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Confidence booster: rewatching the 2021 4-game win streak (Weeks 10-13)

Tampa Bay (Tom Brady), Carolina (Cam Newton), Seattle (DangeRuss), Las Vegas (Derek Carr)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Washington Football Team Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Living abroad as I do, the only reliable way I know of to access the NFL is via the Game Pass (International version) which gives me access to every NFL game played since 2009 anytime I want to watch, 365 days a year.

When we get to this part of the year, when the actual NFL doesn’t have much going on, and I, as a teacher, am on an extended break from teaching, I usually take the opportunity to go back and re-watch games from the most recent season. I watch some of the more interesting games from other teams that I might’ve missed during the season; I recently watched a bunch of Colts games in hopes of figuring out how I feel about Carson Wentz, and I often re-watch Eagles, Cowboys and Giants games — especially games where they lost.

The win streak

This week, I unintentionally watched the Football Team’s 4-game winning streak from last season. When I say, “unintentionally”, what I mean is that I didn’t set out to watch it. I watched the Tampa Bay game one evening, and when it was over, it was still early, so I turned on the Carolina game and made it a double-header. The next evening, looking to fill some time, I decided to watch another game, and figured the best thing to do would be to watch the next game on the ‘21 schedule, which was the Seattle Seahawks game. Of course, there was no choice the next night — I finished the 4-game run by watching the Raiders game.

Here’s what the experience did to me — it reminded me that winning is fun.

Each time, I almost couldn’t wait to watch the next game!

Here, also, are a few observations about the team, about the games, and about my reaction to them.

  • Washington looked like legitimate playoff contenders in the first two games against Tampa Bay and Carolina. The offense was dominating at the line of scrimmage and nearly running the ball at will. The defense looked legit in both games. Taylor Heinicke may have played the two best games of his NFL career.
  • While the final score of 17-15 makes it look as if the game against the Seahawks was very close, this was affected by the loss of Washington’s kicker, Joey Slye, to injury just before halftime. The team was unable to kick a field goal, and had to go for it on 4th down. This was especially important with the score at 17-9 with 2 12 minutes left to play. Washington was at the Seattle 3-yard line and normally would have kicked a chip shot field goal to go up by 11 points and seal the win. Instead, the Football Team had to run a play (initially called a touchdown) with Heinicke throwing to Logan Thomas in the end zone. After an exhaustive review, the officials determined that the tip of the football had touched the ground, and the TD call was reversed. The Seahawks drove the length of the field to score a TD, and it took a Kendall Fuller interception on the 2-point conversion to seal the victory.
  • In that Seattle game, aside from the final scoring drive with the Seahawks in their 2-min offense, the Washington defense looked great. Seattle finished with 267 yards of total offense, with 98 of those yards coming on that final drive. For the game, WFT defense held Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense to 10 first downs (WFT offense had 27), 33% conversion rate on 3rd down, 45 total plays (WFT ran 79), and allowed just 34 yards on 12 rushing attempts.
  • JD McKissic was injured with about 3 12 minutes left in the Seahawks game. It wasn’t clear at the time, but the neck injury/concussion eventually ended his season. In my mind, this was the first big step in the devolution of the 2021 Washington Football Team season, which unraveled slightly over the next two games, before simply coming completely apart in Week 15.
  • DeAndre Carter had the best “month” of his career as a receiver during this stretch. After having never scored a receiving touchdown, Carter caught his first against Denver on 31 October, and then caught TD passes against the Bucs and Panthers to end up with 3 consecutive games with a TD reception. For the 4-game win streak, Carter caught 10 passes for 126 yards — not bad for the specialist return man.
  • Against the Raiders, Washington scored first, scored last, and trailed for less than 2 minutes in the entire game. Aside from 4 minutes in the first quarter against Carolina, this was the only time the Football Team was behind on the scoreboard in these 4 games. Being behind for only 6 minutes out of 240 minutes of play is a fun way to play football, and allows for a lot of running on offense. Washington rushed, in the four games, for 94 yards, 190 yards, 152 yards, and 112 yards, and that was mostly Antonio Gibson, who was showing maturity and patience in his running. This was fun for me to watch.
  • The Raiders’ first 6 drives ended in 4 punts and 2 field goals, making the fourth consecutive strong outing by the Washington defense, which gave up 19, 21, 15, and 15 points in these four games (I’m including the two points scored by Seattle’s special teams in that total).
  • Washington’s ability to compete offensively took a real blow when the team lost its second starting skill player in as many weeks in Las Vegas. With 10 minutes left to play in the game, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue dove at Thomas’ knees with his helmet on a play away from the ball, resulting in a season-ending knee injury for Washington’s starting tight end. Coming on the heels of the season-ending injury to JD McKissic the week before, and the fact that Curtis Samuel never really got healthy, Washington was missing too many playmakers after the win in Las Vegas. Though the remaining running backs and the backup tight ends played hard, there was too much missing to keep the streak going.

The disastrous end to the season

One week after the win in Las Vegas, the Football Team hosted the Cowboys in Week 14, and the winning streak came to an end.

I actually watched that game last night. That’s the one where Chase Young, Montez Sweat, James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill were all unavailable to play, so Washington went into the game with a group of 7th round & UDFA DEs that had less than 100 career NFL snaps between them.

The Cowboys jumped out to a 24-0 lead, but were unable to put away the motivated and hard-playing Washington Football Team. Taylor Heinicke was knocked out of the game, and the team’s 3rd quarterback of the season, Kyle Allen, came on to drive the offense downfield for a touchdown.

Washington outscored the Cowboys 20-3 in the second half. I’ve seen some Dallas fans ascribe that to the Dallas coaches putting the Dallas starters on the bench. I have two things to say about that. First, failing to keep your foot on the opponent’s neck when you’ve got the lead is part of failing as a team, so spare me that crap. Secondly, it was starting QB Dak Prescott in the game who suffered a pick-6 at the hands of Cole Holcomb to turn it into a 1-score ballgame with more than 4 minutes remaining.

On the final Dallas drive of the game (3 plays, 7 yards, punt), it was Ezekiel Elliott on first down, Elliott again on second down, and Prescott incomplete on 3rd down. Dallas failed on that drive with their stars on the field with the ball in their hands.

Washington ended up losing the game, so none of that really matters, but, boy...if I could have one play back in that game, it would probably be the 2nd down play with 2:40 left in the game. Kyle Allen threw a beautiful pass that traveled 40 yards in the air and hit Deandre Carter in the hands. Carter dropped it. If he had caught it, the WFT offense would have been set up with a 1st down inside the Dallas 30-yard line with 2:30 to play in the game.

Instead, it was a loss to the Cowboys that pretty much assured them of the division title and a playoff berth. If only Carter had pulled that pass in....

As an aside, the two announcers in that game, but primarily Greg Olsen, completely fucked up when Dallas Offensive Tackle La’el Collins was ejected from the game for throwing punches at William Bradley-King. WBK gave Dak Prescott as shove as the QB released a pass at the sideline. Dak landed a yard or two out of bounds, but Bradley-King put hands on him in the field of play. No one would have thought twice about the contact if it had happened in the middle of the field. Collins ran across the field and attacked Bradley-King, throwing at least one punch. The officials correctly ejected La’el Collins from the game, and the league fined him $10,300 for the unsportsmanlike conduct. The booth announcers stupidly tried to characterize it for the rest of the broadcast as Collins “protecting his quarterback”, when the truth of the matter was best described by the Cowboys blog on Fansided, which said, “The altercation was completely and totally unnecessary and could have put the Cowboys in a compromising situation as the Washington Football Team attempted to come back against Dallas.” I generally like Olsen as a broadcaster, but he was way off base about the Collins’ thuggish response to a clean play by the WFT rookie.

For Washington, things simply got worse after the loss to Dallas. The Week 15 game against the Eagles was delayed because, at one point during the week, WFT had 26 players on the COVID list. Playing desperately shorthanded (Garrett Gilbert was our starting quarterback), the Football Team lost by 10 points.

Four days later, WFT showed up to play Dallas on the road. Two days prior to the game, Deshazor Everett had an accident while driving his car; his girlfriend was killed in the accident, and some other WFT players were at the scene because they were following the couple in a different car.

The team was absolutely flat and suffered a 56-14 beatdown at the hands of the Cowboys in a game that was never as close as the final score would indicate.

Three days later, on December 29th, Montez Sweat’s brother was shot and killed in Richmond. On January 2nd, the Eagles came to town and made the 10-loss season official.

Evan a win against the Giants in Week 18 couldn’t really put a shine on last quarter of the season. The Giants appeared even more demoralized than the Washington players did, and the subsequent firing of head coach Joe Judge and the ‘retirement’ of GM Dave Gettleman were not a surprise.

So, what is the point?

The final 5 games of the 2021 season were so disappointing for Washington fans that I think they cast a pall over the offseason that is still hanging around like the haze from distant brush fires.

But the story of the final stretch of the 2021 season is one that was dramatically and unreasonably affected by injuries, COVID and personal tragedy.

Washington got past the loss of their starting quarterback in the opening game, and put together an impressive stretch behind a backup who came into the season with less than 120 minutes of actual NFL game experience. Washington overcame repeated injuries to the offensive line. They overcame the mid-season loss of both young first-round draft picks at DE. They survived the loss of the kicker in the middle of the Seahawks game.

But by Week 14, the injuries had cut too deep. Logan Thomas was out for the season; JD McKissic was out for the season; Curtis Samuel’s groin injury made him an unreliable option. The team went into Week 14 without its top-4 DEs, and by Week 15 it didn’t have a healthy quarterback on the roster who was eligible to play. COVID and tragedy in the lives of Everett and Sweat piled on to sour the promise that Washington had showed from Weeks 10-13 when WFT was the hottest team in the NFL.

Watching the 5 consecutive games this week — Buccaneers, Panthers, Seahawks, Raiders, Cowboys — reminded me of what 2021 could have been, and what 2022 probably will be.

  • In 2022, Washington’s 3rd place schedule looks much more manageable than the brutal lineup the team had to face in 2021, going from one of the very toughest schedules a year ago to one of the easiest this season, based on several methods of analysis. Among the advantages, the Commanders play 5 games against teams with new head coaches, which is almost always associated with a rebuilding year and a poor W-L record.
  • In 2022, the QB room of Wentz, Heinicke, Howell should be a significant upgrade to the Heinicke-Allen pairing that the team had for most of last year.
  • The running back group is deeper and more talented (no one left; Brian Robinson was added).
  • The receiving group is deeper and more talented (Humphries left; Jahan Dotson was added).
  • The offensive line saw a lot of change, but the new guys seem to be about as good as the old guys, the depth has been maintained, and position coach John Matsko has earned, not the benefit of the doubt, but the weight of expectation after a long career capped most recently by two very good years in Washington.

Defensively, the hope will be that familiarity and the return to physical, mental and emotional health of Young and Sweat will lead to a unit that will realize its potential after mostly underperforming a season ago.

The 2022 Washington Commanders should be a more explosive team offensively than was the 2021 Washington Football Team.

It’s easy for the pall of the final quarter of the 2021 season to cast a shadow over expectations for the coming year.

Trust me when I say this — watching the 4 games that comprise the best part of the 2021 season for Washington can do a lot to bring sunlight to the view of what this team can be. For those 4 weeks, Ron Rivera’s team looked good...damned good, in fact.

Rewatching the 2021 4-game win streak this week (and even the loss to the Cowboys in the week that followed) has restored the good feeling that I thought would be lost until I saw evidence of a turnaround in 2022. I now feel much better than I’ve been feeling; color me confident this week.

Poll

Which of these is closest to your prediction for the 2022 season right now?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Top 5 draft pick in 2023
    (5 votes)
  • 14%
    3rd or 4th place finish in the NFC East
    (50 votes)
  • 42%
    2nd place in the division and a Wildcard berth
    (148 votes)
  • 6%
    Division winner, but one-and-done in the playoffs
    (22 votes)
  • 29%
    At least one playoff win
    (101 votes)
  • 2%
    NFC Championship game
    (8 votes)
  • 3%
    Super Bowl, baby!!!
    (13 votes)
347 votes total Vote Now