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Unpacking my emotional response to the exciting road victory against Atlanta

what an exciting win! We’ve got a lot of work to do.

NFL: Washington Football Team at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

I really wanted to write this article immediately after the game in Atlanta ended, but (a) I was drained from the roller-coaster of a game, and (b) it was about 4 a.m. in Bangkok and I had to work on Monday.

So, I’ve waited a few hours. I’m going to have to watch this game again before I can evaluate it fairly and rationally; I hope to write an article in a day or two about my rational reaction to the game, providing reasons, statistics and maybe even some film clips, but in this article, I just want to address my emotional response to the game while it’s still slightly raw. I may have to “take some things back” later, as this is akin to a gameday thread, where I am reacting fairly immediately to the game experience rather than doing any actual analysis.

Here are some notes on how I FELT about what I saw against the Falcons.

No. 1 – There were a lot of heroes on the offensive side of the ball

Big plays from Taylor Heinicke, Terry McLaurin and JD McKissic in particular leap out at me. There’s a brand of exciting football that is getting played. Last week against Buffalo, first Antonio Gibson and then Taylor Heinicke made incredible leaps for the pylon from around the 5 yard line to score touchdowns. This week, JD McKissic vaulted from the 3, and ended up 4 or 5 yards beyond the pylon before he came to earth.

NFL: OCT 03 Washington Football Team at Falcons Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Terry McLaurin was trapped against the backline of the end zone and was being heavily interfered with, but did what was necessary to get free and pull in a critical touchdown to put the team back in the game. Heinicke just stays alive, and his two sacks for 18 yards in 3.5 games is pretty incredible. The kid has just put together his second 4th quarter game-winning drive in 4 starts.

NFL: Washington Football Team at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

For most of the offseason, I felt like I was DeAndre Carter’s only fan among the Washington faithful. I felt as if he was going to be part of the team’s winning formula, as a return man, and as part of the wide receiver corps (I repeatedly pointed out that in his career he had caught more than 80% of his targets and averaged over 11 yard per reception). He had a few good returns in the first three games, but he helped win the game in Atlanta by taking a kickoff 101 yards to the house (I have to confess that I yelled out loud for him to just take a knee when I saw him bringing the ball out of the end zone), and by making an important catch on his only target of the game.

One thing this team hasn’t been for a long time is fun to watch. Well, scratch that off your list – this might be one of the “funnest” offenses in the NFL to watch for 3 hours.

No. 2 – For the first time this season, injuries really affected the Washington Football Team

Losing Logan Thomas to a hamstring injury early really hurt, and Ricky Seals-Jones, despite being the hero against New York in Week 2, wasn’t really able to step up as Thomas’ replacement in Atlanta.

Thomas was the #2 most productive receiving target on the team coming into the game, and his loss was crippling to some degree.

Late in the game, the OL was clearly not the same without Brandon Scherff, and I thought at one point that his injury might end up costing the game, but the offense (and offensive line) rallied.

Jon Bostic got injured late in the game; he hurt his shoulder on his incredible missed tackle on a 3rd and goal that was the first of several missed tackles on the play that added 4 extra points to the Falcons total,

Receivers Dyami Brown and Cam Sims completed the hamstring trifecta, which is why DeAndre Carter was on the field in the 4th quarter, giving him a chance to prove that he can legitimately catch passes and make first downs as part of the offense.

At the end of the game, on the last desperate pass into the end zone by Matt Ryan, I saw a Washington player laying in the end zone when it was all over. I tried to see who it was, but the camera shifted and no mention was made in the broadcast. It turns out that it was CB Torry McTyer (who I think had gotten wrongly flagged for interference twice earlier in the game), and he had to be carted off. That’s never a good sign.

NFL: Washington Football Team at Atlanta Falcons
Torry McTyer (35) reacts after being injured against the Atlanta Falcons on the last play during the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Through three weeks, the Football Team had stayed pretty healthy (with the obvious exception of losing the starting quarterback in the second quarter of the opening game of the season, but that’s just par for the course in Washington), but this week the injury list could prove to be more troubling as the team prepares for a tough game against the Saints, who just lost in overtime at home against the Giants.

No. 3 – The defense still can’t play defense

Missed tackles by just about everyone who should never miss a tackle – Landon Collins, Jon Bostic, Bobby McCain, and more.

Coverage breakdowns – again – that left Atlanta receivers running free and walking into the end zone…again.

NFL: Washington Football Team at Atlanta Falcons
Oct 3, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson (84) catches a touchdown pass against the Washington Football Team during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Something is seriously wrong, and I’m starting to give credence to the multitude of fans that has been shouting for weeks that it’s the coaching. Surely, you can’t put this much talent on the field together and give up 10 of 16 3rd down conversions (again), 30 points (again) and 374 yards (again) with no takeaways (again).

For all the excitement and confidence I feel watching this Taylor Heinicke-led offense, that’s how much dread I feel every time I see the defense lining up on 3rd down.

No. 4 – NFL officiating seems to be getting worse, and instant replay isn’t the solution

This is the fourth week in a row that I’ve watched NFL football (and I don’t just mean Washington games) and felt like the officiating is broken. Officials are changing the course of games with bad calls, and the league seems powerless to fix what’s broken (making it seem that the same people must be in charge of NFL officials and Washington’s pass coverage).

I thought there were a lot of bad calls in this game, but none more egregious than the roughing the passer call against Chase Young on a 4th down play, taking away his sack, extending the Falcon’s drive, and, ultimately gifting Atlanta a touchdown. I’ve watched the play probably 40 times now. It seems clear that Chase saw Matt Ryan’s throwing motion, and his brain responded to coaching and told him not to tackle the QB and risk a roughing call. By the time his brain registered that Ryan hadn’t thrown it, all Chase did was give Matt Ryan a strong shove in the chest.

I’ve never before seen a roughing call where the defender pushed the QB, who was still in possession of the ball, and where it took the passer a second-and-a-half to lose his balance and put his knee on the turf before throwing the ball. It was awkward looking, and it was unconventional, but it wasn’t a penalty. It should have been a drive-ending sack for Chase Young and the Washington defense.

Nothing about the NFL bothers me more than the bad officiating and the complete unwillingness of the league to fix egregiously bad calls that affect the outcome of games. Washington won despite this penalty, but that doesn’t make the situation better.

I also thought, as mentioned above, that McTyer was victimized by some bad PI calls on plays where the flags kept the Falcon’s drives alive, but maybe I’ll change my mind when I re-watch the game.

No. 5 – While 2-2 is probably where most of us expected to be, the season will not be successful unless the defense can figure out its problems...now

Every Washington fan knows where we are. The problem isn’t so much the 2-2 record — after all, the Chargers and Bills are both good teams (a combined 5-2 record at the moment).

The problem is how the Football Team — specifically, the defense — has played in those games. I honestly feel as if the Football Team shot itself in the foot against the Chargers with Antonio Gibson’s fumble. If he hadn’t lost that ball, I think the chances are good that Washington would have come away with the win, but Gibson didn’t just drop that ball, it was punched out in a great defensive play. We got outplayed by the Chargers, and we got crushed by the Bills.

Against two bad teams – the Giants and Falcons – Washington has come away with exciting victories, which I like, but the degree of difficulty is troubling against teams that shouldn’t be forcing us to come from behind with game winning drives in the final minute of the 4th quarter IF Washington is a playoff caliber team.

The inescapable conclusion is that the offense may play some exciting football in the coming weeks with Taylor Heinicke doing what he does, but if the defense can’t figure out how to hold a talented opposing offense to less than 28 points by winning on 3rd down, generating some takeaways, and not blowing coverage responsibilities, then this isn’t a playoff team.

Washington has a good offensive roster and a very good defensive roster, but something isn’t working on the defensive side of the ball. DeAndre Carter, Terry McLaurin, JD McKissic, Antonio Gibson, Logan Thomas, Taylor Heinicke, the offensive line and (now) Curtis Samuel are doing a lot of things right, but they can’t continue to cover up missed tackles, blown coverages and inability to stop drives. Somehow, the message needs to get through to these guys that getting the W in Week 4 isn’t enough. If they want to be contender for a championship, they need to play at a completely different level.

With the Saints, Chiefs, Packers and Broncos all on the schedule between now and the Week 9 bye week, time has run out for Del Rio and his guys.

The time is now.

They need to show up at FedEx Field on Sunday, or risk seeing a promising season start to slip away.