Many people said in advance of Monday night’s football game that the Commanders would have to play a perfect game to beat the Eagles, and no one gave the 11-point underdogs much of a chance against the NFC and NFC East-leading Philadelphia team.
All of those people were wrong because the Commanders won in...well... commanding fashion without playing a perfect game. While this was a team win that involved all three phases — offense, defense and special teams — in playing complementary football, there were mistakes made by every unit. The difference this week from some other weeks against other good opponents is that on Monday Night Football, while still flawed, Washington made more big plays and fewer mistakes than Philly did.
This was the kind of prime time performance that has been all-too-rare for the Redskins, Football Team and Commanders in recent years (though I think we can finally move past the idea that this team can’t win in prime time), and it competes with last season’s victory against Tampa Bay and the defeat of the 11-0 Steelers in 2020 as possibly the best win of Ron Rivera’s tenure in DC.
Over the years, I’ve gotten used to watching Washington struggle in games against the Eagles and take a chance on a final game-ending offensive snap in an effort to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, only to watch the Eagles defense come up with a pick-6 or return a fumble for a touchdown to turn a competitive score into a double-digit Washington loss. I was truly excited to see the tables turned as former Eagles defensive lineman Casey Toohill scooped up a loose ball and stepped into the end zone with 00:00 on the clock to stretch what had been a 5-point differential into an 11-point win.
I want to briefly highlight, for each of the three phases of the game, one mistake that could have contributed to an Eagles victory and one “big play” made by the Commanders that helped achieve the Commanders actual victory.
Penalty on early kickoff return
The obvious special teams mistake was the penalty flag thrown against Washington on Antonio Gibson’s 41-yard return of the game’s opening kickoff that pushed the Commanders’ starting field position from the 43-yard line to their own 8 yard line.
Outstanding kicking game
On the other hand, Washington’s special teams were instrumental in securing the win. Usually, this is where I talk the great job that Tress Way did with field position, but Washington only punted twice in the game, with both of them happening in the final 3:26 of the 4th quarter.
No, the star of special teams on Monday night was kicker Joey Slye, who booted 4 field goals, two of them over 50 yards, and none more critical to the eventual victory than the 58-yarder that Slye put over the cross bar as time expired in the second quarter, denying the Eagles the opportunity to score at the end of the half and then again with the opening possession of the 3rd quarter. Washington’s slim 2-point lead through much of the 4th quarter was possible because of that end-of-half field goal, and Slye kept the pressure on the Eagles by booting 3-pointers in the 2nd, 3rd & 4th quarters. The 12 points that Slye put on the scoreboard with those 4 kicks supplied the margin of victory.
Taylor Heinicke has started 4 games for the Commanders this season, and he has thrown exactly one interception in each game. Against the Bears and Packers, #4 rallied for the win after each INT. Last week, a late-game interception hurt Washington and Heinicke didn’t have the magic needed to overcome the turnover and secure the win. On Monday night against the Eagles, Heinicke’s interception early in the 4th quarter didn’t really hurt Washington because the Commanders defense forced fumbles on 3 of the Eagles’ final 4 offensive possessions, and the 21 points that the Eagles had on the scoreboard at the time of Heinicke’s INT hadn’t changed by the end of the game, which finished up 32-21 in favor of the burgundy & gold.
The turnover that I want to focus on as the “big mistake” is the Heinicke fumble that ended Washington’s first drive of the game, and which set up Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ offense at the Washington 18-yard line (remember that the offense was backed up because of that special teams penalty on the opening kickoff). The Eagles moved the ball the needed 18 yards in just 3 plays, and it felt like a “here we go again” game in the making on Monday Night Football.
While it was Heinicke's fumble, it wasn't actually the QB's fault; he was hit from behind as he started his throwing motion, completely unaware that LT Charles Leno had been beaten by his man.
Two smart decisions by Taylor Heinicke
When you run 81 offensive plays and convert 12-21 on 3rd down and 1-1 on 4th down, then a lot of things have gone right on offense. Picking one “big play” for the offensive side of the ball seems almost impossible. Those 13 drive-extending conversions were each big — even when they came in the form of 2 yard runs — and Washington had a lot of 2-yard runs on 3rd & 1 in this game.
In the end, I’ve decided to focus on two decisions by Taylor Heinicke as my offensive “big plays”.
The first simply avoided disaster. On a 1st & 10 near midfield with just over 5 minutes remaining in the first half, Center Tyler Larsen snapped the ball over Taylor Heinicke’s head. Heinicke chased down the rolling football 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage. With the Eagles defensive line smelling blood in the water, Heinicke scooped up the ball, sprinted left to get outside the tackle box, and heaved an off-balance throw out of bounds just beyond the line of scrimmage, avoiding the possibility of of a devastating sack and doing everything required to avoid getting flagged for intentional grounding. Instead of 2nd & 24, the Commanders offense faced a 2nd & 10, and the drive stayed alive, culminating in a Brian Robinson rushing touchdown. This is the sort of smart play that Taylor Heinicke used to fail to make, either forgetting to move outside the tackle box or throwing the ball short of the line of scrimmage — or holding on to the ball as he tried to keep alive a play that was on life support and simply needed to be terminated.
The other smart play by Heinicke came with less than 2 minutes to play. On a 3rd & 7, the QB couldn’t find an open receiver. Instead of throwing the ball out of bounds and stopping the clock, TH stopped running 12 yards behind the line of scrimmage and took a knee to “give himself up”, ending the play while keeping the clock running. It would have been a heady play in any event, but in combination with the huge error made by Brandon Graham, who hit Heinicke in the head and neck area well after the QB had gone to a knee, this play effectively sealed the victory for Washington, as it gave the offense a fresh set of downs with 93 seconds, a running clock, and Philly out of timeouts.
The defense made a few mistakes on the day, but the one that stands out to me the most is the interference penalty flag thrown on Ben St-Juste with 1:33 left in the first quarter. It gave the Eagles 30 yards of field position, and they scored a touchdown on the next play.
Personally, I didn’t think it was pass interference, but we have to talk about the game as it was actually called by the referees, not as we think it should have been called. Besides, the Commanders got at least their fair share of questionable penalty decisions in this game, including a facemask penalty that was clearly seen on the television cameras, but missed by the officials on the field. That miss by the officials was huge since the play ended with a Philadelphia fumble and Washington recovery to change possession.
In any event, St-Juste, who is the most-penalized Commander, gave up a huge DPI penalty that was an instrumental play in the Eagles’ 2nd scoring drive, which put them ahead by a touchdown on the scoreboard just as the 1st quarter came to an end.
The ‘big play’ on defense that I want to focus on is actually akin to Heinicke’s heads-up play on the botched snap, but this one, instead of being an example of quick thinking and decision making, is one that shows the value of hustle and playing to the whistle.
Late in the 4th quarter, with the Eagles trailing by 5 at 26-21, Quez Watkins got loose deep in the Commanders defensive secondary, and Jalen Hurts hit him for a 50-yard gain. Neither CB Ben St-Juste nor safety Darrick Forrest, who were in coverage, touched Watkins as he went to the ground with the ball, so the receiver hopped up and started running. The two defenders, having been beaten for a huge play, gave chase; St-Juste punched the ball loose as he tackled Watkins from behind, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Forrest. There was probably no more crucial turnover in the game for the Commanders. Instead of the Eagles ending up with a 1st down near the Washington 20-yard line with a chance to score, Washington’s offense took over, and managed to run the clock out on the game without either offense scoring on two possessions each in the final 5:37 after the fumble.
This was absolutely a team victory, with both mistakes and big plays in every phase of the game. Washington knocked off the previously undefeated Eagles because, in the contest of “big plays & mistakes”, the Commanders ratio of BP:M was better than that of the Eagles.
Box Score highlights
Washington ran 81 offensive plays; the Eagles ran 47
Most NFL games have between 22 and 26 offensive drives, with the average being around 24. Monday night’s game had just 20 drives, and that number includes the single-play that the Eagles ran with 00:05 left on the clock in the 4th quarter.
The reason why there were so few drives is because the Commanders were putting together sustained drives of great length using a ball-control run-oriented game plan designed to take advantage of Philly’s relatively weak run defense and to keep Jalen Hurts and the Eagles offense on the sidelines, where they couldn’t put points on the board. The top-4 drives Washington were:
- 16 plays - 86 yards
- 14 plays - 66 yards
- 13 plays - 75 yards
- 12 plays - 49 yards
Long grind-it-out drives like these have two characteristics: (1) lots of 3rd down conversions (2) lots of time off the clock.
Washington was an incredible 12-21 on 3rd down and 1-1 on 4th down; the Eagles had 5-8 3rd down efficiency.
The Commanders dominated time of possession, 40:24 to 19:36. Often, this kind of ToP dominance is indicative of defensive scoring by the team with the lower possession time, but that was not the case on Monday night; the only defensive touchdown scored was by the Commanders after regulation time had expired. The Eagles simply couldn’t stop the Washington running attack, though its efficiency as measured on a yards-per-carry basis was uninspiring.
Washington ran the ball 49 times at 3.1 yards per carry. The running game breakdown:
While 7 different Commanders players caught passes from Taylor Heinicke, Terry McLaurin dominated the receiving statistics with 8 of the team’s 17 completions for 128 yards (16 ypr), with a long of 41 yards on a beautiful strike from Taylor Heinicke that hit McLaurin in stride.
Defensively, the Commanders only recorded one sack, but it was a big one by Montez Sweat, coming on 3rd & 8 at the Philly 22-yard line with just just 2:37 remaining in the game.
Taylor Heinicke was sacked 3 times, with the first one — the strip sack and fumble recovery by the Eagles’ D — being a huge play in the first quarter.
The Commanders and Eagles combined for 5 scores in 6 red zone trips, with Washington being the team that failed.
The scoreboard difference basically came down to a huge 4-4 field goal performance by Joey Slye, who hit from 58, 55, 44, and 32 yards. This was by far Slye’s best game of the season. He didn’t attempt a field goal in the first three weeks, and had been 9-11 prior to Monday night. With his flawless performance against the Eagles, he lifts his season stats to 13-15, with his only two misses coming in the victories against the Bears and Packers.
Jamin Davis was the team’s leading tackler with 9, though Ben St-Juste had the most solo tackles, with 6.
Washington won the turnover battle, 4-2, with 3 fumble recoveries and an interception against the Eagle’s offense, while Heinicke coughed up both Washington giveaways with an early game fumble and a late-game interception.
Neither passer had a great day, with Heinicke 17-29 for 211 yards and an interception. Hurts was 17-26 for 175 yards, 2 TDs and an INT.
Heinicke had a QBR of 62.4 and a rating of 66.9; Hurts was 73.2 and 94.2.
Dax Milne returned one punt for 12 yards.
Washington outscored the favored home team Eagles by 11 points, 32-21.
NFC East Standings
The Eagles hold onto 1st place in the division while Washington remains in last place, but with the Commanders getting back to .500, the NFC East is clearly the most dominant division in the NFL at the moment.
If the NFC playoffs were seeded based on current standings, it would look like this:
- Eagles (NFCE)
- Vikings (NFCN)
- Seahawks (NFCW)
- Buccaneers (NFCS)
- Giants 7-2
- Cowboys 6-3
- 49ers 5-4
Washington sits a half-game behind the Niners at 5-5. It is worth noting that the two teams will play one another in Week 16.
Washington holds a lead in both win-loss and head-to-head tie-breakers with the Bears and Packers, and will play the Falcons in Week 12.
Washington’s next game is at 1pm Sunday on the road against the 1-7-1 Houston Texans. DraftKings installed the Commanders as 2.5-point road favorites prior to Monday Night Football. Don’t be surprised to see that spread widen a bit in the wake of Washington’s dominant victory over the Eagles in prime time.
- The 5-4 49ers are 8 point favorites on the road vs Cardinals
- The 4-6 Packers are 3 points favorites at home vs Titans
- The 4-6 Falcons are 3 point favorites at home vs Bears
Washington will need to get an important win against the Texans to keep pace with the Niners and stay ahead of Green Bay and Atlanta.