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Brian Johnson introduces himself with game winning kick against the Raiders

Washington is 6-6 and ready to take on the NFC East

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Washington Football Team v Las Vegas Raiders
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 05: Brian Johnson #16 of the Washington Football Team watches his field goal attempt go for a 48-yard field goal against the Las Vegas Raiders during the fourth quarter at Allegiant Stadium on December 05, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Ball Control

For the fourth week in a row, running back Antonio Gibson shouldered the load for the offense, rushing 23 times for 88 yards, and catching 5 passes on 6 targets for 23 yards and a touchdown. This was another game where the Football Team’s 3rd down efficiency was good (7-13) while its opponent’s 3rd down efficiency was not (the Raiders were 2-8), and in which Washington won the Time of Possession battle 33:43 to 26:17

Most NFL games have between 22 and 24 offensive drives. Sunday’s game in Las Vegas had only 18 (9 drives per team), so every possession was critical. There were 6 consecutive punts in the first half (3 per team), and the score was just 7-3 at the intermission.

But things heated up in the second half. After an exchange of punts to open the third quarter, the next 6 drives ended with either a score or an interception. Washington was a perfect 2-2 on trips to the red zone against Vegas.

After taking the lead on the first drive of the game, Washington didn’t fall behind until there was just 2:22 left in the game, when the Raiders kicked a field goal to take the lead 15-14.

Game winning drive

It was time for a game winning drive. Washington put together an 8-play, 44 yard drive that culminated in a 48-yard field goal to take the lead for good at 17-15. Although there were 37 seconds left in the game, the Washington defense did just enough (including defending a Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play) to prevent Las Vegas from scoring — enough to seal the win.

The game winning field goal was kicked by Brian Johnson, who was signed on from the Bears practice squad on Tuesday as a replacement for Joey Slye, the placekicker who was injured at the end of the first half against the Seahawks on Monday Night Football in Week 12.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Brian Johnson

Johnson is a rookie, and, while Sunday was the first time he had suited up for Washington, it was not his first NFL game. In fact, Johnson had played in 4 games for the New Orleans Saints earlier this season (Weeks 7-10) when the Saints’ regular kicker, Brett Maher, was injured.

Johnson was a perfect 8-8 on field goals for the Saints , but inexplicably missed 3 extra point attempts (out of 8).

Johnson surely won’t have to pay for his own drinks in the DC area this week. He hit both of his extra point attempts before nailing the game winner from 48 yards to secure Washington’s 4th consecutive victory, taking the Football Team to 6-6 overall.

After the game, some Washington players admitted that they hadn’t really gotten to know Johnson before the game.

Johnson, a native of Bethesda, Maryland, attended Gonzaga College High School in D.C. before spending four years kicking for Virginia Tech, talked after the game about how excited he was to be representing the DMV

“I’m just from over the river in Bethesda, Maryland,” Johnson said in his introductory press conference Thursday. “Went to Gonzaga, grown up here my whole life so it feels really good to be back. I have a lot of friends and families in the area.”

Although Bethesda is closer to FedEx Field than M&T Bank Stadium, Johnson admitted that his football fandom tilted toward the Ravens over Washington when he was younger.

“I actually grew up a Ravens fan,” Johnson said. “But some of my family, they’re Washington fans so I’ve always had a place in my heart for them too and it feels good to represent them.”


A revolving door

Johnson is the 4th player to attempt a field goal for the Washington Football Team this season. The team opened the season with longtime kicker Dustin Hopkins, but in a fit of desperation, coach Ron Rivera cut Hopkins following the team’s Week 6 loss to Kansas City, despite the fact that Hopkins had been successful on 90% of his field goal attempts over the previous 14 games.

Chris Blewitt was signed to replace Hopkins in spite of the fact that he had not kicked in a competitive game since 2016 when he was a college player at the University of Pittsburgh. Blewitt was a disaster in the two games he played before he was replaced by Joey Slye, whom Ron Rivera had previously coached in Carolina. (Hopkins, meanwhile, was a perfect 7-7 on FGs coming into Week 13 and 12-13 on PATs now kicking for the Chargers).

Slye turned out to be okay, going 6-6 before injuring his hamstring in Week 12. It was that injury to Slye that opened the door for Brian Johnson. With Slye on IR, Johnson’s teammates and WFT fans should get to know the kicker’s name as he is likely to be here for a few weeks at least.

Winning ugly

The win over the Raiders in Las Vegas was not pretty, but it added a game to the season win total, and that’s all that matters in the NFL. Washington traveled to Vegas on a short week after playing on Monday Night Football just 6 days ago. The Raiders meanwhile, had last played on Thanksgiving, which meant that the players on the Vegas roster had had a week and a half to rest and recover. (This is something Washington needs to get used to; the Cowboys, Washington’s next opponent, last played on Thursday night against the Saints, and the Eagles — our Week 14 opponent — have a Week 13 bye).

For the fourth time in the past 5 games, Washington held its opponent to less than 20 points (and they gave up just 21 in the 5th game). Washington is now playing the kind of defense that they should have been playing all year. Unfortunately, it took until the team was 2-6 for the formula to come together.

Shutting down the Raiders offensive attack

Coming into this game, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was leading the league in passing yards, averaging 310 passing yards per game. Washington held him to just 234 yards (no passing TDs) for the game, and shut down running back Josh Jacobs as well, allowing him just 52 yards and a touchdown.

On offense, Washington’s quarterback, Taylor Heinicke, was fairly efficient, going 23/30, 196 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. The interception occurred when a pass rusher hit the QB’s arm, causing the pass to leave his hand off target.

Washington didn’t exactly struggle in the game, but the Football Team didn’t tackle consistently on defense, and often failed to maintain drives on offense. I think this was primarily the result of injuries.

Injuries

Washington’s defense was already shorthanded with both of its starting DEs, Montez Sweat and Chase Young, out with injury, but the loss of Landon Collins, who is strong in run defense and pass pressure, was harder to replace. I feel confident that the defense will look better when he is back, hopefully as soon as next week against the division-leading Dallas Cowboys.

Offensively, the huge spark that was missing was 3rd-down back JD McKissic. While the Football Team elevated RB Wendell Smallwood to help maintain the offensive attack, Smallwood played a limited number of snaps, and got just 3 touches for a total of 25 yards. While he did nothing wrong, it was clear that he lacked the explosion and vision that McKissic routinely displays. No one else in the offense was able to provide the same level of offensive spark. Let’s hope that McKissic is able to clear the concussion protocol before Sunday’s game against Dallas at FedEx Field.

Starting tight end Logan Thomas was injured late in the second half when he was hit directly on his knee by an opponent’s helmet. Early reports say that the team fears that the injury may be serious.

Losing Logan Thomas to a serious injury would be a blow, although backup tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, who has missed the past three games with a hip injury, may be ready to return to the lineup soon. He is not on IR, thought RSJ was inactive for the Raiders game. The game in Las Vegas was only Thomas’s 6th game of the season, and his second since returning from a hamstring injury suffered in Week 4 that kept him out for 6 games. Thomas had a breakout year in 2020, and when healthy is an integral part of the Washington offensive attack.

The NFC East

Dallas leads the NFC East, but in the five remaining weeks of the season, Washington plays the Cowboys twice, along with two games against the Eagles and a Week 18 contest against the New York Giants.

At the moment, Washington is in 2nd place in the NFC East division, and in 6th place in the national conference. This means that the Football Team is well poised for the playoffs, either as a wilcard team or as the division champion of the NFC East. Strange as it might seem, if Washington can run the table, winning its final 5 games, then it will repeat as division champion. Either way, the team has put itself in a good position with its 4-game winning streak (the 3rd longest winning streak in the NFL prior to Sunday Night Football). As is almost always true, the most important game is the next one, so Washington needs to extend the streak to 5 games at FedEx this Sunday afternoon!