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4 second-half TDs not enough for Commanders in Detroit

The good guys fall to 1-1

NFL: Washington Commanders at Detroit Lions Junfu Han-USA TODAY Sports

In a game that finished with about 820 yards of total offense, the Commanders fought to get out of a deep hole they dug for themselves in a disastrous first half, but ultimately came up short, losing 36-27 to the Lions in Detroit and falling to 1-1 on the season. Next week, Washington will host the Eagles, who beat the Lions in Detroit last week in the season opener.

The Commanders won the toss and deferred. Washington’s defense sacked Jared Goff to force a 3 & out on the first series, and that was the last good thing to happen for Washington until they were down by 22 points late in the 2nd quarter.

The first half saw a lot of bad football by all three units of the Commanders roster. The special teams opened up with Dax Milne returning the Lions kickoff out of the end zone following their first score, with the return stopped at the 16 yard line. On the Commanders’ first punt, Tress Way dropped the ball around the 1 yard line, where his coverage team pushed it into the end zone for a touchback, improving the Lions’ field position by about 19 yards. Following a safety that made the score 5-0 (more on that in a minute), the coverage team allowed the Lions to return Tress Way’s free kick 59 yards. The field position game that the special teams could have been winning, instead gave huge advantages to the Lions.

I’m not sure how much difference the field position made for most of the first half. The Lions had multiple big plays on offense, with a 49-yard pass play to St. Brown setting up the Lions first score (a field goal).

A 50 yard run by D’Andre Swift on the Lions next possession ended with a Bobby McCain tackle at the Washington 7 yard line. The play by McCain ultimately saved 7 points, as the Lions were unable to score, and turned the ball over on downs following an incomplete pass on 4th & 3.

Washington’s offense was unable to muster anything in the first half, however. One drive ended when Carson Wentz stepped into a sack when he held the ball far too long. On another play, Wentz threw the ball about 50 yards downfield towards Cam Sims, but missed the receiver by about 10 yards. On the next play, the Commanders were penalized for delay of game. The drive ended with an incomplete pass thrown by Wentz as he fell backwards, away from the Lions pass rush that would ultimately tally 5 sacks on the day.

In addition to giving up big plays, the defense missed some opportunities. Ben St-Juste dropped what should have been an interception with about 4 minutes left in the first half.

Washington’s final chance to score in the first half saw Wentz sacked on 2nd & 10, with the team forced to punt the ball away with 00:39 left in the half. On that punt, Detroit was flagged for running into the kicker, a penalty that Ron Rivera declined. To my way of thinking, this was a small mistake. By accepting the penalty, Washington could have punted again, taking several more seconds off the clock, and there was always a chance of getting another penalty that could have resulted in a 1st down, extending the drive. Instead, the half came to an end with a defensive stop by Washington.

The halftime stats were horrendous:

Total yards: Lions - 250, Commanders - 56

The Lions averaged 6.8 yards per play in the first half (7.8 yards per rush attempt).

Time of possession was 17:25 for the Lions, 12:35 for Washington

The Commanders didn’t run a single play on the Lions’ side of the field in the first half. Detroit ran 22 plays in Washington territory.

While the first half was all Detroit, the second half was mostly in favor of the Commanders, who outscored the Lions 4 TDs to 2, with none of those scores coming during ‘garbage time’. Each one was important, and moved Washington closer to a potential victory.

Milne started the 2nd half by returning the kickoff to the 36 yard line. The big offensive plays that followed were a 40-yard pass to Jahan Dotson (to the DET 20 yard line), and then a touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel to make the score 22-7.

After a 3 & out forced by Washington’s defense (the 3rd in a row), Milne returned the Detroit punt 19 yards. The drive ended pretty quickly when a pass to TE Logan Thomas in the middle of the field sailed high, and was tipped by Thomas and a defender, eventually ending up as an interception. Given that the Lions took possession on their own 20, this wasn’t really a disaster — an outcome similar to a punt. The Lions’ subsequent drive was brought to an abrupt halt by a textbook tackle by Darrick Forrest on 3rd down to force the punt. Unfortunately, Milne made a fair catch at Washington’s 5 yard line with 7:18 left in the 2rd quarter.

What followed was a beautiful offensive drive for the Commanders. McLaurin caught a 35-yard pass just across midfield. Curtis Samuel followed up two plays later with a 27 yard reception to the Detroit 21. Next, it was Logan Thomas with a 20-yard TD reception. The Commanders had driven 94 yards in 7 plays, and with a 2-point conversion to Jahan Dotson, the deficit was cut to 7 points, 22-15.

The momentum felt like it was all with Washington... until the next play. WR St. Brown took the ball 58 yards on a jet sweep, ending up at the Commanders’ 17 yard line. Daron Payne got a sack on 1st down, but D’Andre Swift scored on a pass play on 3rd & 15 after falling down well short of the line-to-gain, and even farther from the goal line. It was not the defense’s finest hour.

The score was 29-15.

On Washington’s subsequent offensive drive, they were facing 4th down & half a yard as the 3rd quarter came to an end. McLaurin got the first down to buoy the hopes of Commanders fans. Later, he got a big gain on 3rd & 3, catching a 17-yard pass form Wentz. The next play was a reverse to Curtis Samuel that went for 21 yards. After two more 1st downs, it was first & goal on the 1 yard line, and Antonio Gibson scored a rushing touchdown.

Facing an 8-point deficit, the right call would have been to kick the point-after attempt. Instead, Ron Rivera called for a 2-point conversion that failed, and the score remained 29-21.

The Lions took the kickoff to the 30 yard line, and marched down the field in 6 plays to score again, making it 36-21.

With exactly 7 minutes remaining, Washington took over at their own 24, trailing by 15 points. On the ensuing drive, Wentz scrambled for 18 yards to set up 1st down inside the Lions’ 30 yard line. Following another scramble on 3rd down that resulted in 1st & goal from the 2, Antonio Gibson was stopped on successive runs, and that was the situation when the 2 minute warning was given.

A play-action pass went to Dotson on the first play after the break, but Joey Slye missed the PAT. The resulting 36-27 score, with a 9-point deficit, put the Lions firmly in the driver’s seat.

Washington attempted an onside kick, but it traveled only 5 yards, and the Lions recovered it. Kendall Fuller forced an incompletion on 3rd down to get the ball back for Washington with 1:35 left, but facing a 2-score difference, the situation was desperate. The last gasp came in the form of the Lions’ 5th sack of the game on 4th & 4 to end the final drive.

In the end, the statistics (aside from the final score) were pretty comparable for the 2 teams. Washington actually ended up with more first downs (21) than the Lions (17). The Commanders’ 3rd down efficiency was better (7-15 vs 4-13), as was 4th down efficiency (1-2 vs 0-2).

Washington ran more plays (72-61), but this was due in part to several big chunk plays that the Lions managed on offense, reducing the number of plays & first downs needed to get the win.

Both teams had impressive yards per play (Wash 5.5; Det 7.0).

Washington was 3-3 in the red zone; Detroit was 4-6.

There were only 3 accepted penalties in the game for a total of 22 yards.

Washington ultimately controlled the time of possession, 32:03 - 27:57.

Wentz threw for 308 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception, while Goff threw for 256 yards, 4 TDs and no INTs.

The Lions rushed for 191 yards on just 24 carries; Washington rushed for 88 yards on 21 carries.

St. Brown led all receivers with 116 yards and 2 TDs on 12 targets and 9 receptions. Washington spread the receiving around a lot more, with Samuel and McKissic getting 7 receptions each, and the yardage for Samuel, McLaurin, Dotson, McKissic and Thomas being 78 yards, 75 yards, 59, 54, and 37 respectively. Samuel, Dotson and Thomas each had a TD reception.

Wentz lost a fumble out of the end zone in the first quarter for a safety; this and his INT on the deflected pass to Logan Thomas were the game’s only turnovers.

With all the offensive output, it’s kind of amazing that the Lions defense looked so dominant for the entire first half and parts of the second. While the Commanders never got closer than 7 points, the game was within reach until at least midway through the 4th quarter.

With the Giants getting the win over the Panthers, New York is, for the moment at least, in sole possession of 1st place in the NFC East, just like everyone expected. In the first half, the Cowboys were ahead 14-3 against the Bengals, and the Eagles play the Vikings on Monday night.

It will likely be a long, painful week for Washington fans, as they look for answers about what went wrong today, and look forward to the game against the Eagles at FedEx Field next Sunday.