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Silver linings: It’s Tuesday and I feel okay now

Yes, I watched the same game you did.

Yes, I know we lost.

Yes, I know that Ryan Fitzpatrick will miss half the season...maybe more.

But I feel okay.

I’m not happy that we lost by 4 points at home in the season opener, but half the league opens the season 0-1 every year. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and I don’t think we have to start thinking about a top-5 pick in the 2022 draft just yet.

Tuning in late

Let me start with this idea. If you had been unable to see most of Sunday’s game against the Chargers and had turned it on with 12:16 to play in the 4th quarter, here’s what you would have seen: William Jackson III intercepted a Justin Herbert pass at the Washington 4 yard line.

That meant that the WFT offense took the field leading 16-13 with time for two or three drives left in the game. I imagine you’d have been excited and optimistic in that situation. I know I was at that point.

What happened before that?

The Chargers drove the length of the field for an easy touchdown on the opening drive of the season. That was unwelcome, but I felt pretty good at the time about the idea that it was the last time they’d do it in the game.

I was sort of right.

Defenses get evaluated in a lot of ways, but the two most common ways are yards surrendered and points surrendered. Of the two, points comprise the more important statistic by miles. If I am forced to choose between having the best defense as measured by yards or by points, I’ll take points every time.

What I saw from Del Rio’s defense last season was that they played tougher in the second half of the season than in the first; that they played tougher in the second half of games than in the first, and that they played tougher in the red zone than they did between the 20s.

Against the Chargers, Del Rio’s defense was giving up yards (and I agree — far too many yards), but they weren’t letting the Chargers cash in on those drives by finishing with touchdowns.

The 6 Chargers drives in the middle of the game

For all the issues that the defense had on Sunday, look at the result of the Chargers’ drives after the initial TD and ending with the Jackson interception:

  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Field Goal
  • Field Goal
  • Fumble
  • Interception

That’s six points for the offense and two defensive takeaways in six drives. Yep, I know the sack-fumble in the WFT red zone was a questionable call. Every NFL game has questionable calls. Heck, if the refs had called the blatant early facemask penalty on the Antonio Gibson run, it might have been a totally different game. But they didn’t. Shit happens.

The point is that, mid-4th quarter, Washington was leading the game and had gotten there by playing complementary football. The offense hadn’t turned the ball over, the defense had forced two takeaways, Tress Way had punted well, and DeAndre Carter had justified his inclusion on the roster as a returner. The team had the ball and a 3-point lead.

Two terrible plays

Then the fumble happened. Antonio Gibson coughed the ball up on his own 3-yard line, basically gifting the Chargers a touchdown.

That play, and the infamous 3rd & 16 from the Chargers 29-yard-line with 5:29 left in the game were the two huge mistakes that ensured that Washington took the “L” to open the season.

Most games turn on a half dozen or fewer specific plays. This one was no different. Washington didn’t look hapless against the Chargers, they looked like a team that has some issues to sort out.

I went on record prior to the start of the season with a 12-5 prediction, but I also said that I expect the team to open 3-4 in the first seven games. The defense is starting two rookies in Jamin Davis and Benjamin St-Juste, along with a rookie OT in Cosmi, and will rely heavily on rookie Dyami Brown in the pass game. We have (had?) a new quarterback. It’s gonna take time for this young team to sort itself out, and it plays its toughest games early. We’re gonna lose some games like the one this past Sunday — games where Cosmi gets schooled, St-Juste gets picked on, and Davis is a non-factor.

But if they can weather the early storm, I think the team will be able to beat some quality opponents in the middle of the season and then dominate the NFC East competition in December and January as the team matures and the depth of the roster begins to pay dividends.

The importance of the Thursday night game against the Giants

There are two significant outcomes from the Thursday night game at FedEx Field against the Giants.

First, the loser of that game will automatically be in last place in the NFC East by virtue of the fact that they will be winless, and that they will have the only NFCE divisional loss. By contrast, depending on what happens with the Eagles on Sunday, there’s a good chance that the winner of the game will secure first place in the division by the time Week 2 ends. If the 49ers can defeat the Eagles, then there would be two or three teams with 1-1 records in the NFC East, but the winner of the TNF game will be the only one with a division win.

With Washington not playing another division game until Week 14, it would be great to log a division win.

Secondly, we all know how important it is to avoid an 0-2 start if a team has playoff aspirations.

Adding up the playoff teams and the seventh seeds over the last 19 seasons, it turns out that 58% of the teams that won their season openers would have made the playoffs under the current 14-team playoff rules. On the other hand, only 30% of the teams that lost their season openers would have gone on to reach the playoffs under the current system.

The table summarizes the historic playoff odds for making a 14-team playoff when you consider the first nine games of the season, based on a team’s record at any given time.

That historic record puts a lot of pressure on the 16 teams that lost this weekend to go out and win their next game. A team that follows up a season-opening loss with more losses drops out of the playoff race pretty fast.

An 0-1 record means Thursday’s game is already something of a must-win game. Start the season 0-2 and the odds of making the playoffs drop to just 13%. Open with three consecutive losses and for all practical purposes you can start planning for the 2022 draft.

The Giants

Last night, I watched the Giants loss to the Broncos on replay. The Giants scored with 00:00 on the game clock to cut the Broncos’ win margin from 20 points to 14 points. I saw nothing in that game to make me think that the Giants should be favored on Thursday night against the burgundy & gold.

In fact, the Football Team is favored by 4.5 points.

If Washington loses this week, then I’ll be ready to consider hitting the panic button. But, if Ron Rivera’s team can win this early NFCE matchup, consider what the early standings will look like if the 49ers (favored by 3.5 @ Philly) and the Chargers (favored by 2.5 vs Dallas) both win.

Hypothetical standings if the favored teams win in Week 2:

  • Washington 1-1 (1-0)
  • Philadelphia 1-1 (0-0)
  • Dallas 0-2 (0-0)
  • New York 0-2 (0-1)

With the soft mid-season schedule that Dallas has (and the relatively brutal schedule ahead for Washington) this isn’t likely to last long, but it would be a nice way to get the bad taste of the Week 1 loss out of our mouths, and it would put the Giants under some pressure (though they have the opportunity for a “get well” game against Atlanta in Week 3), along with the Cowboys & Eagles, who play each other on Monday Night Football in Week 3.

Let’s face it — this is as close to a ‘must win’ game as you can get in Week 2. Washington plays the Bills, Saints, Chiefs, Packers and Broncos before the Week 9 bye.

If Washington is going to win the division this season, they’re going to have to do it by going 4-1 or 5-0 from Weeks 14 to 18 in five consecutive NFC East games. In the meantime, Thursday’s prime time matchup at home against the New York Football Giants offers an opportunity to get an important division win and then a long week of rest and preparation before a tough road trip to Buffalo in Week 3.

Yes, the storm clouds rolled in on Sunday afternoon, but I still see some silver linings, and I’m nowhere close to giving up on the season after one disappointing outcome.