would take them out of field goal range. Well, I messed up the details, but I nailed the gist of the story.

Scott Turner, on 2nd & 3, with the offense in sure field goal range, instead of calling a relatively safe running play against one of the NFL’s worst run defenses, opted for a reverse that lost ten yards. It was a terrible play call. This isn’t simply Monday morning (or Tuesday evening) quarterbacking on my part; this was an egregious mistake by a coordinator calling the wrong play for the situation. Washington had two plays to get three yards and a new set of downs. The worst case if they didn’t get a first-down or score a touchdown was that they would face a chip-shot field goal shorter than an extra point.

Still, even from the 24 yard line, Dustin Hopkins was probably likely to get the 3-pointer. The offense just had to avoid three things on the third-down play; they couldn’t have a major penalty, a turnover or a sack.

Of course, Alex Smith was sacked for a 14 yard loss, pushing the offense out of Hopkins’ effective field goal range and costing the team an almost automatic 3 points and the possibility of more.

This is how bad teams play football.

Washington’s fourth offensive possession

After scoring three points on the second drive and punting on the third, Washington started the fourth drive down 14-3 on the scoreboard, but with excellent field position thanks to a beautiful 46-yard kickoff return by Danny Johnson that set the WFT offense up at midfield.

Washington’s offensive success was limited, penetrating as far as Detroit’s 22 yard line, but stalling there.

On 4th & 5, Dustin Hopkins attempted and missed a 43-yard field goal.

Hopkins has been struggling all year. He has made 12 field goals but missed a total of 5. His 70.6% success rate simply isn’t good enough for an NFL kicker. He missed his only attempt over 50 yards, and he is 6 out of 10 between 40-49 yards. By comparison, at that distance he was 8 for 10 last year and 10 for 12 in 2018.

Hopkins’ inaccuracy has become a problem. His effective range seems to be getting shorter all the time. This week, it contributed to a loss as this 3-point miss added to the offensive ineffectiveness against the Lions.

Hopkins, who has been a steady player for Washington since 2015, seems to have a case of the yips now. He’s missing kicks that he simply has to make. Prior to the Detroit game, I thought Ron Rivera needed to take action. Now, I don’t know how he can continue to carry Hopkins on the roster. If his philosophy is that it’s unfair to the guys on the roster who are playing hard to get the win only to be let down by a guy who isn’t doing his part, Hopkins has to be considered a problem. He’s missed a field goal in 3 of the past 4 games and 4 of the past 6.

Washington’s fifth offensive possession

Still trailing 14-3, the Washington offense put together a nice 10-play drive that saw the offense facing a favorable situation — first & ten at the Detroit 33 yard line. The team had earned 5 first downs on the drive already, and it appeared that they were poised to score.

Instead, Terry McLaurin fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Detroit. Replay showed that the play was close; personally, I thought Terry’s knee was down, but the fact is that he lost control of the ball and the Lions took possession, ending another Washington scoring opportunity.

Giveaways are the enemy of winning teams; defensive takeaways are a key to consistent winning. There was only one turnover in the game on Sunday, and it was McLaurin’s fumble.

This marked the third offensive drive of the day on which Washington broached Detroit’s 35 yard line and came away scoreless.

Turnovers kill drives and change momentum. Terry’s fumble was the third big mistake in the first half by this struggling Washington offense

Too many lost opportunities

Mistakes happen in every game, and there were more mistakes against the Lions than just these three failed offensive drives, but imagine how different the game would have been if Washington had scored on all three drives — even if all they came away with was three field goals. Those 9 points would have changed the complexion of the game. In fact, had they not lost the fumble, I think the offense had a good chance of scoring the touchdown, meaning that it’s not unreasonable to think the team left 13 points on the field in the first half.

Winning teams make plays that count. Losing teams think about how close they are to success. Scott Turner made a bad play call on 2nd & 3, which was followed up by a lack of execution on third down that took the team out of scoring position. Hopkins missed a 43-yard field goal that he should be able to hit almost automatically as an NFL kicker, extending a pattern of misses in 2020 that is more than troubling. Terry McLaurin, who is one of the primary reasons that the Football Team has been as competitive as it has been for the past season and a half, gave up a crucial fumble to cost the team another scoring opportunity.

Poor play calling, poor execution and turnovers are a big part of what loses football games. Of course, penalties play a big role as well, and none was bigger than the careless roughing the passer penalty by Chase Young that gifted 15 yards to the Lions on their final drive of the game, but there’s a good chance that if the three first half drives detailed above hadn’t ended in futility, then the end of the game would have unfolded very differently.

This was a team loss. Until the entire group of coaches and players can consistently perform at a higher level, fans are likely to be frustrated by what they see on the field from week to week.

The next chance to get it right comes this Sunday at 1:00 in a home game against the 2-6-1 Bengals.