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Commanders win ugly in Chicago to keep the season alive...barely

2-4 after 6 weeks

Washington Commanders v Chicago Bears Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

With the Commanders coming into Soldier Field at 1-4 and having lost 4 straight games, it felt as if the season were on the line in this Thursday Night Football game. While a single win against a bad Bears team wouldn’t turn around the season, it would at least be a baby step in the right direction, while a loss felt as if it would mark a low point from which there could be no return, not in this season anyway.

ESPN’s matchup predictor listed Washington as having 51.4% chance of winning prior to kickoff (with 0.6% chance of a tie).

Washington started the game with massive pressure from the pass rush, but Justin Fields got away from at least two tacklers, in what Commanders fans hoped would not be a sign of things to come On the Bears first run of the night, the Commanders stuffed the rush, which was a good sign against a team that runs the ball more often than almost any team in the NFL.

Fields was eventually sacked on his 3rd dropback after holding the ball far too long – Efe Obada was the guy who got him. With a 3rd & 19 after the sack, Payne & Allen combined to sack Field for the 2nd time, ending the Bears first drive. The Bears were -11 yards in the passing game when they punted the ball to the Commanders.

Milne put the ball on the ground on his first return, but it was ruled no fumble, and Commanders fans around the world let out their collective breaths.

Brian Robinson, unsurprisingly, carried the ball on Washington’s first 2 plays from scrimmage. What was surprising was that the Bears defense, ranked 31st against the run, held him to 3 yards on those two rushes. On 3rd & 7, the Chicago pass rush blew through the porous Commanders line and swarmed Carson Wentz for an 8-yard loss.

After one offensive series by each team, the Commanders were -8 and the Bears -11 in the passing game, and Thursday Night Football was shaping up exactly as everyone feared it might.

Starting at their own 34 yard line for their 2nd possession, the Bears were clearly winning the early battle for field position. Fields opened up this series with a completion to Cole Kmet near midfield for a 1st down. A big gain on a screen pass on the next play was called back because of a penalty, but Fields got another first down on a 19-yard completion to Pettis. Suddenly the Bears were on the 30-yard line with a 1st down. They faced their first 3rd down of the drive at the 23 yard line (3rd & 3). Fields ran with the ball and was stopped short, but on 4th & 1, a sneak by Fields turned into a fresh set of downs.

With 3:33 left in the 1st quarter, the Bears had 1st & goal from the 6 yard line. On 2nd & goal, a pass by Fields bounced off the helmet of DL Efe Obada at the line of scrimmage, and came down in the hands of defensive captain Jonathan Allen, who recorded his first interception of the season – only the 2nd turnover forced by the Commanders in 2022 – ending the Bears threatening drive at the 5 yard line.

Washington started their 2nd drive with a penalty, bringing up 1st & 13 with the ball at their own 3 yard line. After one short run by Robinson, Wentz hit rookie Cole Turner for an 18-yard gain, getting the offense its first good play of the game.

The first quarter ended with the Washington Commanders possessing the ball, 2nd & 5 at the 24 yard line in a scoreless game. Both teams were averaging around 3.5 yards per play, but Chicago had the only sustained drive in the first quarter, though Allen’s interception was clearly the biggest play of the opening period.

Following an incomplete pass on 2nd down, Wentz opened the second quarter by taking a sack on 3rd & 5, making him officially the most-sacked quarterback in the NFL with 22.

Following the punt, on first down at their own 30 yard line, the Bears RB Herbert, broke a tackle 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage and broke loose for a huge 64-yard run, setting up 1st & goal at the Commanders 6-yard line.

Continuing a troubling trend of penalties, the Commanders were flagged for having 12 men on the field, setting up the Bears with a fresh 1st & goal from the 3 yard line. After 2 unsuccessful plays, the Bears were facing 3rd & goal when Fields tried to run it in himself and took a pair of huge hits from Washington’s safeties who stopped him at the 1-yard line. The Commanders defense, in the form of Holcomb and Montez Sweat, held on the next play, stopping the Bears running back at the line of scrimmage, giving the ball back to Carson Wentz and the offense with 99 yards of green grass in front of them.

Two big defensive plays had kept the Bears out of the end zone in the shadow of the goalposts. With the score tied at 0-0, it was time for the offense to make something happen. Two runs got the ball to the 5 yard line, where the Commanders faced a 3rd & 6.

The big play came with a pass completion to Terry McLaurin who went for 17 yards to the 23 yard line. Two plays later, the Commanders faced a 3rd & 5, and Wentz went deep to Dyami Brown, but missed him, ending the drive at the Washington 28-yard line, where Tress Way came on for his third punt of the night.

As the Bears took over for their 4th drive of the night, they had 7 first downs and 143 total yards compared to just 2 first downs and 43 yards for the Commanders, but the two huge defensive stops in the red zone by the Washington defense left the game a scoreless tie.

Chicago wasted no time picking up where they had left off. On 1st down, Fields completed a 36-yard pass to Montgomery to set the offense up at midfield again.

On 3rd & 3, Field threw a bomb downfield, but Wildgoose was there to watch the overthrown ball hit the grass. The Bears punted.

Washington was set up with their best starting field position of the night with a 1st down at their own 17-yard line with 6 minutes left in the half.

The offense picked up an immediate first down with a 14-yard completion to McLaurin. Two plays later, Washington faced a 3rd & 4 at their own 37 yard line. Playing from an empty set, Wentz simply missed the receiver to end the drive.

Way’s 4th punt was fair caught at the Bears 20-yard line where Chicago started its 5th drive of the game with 3:47 on the clock.

Facing a 3rd down two plays later, the Bears offense was stopped by a pass breakup by Kendall Fuller, marking the second consecutive stop by the Commanders defense far enough away from their end zone to force a punt.

With yet another penalty against the Commanders (this one on special teams) the Washington offense set up at their own 23 yard line.

The 2 minute warning saw the Commanders with a 2nd & 5 at the 28-yard line in a still-scoreless game.

A quick glance at the box score showed the Bears running back, Herbert, formerly of Virginia Tech, having the most notable game on 4 rushes for 65 yards, and Darnell Mooney leading all receivers with 40 yards.

On 3rd & 5, Wentz threw downfield to Curtis Samuel near midfield. Chicago was called for pass interference, on what appeared to be a bad call, setting the Commanders up with a 1st down at their own 28 yard line.

Wentz at this point was suffering with a pained hand that had been hit on a helmet a couple of plays earlier. Another pass interference call against the Bears set Washington up with a fresh set of downs atop the Bears logo near midfield. On first down, Wentz threw a strike to Samuel that hit him in stride at the 5 yard line for a sure touchdown, but Curtis dropped it.

On the next play, JD McKissic partially bailed him out by running for 16 yards. Another drop by Samuel on 2nd down brought up 3rd & 6 from the Chicago 20 yard line. Wentz threw to Terry McLaurin in the end zone, but he was well-covered and the ball bounced off the defender’s arm to prevent the touchdown.

Joey Slye came on and split the uprights with a 38-yard field goal to put the first points on the board. With 00:46 left in the half, the Commanders had taken a non-Commanding lead at 3-0, but, having started the first half on defense, were set to start the 2nd half on offense.

First, however, the Commanders defense had a job to do.

On 1st down, it looked like the defense would sack Fields, but as he had done a few times already, he escaped and ran to avoid the sack; that happened again on 2nd down, and with 30 seconds left in the half, the Bears were at 3rd & 6. With no open receivers downfield, Justin Fields again scrambled for a first down.

With 18 ticks left on the clock, at their own 40 yard line, it would take a good play or two to get the Bears into scoring position. On 2nd down, the Bears completed a pass that set up the Chicago offense at the Washington 45 yard line with 5 seconds left in the half.

Fields threw the Hail Mary to a crowded end zone, and a lot of hands touched the ball, which eventually fell harmlessly to the grass, bringing the half to an end with the good guys holding on to a slim 3-point lead in a game that was making last week’s 7-field goal game by the Seahawks and Broncos look like a shootout.

At halftime

Chicago’s offense had 10 first downs; Washington had 6.

Chicago had run 36 plays to 26 for the Commanders.

Total yards wasn’t close: 202 for the Bears; 88 for the Commanders.

The Bears were averaging 5.6 yards per play; Washington was averaging 3.4.

Individually, Fields was 7/14 for 89 yards and an interception; Wentz was just 5/14 (with two drops by Curtis Samuel) for just 57 yards.

Chicago’s running back Herbert finished the half with 65 yards on 4 carries, while Fields scrambled 6 times for 32 yards. Montgomery chipped in another 26 yards on 8 carries.

Washington’s running game was led by McKissic, who had 20 yards on 2 carries. Robinson had the bulk of Washington’s carries, but had gotten just 19 yards.

With a total of 7 receptions for 89 yards, none of the Bears receivers was lighting it up, but Mooney led all receivers in the game with 40 yards

For the Commanders, Terry led with 31 yards, but that was largely due to Curtis Samuel’s two drops. Had Curtis caught the first one, he would have had a touchdown and been leading everyone in yards. Instead, Cole Turner was Washington’s 2nd leading receiver with 2 catches for 23 yards.

Both quarterbacks were under pressure frequently, though Fields had done a good job escaping several times. Fields was sacked 3 times in the first half; Wentz was sacked twice.

Wentz seemed to be suffering from a mild hand injury, and Field was shaken up on two consecutive plays near the end of the half.

The second half opened with a kick return by – not Dax Milne – but Antonio Gibson, who set the offense up at the 25 yard line.

Scott Turner again called a Brian Robinson run on first down and second down, but for the first time all night, it worked. Robinson picked up the first down at the 36 yard line.

The next play was a reverse to McLaurin, who took a brutal hit after gaining 6 yards; he fumbled, but the ball came right back into his hands. The offense faced its first 3rd down of the drive at the 44 yard line. On 3rd & 2, Wentz somehow managed to get sacked instead of throwing the ball away. Tress Way’s 5th punt of the night was a beauty that ended up at the Bears 6-yard line.

The story of the game so far had been either great defense or terrible offense for both teams – maybe a little of both. The Bears had put together a couple of good drives and gotten into the red zone twice, but it didn’t look like the magic was gonna be reignited as the Bears found themselves at 3rd & 8 inside their own 10 yard line. On a screen pass behind the line, the Commanders allowed the Bears to get out of the shadow of their own goal line for a first down. Maybe the Bears would reignite the magic after all.

But two plays later it was 3rd down again at the Chicago 25; the Bears ran the ball on a pitch play to secure their second 1st down of the series. The Bears were now set up at their 38 yard line with a 1st down. Mooney caught another pass for 21 yards and another 1st down.

On the next play, 1st & 10 at the Commanders 40 yard line, with Washington again being flagged for 12 men on the field, Fields hit Pettis in stride in the end zone for a big-play touchdown. After the PAT, the Bears led 7-3.

With just under 4 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, the Commanders set up on offense for their 8th dive of the game at the 25 yard line. The offense needed to flip the switch.

Terry McLaurin started things off with a good 11-yard catch & run. Gibson took over for Robinson and took a handoff wide left for 18 yards, picking up the second 1st down on consecutive plays, and the Commanders were at the Bears 42 yard line, 1st & 10. A pass to Gibson on 2nd down was good for the third 1st down of the drive. The coaches stayed with Gibson, letting Brian Robinson watch and learn from the sidelines. Gibson ran the ball on the next two plays and gashed the Bears defense for another 1st down at the Bears 22 yard line.

The next play was a strange formation that turned into a checkdown or screen pass to Gibson, who comprised almost all of the Commanders’ offense on this drive. On 2nd & 5, however, the coaches gave the ball to Robinson. He got 4 bringing up the first 3rd down of the drive; Curtis Samuel became the 3rd different runner in the series, and he picked up the 1st down, setting up the offense goal-go-go at the 10 yard line.

On 2nd & Goal, Wentz kept the ball, ending up at the 5 yard line, and that’s where the 3rd quarter ended.

The Commanders opened the final quarter of the game with a hugely important play – 3rd & goal from the 5, trailing by 4 points. The Washington brainstrust had several minutes to consider what they wanted to do with this crucial play.

When play restarted in the 4th quarter however, the whistle blew, stopping the action; on the 12th play of the drive, the offense was flagged for a false start (Cam Sims), pushing them back to the 10 yard line for the 3rd down play. The subsequent pass by Wentz was batted down at the line, and Joey Slye came onto the field for his second field goal attempt of the game. Just seconds into the 4th quarter, the Commanders pulled to within 1 point, 7-6 against the Bears.

The Commanders defense had to get back to work and stop the Bears again. They started well, forcing a 3rd & 8 at the Bears 24 yard line. They – again – almost sacked Fields, who again broke the tackle and picked up the first down on a scramble.

Washington’s tackling was poor on the following play, allowing Herbert to add to his already impressive night, but they stiffened and forced a 3rd & 1 at the Bears 44 yard line. This time, Fields eluded one rusher, but not the 2nd, and he was sacked for a 13-yard loss.

On the ensuing Chicago punt, Dax Milne had a rare good return of 14 yards that set the offense up with good field position at the Washington 33 yard line. This was the opportunity that Carson Wentz and his offense needed to take control of the game and the scoreboard. With 10:34 left on the scoreboard, a sustained scoring drive could make a huge difference.

Things didn’t start well. The coaches went back to Brian Robinson, and he was stuffed for a 2-yard loss.

Wentz made those yards back and then some — he got the team to 3rd & 6 with a completion to Cam Sims. The 3rd down play almost worked, going for 5 yards to Gibson at the 40-yard line bringing up 4th down.

On 4th down, Washington took the penalty for delay of game and brought Tress Way out yet again. He booted the ball to the Chicago 10, where the returner muffed the punt!

The officials said that the Commanders recovered the loose ball at the 6 yard line, and special teams had made the huge play that the offense had been unable to come up with all day!

With a 1st & goal at the 6, it looked promising, but I couldn’t help think back to last week when the team had 1st & goal from the 2 yard line and a chance to win the game — a chance they didn’t convert into a win against the Titans.

On 1st down, Robinson hit a wall and bounced the ball outside, getting to the 1-yard line, largely on the strength of a brutal block delivered by Carson Wentz on LB Roquan Smith. On 2nd down, Robinson scored his first-ever NFL touchdown to put his team in the lead.

With a 5 point lead, Ron Rivera elected to go for 2, but the play never came close to succeeding, and the scoreboard stayed at 12-7, Commanders in the lead again with just over 7 minutes remaining. Despite a lot more offense to come, those were the last points scored in the ball game.

The big plays for Washington had been made by the defense, with an interception and a goal line stand, and special teams with the fumble recovery. The Commanders had the lead, but the Bears were at home, where they were so far undefeated in 2022.

On 1st down, with the Commanders defense getting pressure, Fields escaped for a 5 yard gain. He was stuffed for no gain when he carried the ball on 2nd down, and it was 3rd & 5. This time, the sack was dominant as Jonathan Allen hit Fields quickly – but the sack was lost because of another penalty. This time it was hands to the face called on St-Juste, giving the Bears’ drive new life.

Two rushes by Montgomery secured another first down, with Chicago now near midfield. With the clock inside 4 minutes, this was a critical drive. A touchdown by the Bears would put them in the lead with very little time remaining; a stop by the defense would put the Commanders in a strong position to win the game.

A couple of plays later, it was 3rd & 11 at the Washington 43 yard line. This was a crucial play in the game, and Fields threw an incomplete pass. It was 4th & 11, but with only 2:34 on the clock, the Bears decided to go for it.

This time, it was the Bears who took the delay of game penalty, pushing the line of scrimmage back near midfield where they faced a 4th & 16.

An incomplete pass ended the threat, giving Washington the ball with great field position, a 5-point lead, 2:28 on the clock, and both teams in possession of all 3 time outs. Too much conservatism in play calling could give the Bears another chance; Washington really needed a couple of 1st downs to put the game away.

Of course, conservative calls aren’t really conservative when the running back breaks free for 15 yards, which is what Brian Robinson did. The new line of scrimmage was at the 36 yard line; Chicago burned their first timeout. Robinson made little or nothing on 2nd down, and the Bears used another timeout.

Facing 2nd & 9, Robinson ran for 2 yards, and the game went to the 2-minute warning with Washington at the Chicago 33 yard line, facing a 3rd & 7. A first down would effectively win the game; anything less would keep Chicago alive.

The coaches put Antonio Gibson back in the game; he carried for 3 yards. Chicago used its final timeout with 1:54 remaining. Ron Rivera eschewed the option to punt the ball and play defense; Joey Sly came onto the field for a 48-yard attempt that he really needed to make to take an 8-point lead, since a miss would give the Bears great field position.

Slye missed.

The Bears got the ball at their own 38 yard line, needing to get 62 yards to score a touchdown to win the game. They had no time outs. A fumble forced by Jon Allen on first down was recovered by the Bears, but the clock kept running. And then, just that fast, a big run by Montgomery followed by a 39-yard scramble by Justin Fields put Chicago in business 1st & goal at the 5 yard line with 57 seconds on the clock.

On 1st down, Fields scrambled, but Holcomb knocked him out of bounds at the 4 on a play when the Commanders defense had only 10 players on the field.

On 2nd down, Fields’ pass was tipped by James Smith-Williams to force 3rd down.

On 3rd & goal, Pettis got his hands on the ball in the end zone, but a great defensive play by Darrick Forrest saved the touchdown. Bears fans were crying for an interference call, but it was just good pass defense by the 2nd year safety, who made the third game-saving play in a row for the Commanders defense.

On 4th & goal with 35 seconds on the clock, with the game to be decided on one play, Bears receiver Mooney went up in the air inside the end zone, got both hands on the ball, but bobbled it as he was hit by CB Ben St-Juste. Mooney secured the ball at the 6-inch line, but was forced out of bounds on a great game-winning defensive play by St-Juste. Who needs William Jackson III and his sore back, anyway?

Washington got the win in what was literally a game of inches, going to 2-4.

The rest of the NFC East will play on Sunday. The Giants are home underdogs to the AFC North Ravens, while the Cowboys and Eagles play each other for early control of the division on Sunday Night Football, with the undefeated Eagles at home against the 4-1 Cowboys. We could end up with the Commanders chasing a pair of 4-1 teams at the top of the division, or we could see an undefeated Eagles team starting to run away with the division lead while Washington potentially chases a pair of 4-2 teams for 2nd place in the division.

At 2-4, the Commanders, in the immortal words of Monty Python, are not dead yet.

Some end of game statistics:

First downs: Chicago 20, Washington 14

Total yards: Chicago 392; Washington 214

Rushing yards: Chicago 238 (!!), Washington 128

Penalties: Chicago 4-42, Washington 7-36

Takeaways: Chicago 0, Washington 2 (1 INT, 1 FR)

Sacks by Defense: Chicago 3-13, Washington 5-36

Carson Wentz was 12-22, 99 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs

Brian Robinson: 17 carries, 60 yards, 1 TD, (3.52 avg)

Antonio Gibson: 5 carries, 35 yards, (7.0 avg)

McLaurin: 3 catches, 41 yards

Cole Turner: 2 catches, 23 yards

Chicago was led by Fields in rushing (12 carries for 88 yards) and Herbert (7 carries, 75 yards). Montgomery led the team in carries with 15 for 67 yards.

The top two receivers in the game were wearing orange helmets & jerseys: Pettis had 4 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown; Mooney had 7 catches for 68 yards.