After watching the Giants pick up their 4th win over the Packers in London, I was feeling like almost anything was possible as I prepared for kickoff in the Titans-Commanders game. When Montez Sweat sacked Ryan Tannehill on the first play of the game, I was feeling buoyed. Jon Allen hit Tannehill on 3rd & 6 to end the Titans’ first drive with a 3 & out, and I was feeling pretty good.
Washington matched Tennessee with its own 3 & out on the first series due to a drop by Curtis Samuel on what would have been an easy first down, but Tress Way got the team ahead in the field position game by pinning Tennessee at their own 10-yard line.
The initial first down of the game belonged to the Titans when Montez Sweat jumped offsides on 3rd & 2, bu the followed up with his 2nd tackle for loss on the next play. Tennessee had to punt for the 2nd time after Tannehill missed his receiver about 50 yards downfield. Milne had a decent punt return, fielding the punt at the 11 and returning it to the 19, keeping Washington’s offense in decent field position. So far, Washington’s defense and special teams were doing well; we needed to see something from the offense.
Brian Robinson looked like he had an 8-yard gain on his first NFL regular season touch, but the ball came back due to a tight end holding penalty, bringing up 1st & 19. He got another carry, but this time just for 2 yards. Tight end Cole Turner got his first-ever NFL target on 2nd & 17, but the pass was incomplete. Washington punted, but this time it was just a 31-yard kick from Way, and the Titans were set up near midfield for their 3rd drive of the game. Suddenly, the Titans were winning the field position battle with the scoreboard still reading 0-0.
Tennesee marched down the short field with a heavy dose of Derrick Henry. The last two plays of the drive were a pair of screen passes – a 23 yarder to RB Henry, then a 13-yard TD to WR Hilliard. After a fairly promising start, the Commanders were suddenly down 7-0.
At this point, the Commanders offense had run only 6 plays for 14 yards, and had been called for 2 drive-killing penalties for 14 yards. Wentz started off on 1st down with a beautiful downfield pass to Curtis Samuel for 32 yards in the air, setting up the offense in Tennessee territory. Two plays later, Curtis caught another pass in the middle of the field for another 11 yards and another 1st down. On 3rd & 8 in field goal position at the Tennessee 32, there was a bad snap from center by Nick Martin, and Wentz just fell on the ball, pushing the 4th down field goal attempt out to 50 yards, but the Joey Slye split the uprights to bring the score to 7-3.
As the Titans began their 4th drive with 00:26 remaining in the first period, Derrick Henry had been held in check as a runner with 5 carries for just 10 yards, but he had had the big play on the screen pass.
At the end of the first quarter, it looked like a defensive battle, with a 9-3 score, and both teams averaging just under 5 yards per play. The two offenses had combined for 23 rushing yards, and the two quarterbacks were a combined 9-15 for 108 passing yards.
Montez Sweat was in Ryan Tannehill’s face all through the early part of the game, and on the first play of the 2nd quarter, he chased the QB backwards about 15 yards to force a throwaway; on the next play (3rd down) he got his 2nd sack of the day, forcing the Titans to punt.
Dax Milne had a short return, but the Commanders were set up on the 25 yard line
Lightning struck on the next play. On 1st down, Wentz faked a handoff to Brian Robinson and fired a pass about as far as he could throw it. Dyami Brown caught the ball in stride at the Tennessee 25 yard line and walked into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown. It was an electrifying play – the kind of pass that Wentz was brought here to throw, and the kind of catch that Brown was drafted to make. Two players who had been disappointing of late suddenly showed who they are supposed to be.
It was 10-7 and the Commanders offense had finally done what it is designed to do.
Tennessee got their 5th offensive series off to a good start when Derrick Henry finally got untracked with a mini-Beastmode run for 15 yards. A pair of penalties against the Titans, however, pushed them to 1st & 23 on their own 32 yard line. The Commanders defense got heavy pressure on Tannehill again – it was pretty relentless all first half – and Wildgoose broke up the 2nd down pass. On 3rd down, Allen & Payne teamed up for the team’s 3rd sack, putting Tannehill on the ground 13 yards behind the line of scrimmage. On 4th & 36, the Titans punted.
There was a holding call on the punt return so Washington ended up starting their drive in a bit of a hole, at their own 8 yard line. Brian Robinson continued to handle the 1st down duties; his 5 yard gain got the offense off to a good start on the drive. On 2nd down, Terry McLaurin caught his first target of the game across the middle, and then broke a few tackles to gain yards and a 1st down.
Center Nick Martin continued to struggle, drawing a false start penalty to bring up 2nd & 15. Wentz threw at Dyami Brown 40 yards downfield, but it was incomplete, bringing up 3rd & 15. Wentz missed McLaurin at the sideline, and it was time to punt again.
With 02:46 left in the first half, Tannehill led the Titans back onto the field to start their 6th offensive drive at the 19 yard line. At this point, the offensive production for the two teams was starting to look very different. Washington was up to 9.1 yards per play, while Tennessee was down to 3.3 yards per play. Penalties were hurting both teams, with the Titans having been flagged 3 times and the Commanders 4 times, each for around 25 yards.
On 3rd & 5, it looked like Montez Sweat had Tannehill sacked, but the QB managed to get rid of the ball (somehow) for a short completion and a first down. Sweat was having the best half of his career against the Titans; Tannehill will undoubtedly be seeing Sweat in his nightmares tonight. At the 2 minute warning, the Titans faced 3rd & 8 at the Washington 40 yard line, trailing by 3 points on the scoreboard. Washington’s defense had a great opportunity to stop another drive and get the ball back for the offense.
Instead, two penalties were called on Washington’s defense, including a roughing the passer against Obada. Tennessee was set up 1st & 10 at the Washington 21. The drive ended with a Derrick Henry touchdown on 3rd & goal from the 1 yard line with just 17 seconds left in the first half.
The two teams went to the locker rooms with Tennessee leading 14-10. It felt a bit deflating, because it felt as if the Washington defense had played very well.
For Titans fans, a close score at halftime would be concerning, I would think. Through the first 4 games of the season, they’d been outscored 64-7 in 2nd half, and held scoreless in 2nd half of last three games (though they were 2-1 in those games).
Here are some of the key statistics at the half:
Although it didn’t feel like it to me, the Titans had earned 11 first down compared to 4 for Washington, but that was in part because of the 75-yard TD strike to Dyami Brown.
Tennessee had run 38 plays; Washington just 19.
Washington, however, held the advantage in Total yards, 163 to 150, and Washington was averaging 8.6 yards per play while the Titans were averaging 3.9 per play.
Tannehill was 9-15 for 67 yards; Wentz was 6-11 and 151 yards. Wentz had taken one sack, but for zero yards, while Tannehill had been sacked 3 times for 27 yards (and had barely escaped a 4th).
Rushing stats were all Titans, who had 83 yards at 4.2 yards per carry, compared to Washington’s 12 yards at 1.7 yards per carry.
The first half was flawed by several key penalties for each team. Tennessee had been flagged 3 times for 25 yards; Washington was penalized 5 times for 41 yards.
Time of possession was lopsided at 19:45 for Tennessee and 10:15 for Washington.
Individually, Sweat had 2 sacks in the first half; Allen & Payne combined for the 3rd sack.
Cole Holcomb led the team with 10 tackles in 1st half. No one on the Titans defense had more than 3 tackles.
Washington’s rushing leader was Brian Robinson, with 7 yards on 2 carries; Derrick Henry had carried the ball 18 times for 83 yards and a TD.
Washington, however, led the receiving. Dyami Brown had just one catch, but for 75 yards and a touchdown. Curtis Samuel had 3 catches for 45 yards, and McLaurin had just one catch for 25 yards. Tennessee’s leading receiver was Derrick Henry, with 2 catches for 30 yards Their 2nd & 3rd highest receiving totals were 25 and 21 yards for Hilliard and Woods.
To start the second half, Dax Milne had to return the kickoff from the 1 yard line and only got to the 16.
On the first play of the 2nd half, Carson Wentz hit Terry McLaurin, who was hit by 3 defenders, for a 34 yard gain out to midfield. Terry flexed after the hit, as well he should.
The drive stalled when, on 3rd & 4 at the Tennessee 44 yard line, Wentz threw the ball 2 yards over Cole Turner’s head, bringing the drive to an end. Washington was now 0-5 on 3rd down, explaining the lack of offensive plays, but Tress Way again helped out the defense by punting the ball to Tennesee’s 4 yard line.
On 3rd & 8 at the 6 yard line, the Titans lost yardage, and the visitors had to punt out of their own end zone. If the game were decided on field position instead of points, Washington would be winning instead of trailing by 4, as they took over on Tennessee’s side of the 50 yard line.
With first down at the Tennessee 46 yard line, Washington had a great opportunity to take control of the game. A pair of runs by Brian Robinson, with Wentz throwing a block on the second run, brought up 3rd & 4. Wentz’s pass on 3rd down was deflected and fell harmlessly to the turf, meaning that the Commanders offense, at the 9:36 mark in the 3rd quarter, still had not converted a 3rd down. It was 4th & 4 at the Titans’ 40 yard line. Wentz’s pass on 4th down was defended, and the great field position was squandered. The failed play dropped the offense to 1-7 on 4th down in the ’22 season to date. The Titans took over at their own 40 yard line, and suddenly Washington’s field position advantage was gone again.
With the score still 14-10 in favor of the visitors, the Titans offense took the field. Up to this point, the Titans’ offensive production had been confined almost exclusively to Derrick Henry. He was tackled for a 4-yard loss on 1st down; on 2nd down, Efe Obada sacked Ryan Tannehill, bringing up 3rd & 16. Ryan Tannehill couldn’t do anything under intense 3rd down pressure except throw the ball away.
Washington opened their 8th series with Antonio Gibson at RB instead of Brian Robinson. Gibson responded by getting 2 first downs on 3 plays totaling 27 yards. John Bates then caught his first target of the game, pushing the ball to the Tennessee 33 and another first down. On 2nd & 7 from the 30 yard line, Wentz lofted a ball to Dyami Brown, who caught it one handed at the 3-yard line, a step ahead of the defensive back. Brown walked across the goal line for his 2nd touchdown of the day (which was also the second of his career). Again, this is what the Commanders offense was supposed to look like and what Brown was supposed to accomplish on the field. With Jahan Dotson missing with a hamstring injury, Brown stepped up and showed the weapon he can be.
At this point, the Titans had run 6 plays for -6 yards in the 3rd quarter. The momentum felt as if it was with Washington, but on 2nd & 8, Tannehill, again under pressure, threw a 61 yard prayer downfield that was caught for a 1st down at the Washington 12 yard line. Another false start penalty brought up 2nd & 15, but Tannehill found Robert Woods, who took the ball to the 4 yard line for 3rd & 2. Amazingly, the Titans took a delay of game penalty, backing the ball up to the Washington 9, and a 3rd & 7.
The Titans got the first down at the 2 yard line, and then scored a TD on a 1-yard run by Derrick Henry to move the score to 21-17 with one minute left in the 3rd quarter.
Tennessee seemed to think they could stop Milne as they kicked off short again, and then tackled him at the 23 yard line, where Washington started their 9th drive of the game.
The final play of the 3rd quarter was a holding penalty on Andrew Norwell that put the Commanders in 2nd & 18 at their own 15 yard line, trailing by 4 points.
To start the 4th quarter, Wentz took a sack on 3rd & 13 to kill the drive and keep the offense a perfect 0-7 on 3rd down. The Tress Way punt ended up at the 50-yard line, travelling just 39 yards. Whatever field position advantage Washington had been enjoying early in the game had evaporated.
With just over 13 minutes left in the game, Tennessee had a 1st down at the 50-yard line and a 4-pint lead. Washington’s offense was big-play or no play. The defense had played well, but had also given up a touchdown in each quarter of the ball game.
On 3rd & 2 at Washington’s 42, the Commanders defense held by forcing an incomplete pass, but head coach Mike Vrabel kept his offense on the field. Derrick Henry paid off with a first down for his head coach. Suddenly Derrick Henry had 98 rushing yards and 2 TDs.
But two plays later, it was 3rd & 6 at the Washington 34. James Smith-Williams came up with a huge play by sacking Ryan Tannehill for 16 yards, pushing the Titans back to the 50 yard line and forcing the punt.
The Titans punter hit a beauty, and the Commanders set up for their 10th drive of the game at their own 10 yard line, trailing by 4 pints with 9:53 to play. The offense needed a touchdown.
The Washington passing game had been working fairly well, with 266 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while the running game had been unproductive, with just 31 yards on 14 carries.
On 2nd down, Carson Wentz tried to hit Cam Sims on the sideline, but forced him out of bound for an incompletion, but was saved when a flag was thrown for roughing the passer, giving the offense a first down at the 26. Andrew Norwell immediately got flagged for his 2nd penalty of the day on the next play, bringing the team total to 7 penalties for 56 yards. On the next snap, Wentz was sacked for an 8 yard loss. The offense was going backwards. On 2nd & 23, JD McKissic did what he does, taking a screen pass 14 yards, but on 3rd & 9, McKissic was stopped 5 yards short of the sticks.
Way’s 6th punt was fielded at the Tennessee 25 yard line. With about 7 minutes left in the game, the defense had to step up again. They were helped by a false start penalty that put the Titans in 1st & 15. Two plays later it was 3rd & 6; Tennehill ran the ball to keep the clock running and got hit hard by Cole Holcomb (his 15th of the game), forcing a punt
With 4:46 to play, Carson Wentz and the offense took over at their own 11 yard line needing a touchdown drive to win the game. A drop by Antonio Gibson brought up 3rd & 1, but what looked like a huge catch for a 1st down by Cam Sims was called incomplete on the field. Ron Rivera threw the challenge flag. The call on the field was upheld, and the Rivera kept his offense on the field to try to convert the 4th & 1 with the game on the line.
Brian Robinson needed 1 yard; he got 2.
With 3:35 remaining, the Commanders had a 1st down at their own 22 yard line, trailing by 4. They picked up another first down on another Robinson run. Two plays later, a Curtis Samuel catch was good for another 1st down at the Washington 45 yard line as the 2 minute warning was given.
The Commanders had 120 ticks of the clock, 2 timeouts and 55 yards to get the touchdown needed to win the game. It was all up to Carson Wentz and the offense now.
Washington was still 0-9 on 3rd down, but they had now earned 13 first-downs compared to 15 for Tennessee, and Washington had produced 100 more yards of offense than had the Titans (339-229).
On 2nd & 5 Wentz scrambled for a 1st down, but then Center Nick Martin, who had another bad game, was flagged for another penalty, bringing up 1st & 20. Carson Wentz passed 300 passing yards with a 10 yard completion to tight end John Bates.
On the next play, Wentz hit McLaurin, who broke a tackle and went 10 yards for another critical first down.
Yet another penalty (the 9th) for a false start on Cornelius Lucas made it 1st & 15 at the Tennessee 34 yard line.
Rivera called timeout with 00:36 on the clock. It was 2nd & 14, and the team was down to just one timeout. This was shaping up to be an exciting finish.
Under pressure, Wentz flipped the ball to JD McKissic, who went for 9 yards to the Tennessee 24. After the tackle, the team had to call its final timeout.
On 3rd & 1, the offense converted its first 3rd down of the day, and it was executed perfectly, with Curtis Samuel making an 8 yard gain and falling out of bounds to stop the clock.
On 1st & 10 from the Tennessee 16 yard line, Wentz threw to Terry McLaurin in the end zone, where a pass interference penalty gave Washington the ball 1st & goal with 00:19 left and no timeouts. The fans were getting their money’s worth, and a come-from-behind victory felt inevitable. The Commanders had 4 plays to get one yard.
On 1st down, Wentz tossed a lollipop out of bounds.
On 2nd down, the Titans defended a pass to McKissic at the goal line.
On 3rd down, the Titans intercepted another pass to McKissic at the goal line to seal the victory 21-17.
With the win, the Titans go to 3-2; the Commander fall to 1-4.
Some key statistics at the end of the game.
The only thing that matters is the score, but Washington’s offensive production was pretty significant.
Washington had 17 first downs to 15 for Tennessee.
The Commanders ended up 1-11 on 3rd downs; Tennessee was 4-14. While this had been a problem area in recent seasons, before this week’s game, Washington’s offense had been among the better teams in the league on 3rd down conversion.
Washington gained 385 yards on offense; the Titans 239.
Washington’s yards per play was 6.6; the Titans 3.9.
Washington outgained Tenn in the passing game 342 yards to 136, but Wentz threw the critical interception in the waning seconds.
On the ground, Tennessee ended up outgaining Washington 103-43, and Derrick Henry had 102 rush yards.
Dyami Brown led all receivers with 105 yards and 2 TDs though Terry McLaurin had 5 catches for 76 yards, and Curtis Samuel had 6 receptions for 62 yards.
John Bates led the tight ends with 3 catches for 39 yards, and JD McKissic led the backs with 5 receptions for 37 yards.
Cole Holcomb led all tacklers with 15, and Washington sacked Tannehill 5 times (Sweat 2; Smith-Williams 1; Obada 1; Payne & Allen .5 each).
Elsewhere in the NFC East, the Giants won the early game in London, beating the Packers to go to 4-1. The 3-1 Cowboys play the Rams in the late afternoon time slot, while the undefeated Eagles visit the Cardinals.
There was already a lot of fan dissatisfaction with Ron Rivera, and, to a degree, with Carson Wentz prior to this home game against Tennessee. Today’s loss – the team’s 4th in a row — will likely add fuel to the fire, especially given the poor performance of the offense on 3rd down and Wentz’s back-breaking interception to end the game.
Washington doesn’t have a lot of time to lick its wounds, however. They play the Chicago Bears in Chicago on Thursday Night Football this week, when they will get another chance to break the losing streak.