It’s rare for an NFL receiver to be as open as Cooper Kupp was on the Los Angeles Rams’ opening drive of the third quarter, but the Washington Commanders have seen it happen to them at a consistent rate this season.
The cause of the explosive play — a 62-yard reception that Kupp caught at the Commanders’ 25-yard line before jogging the rest of the way — was a lingering problem for the Commanders: miscommunication. Whether Bejamin St-Juste was playing man coverage when he was supposed to be in zone or vice versa, the result was that Kupp has 17 yards of separation from the nearest defender — the second most on a completion over 50 yards since at least 2016, according to Next Gen Stats.
The play summed up the 28-20 loss by the Commanders, who did try to make it a competitive game in the closing minutes. The Rams made a couple of mistakes here and there that kept things close, but for the most part, they were able to do whatever they wanted to a Washington team that falls to 4-10 after their fifth consecutive defeat.
Washington Post (paywall)
The defense struggles again, Sam Howell is off the mark, and the long snapper is putting his teammates in danger
The rally from a 28-7 deficit came up short but was impressive enough to raise more questions about the team’s future as it dropped to 4-10 and was officially eliminated from playoff contention.
What now for Howell, the young quarterback Coach Ron Rivera has stood staunchly behind throughout the season? Rivera assured he remains the starter, even though the offense was inept much of the game. And what about the injuries that cropped up in the loss? Defensive tackle John Ridgeway suffered a foot injury in warmups but played through it; left tackle Charles Leno Jr. (calf), center Tyler Larsen (knee) and running back Jonathan Williams (concussion) were ruled out early; and punter Tress Way was nearly taken out while scrambling to recover a botched snap.
More significant: What is actually salvageable from Sunday’s loss — and for this team after its fifth consecutive defeat? Here are three thoughts:
The defense is still a mess.
Washington’s defense remains confounding. On Sunday, it gave up nine explosive plays (defined as runs of at least 12 yards or passes of at least 16 yards), including a 62-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Cooper Kupp, and it allowed the Rams to collect 445 yards.
But the offense with Howell was worse.
The defense gave Washington chances by forcing two fumbles. But the offense went three-and-out after each and was a disaster for most of the first three quarters. It wasn’t until Howell sat in the fourth — a decision Rivera said was made in an effort “to take care of him a little bit” — that the offense moved the ball.
Asked postgame what has gone wrong with the offense, Rivera said he needs to watch the tape.
“We’re just going to go and evaluate it,” he said.
Long snapping is a major issue.
The good news is that Way is fine. Or, at least, he was good enough to finish the game after getting clobbered late in the second quarter. Long snapper Camaron Cheeseman, who has been inconsistent since training camp, botched his snap so badly that the ball bounced to Way. As he scrambled to cover it, Rams linebacker Troy Reeder came down hard on him.
Asked if he’s worried about losing his job, Cheeseman said: “I mean, I’ve been worried all year. I haven’t been performing the way I’ve been wanting to. Most places, I probably wouldn’t be around still.”
Stud: QB Jacoby Brissett
Brissett came in midway through the fourth quarter and immediately went to work. On his first drive, he completed all four passes with a touchdown to McLaurin. On his first pass of his second series, he found McLaurin for what looked like a 50-yard touchdown, but he was ruled down at the one-yard line. Unfortunately, Washington’s playcalling got weird, and it took over three minutes for the Commanders to score, essentially ending any chance of a comeback.
No one doubted that Brissett could play. He finished Sunday’s game completing eight of 10 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. He gave the Commanders a spark. But Ron Rivera made the right call after the game to stick with Howell for the remainder of the season. Brissett is a veteran on an expiring contract. His future isn’t in Washington. Howell needs to continue playing for multiple reasons.
Dud: QB Sam Howell
Speaking of Howell, it was another rough day for the second-year signal caller. He completed 11 of 26 passes for 102 yards. On his interception, he had two easier reads but instead attempted to force the ball to Terry McLaurin and made an inaccurate throw. In Howell’s defense, he was under constant duress, but you almost wonder if the whole “get rid of the ball quick” mindset has taken away some of Howell’s effectiveness. Howell did hold the ball too long, and while the sacks have come down, so has Washington’s effectiveness in the passing game.
Howell has three weeks to continue showing ownership he belongs in the mix to be Washington’s 2024 starter. However, his play in recent weeks absolutely has a quarterback in the discussion for the Commanders with their top-five pick in 2024.
Stud: WR Terry McLaurin
Welcome back, Terry. It was good to see you again. McLaurin caught six passes for a career-high 141 yards and a touchdown. He barely missed another touchdown when he was ruled down at the one-yard line. There was also the big play in the second half in which he made a tremendous catch, but it was ruled incomplete. There was pass interference on the play, but it was not called.
McLaurin had three catches for 48 yards with Howell under center, and three receptions for 93 yards, and a score with Brissett. McLaurin has been understandably frustrated in recent weeks. On Sunday, he proved to everyone nothing had changed from his side; he just needed the opportunities. In their final three games, the Commanders should do everything possible to force the ball to McLaurin.
It’s official, folks. The Washington Commanders have been eliminated from playoff contention after Sunday’s 28-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Don’t let the eight-point deficit fool you; the Rams outplayed and outclassed Washington in every facet from start to finish. However, mistakes kept the game closer than it should have been.
As for the playoffs, Washington fans didn’t need an official graphic to let them know the Commanders weren’t making the playoffs. For anyone who has watched this team in 2023, they’d tell you Washington was unofficially eliminated from the playoffs over two months ago.
The Rams won convincingly despite two first-half turnovers, and Los Angeles will continue its playoff race.
Washington has three games left before an offseason expected to be a full overhaul. The Commanders have now lost five games in a row and six of their last seven. Rivera’s squad really hasn’t been competitive in a contest since early November.
There was a stretch of the year where the losses seemed less important than the development of the young quarterback. That stretch has ended too, as Howell has sputtered against increased competition. Against the Rams, Howell came out in the fourth quarter after a series of injuries along the offensive line. There was no injury.
Before he was pulled, Howell completed just 11 passes on 26 attempts for 102 yards with a touchdown and an interception. There were a number of batted passes and balls that could have been picked off, too.
Backup QB Jacoby Brissett immediately breathed new life into the Washington offense, completing his first four passes, including a 29-yard touchdown throw to Terry McLaurin. The offense with Brissett looked immediately better, and while sure, the Rams were running soft shell defense, still the performance might raise some tough questions. Or provide real answers.
All signs point to Washington landing a top five draft pick in the spring, and with that type of draft position, the conversation about a quarterback needs to be real.
For months as the losses have piled up for the Commanders, Ron Rivera has stressed how important developing a young QB is for the franchise. He’s said it over and over, almost like a crutch.
Well, after benching Howell in L.A., that’s going to be harder to rely on, and there might not be any other crutches left.
Washington Post (paywall)
The Commanders lost for the 10th time in their past 12 games Sunday. The Los Angeles Rams mostly toyed with them during a 28-20 victory at SoFi Stadium, and let it be known that these Rams shouldn’t be capable of toying with anyone. The Commanders must endure three more weeks of limbo, which is down from four this time a week ago, so at least time still melts away at the same pace.
It feels slower, but I swear it isn’t.
It’s an awkward, irritating, pointless time. For decades, contemptible ownership obstructed any chance to enjoy football, and now that the tumor has been excised, unenjoyable football loiters alone as the problem. You could hibernate until Jan. 6 or 7, when the agonizing season will end against the Dallas Cowboys, and miss little beyond formality. At 4-10 and regressing in every tangible area, the Commanders have created their version of an out-of-office reply for the remainder of the year.
Ron Rivera, the coach and top personnel executive, is more babysitter than architect at this point. This was supposed to be a dignified way to exit. This was supposed to be viewed as the new ownership group showing Rivera respect for helping to hold the organization together by allowing him to finish out a year of wild but promising change. Yet like everything else, the timing of Rivera’s departure seems inconsequential now.
Why keep Rivera? Why fire him? Why do anything besides spike eggnog, eat Christmas cookies and watch sentimental holiday movies? As long as Josh Harris and the new ownership group are prepared to move decisively through a tricky search for a new general manager and head coach, they can delay the inevitable.
How did QB1 fare in his first game after the bye week?
Howell looked hesitant in the pocket. The timing was off with his wide receivers. He was unfortunate not to throw another interception when attempting to get the football downfield during a two-minute drill.
This was not the confident Howell we’d been accustomed to seeing against high-octane offenses earlier in the campaign. There were some flashes of his impressive arm strength. Unfortunately for the Washington Commanders, these were fleeting as they went into the interval deservedly behind.
The statistics over the opening two quarters spoke for themselves. Howell’s performance was shaky right out of the gate and things didn’t get much better as the half progressed.
- 43.75 percent completion
- 52 passing yards
- 0 TDs
- 0 INTs
- 1 sack against
- 19 rushing yards
- 52.1 passer rating (ESPN)
Remarkably, the Commanders were only down 13-0 at the break despite their lack of offensive efficiency. This was thanks in no small part to Washington’s defense. They created two turnovers and played relatively well overall versus a dynamic Los Angeles Rams attack.
Podcasts & videos
Locked on Commanders
Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders as they take on the Los Angeles Rams in Week 15. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
NFC East links
Cowboys at Bills
Cowboys no-show on the road. The Cowboys are 7-0 at home, and 3-4 away from AT&T Stadium. That alone does not explain this loss, but it does provide a rather concerning trend, especially considering how they played Sunday. Dallas came out flat, got bullied by Buffalo and succumbed to the adverse weather conditions, barely registering a pulse offensively and struggling to stop a nosebleed defensively. They lost the war of attrition badly, so much that the second half essentially devolved into a mere passage of time for Dallas, and a celebration for Buffalo. The Cowboys came into Week 15 on a heater and left as cold as the rain that fell on them in Orchard Park. It will be up to them to prove to the rest of the NFL that it was an exception, and not the true definition of who they are as a team.
Next Gen stat of the game: Entering Week 15, Dak Prescott led the NFL with a plus-7.4 completion percentage over expected when taking more than 2.5 seconds to throw. He completed just 7 of 19 such attempts Sunday for 55 yards and an interception, finishing with a CPOE of -15.9 on throws attempted after 2.5 seconds.
NFL Research: James Cook is just the fourth Buffalo player all time to record 200-plus scrimmage yards, a rushing touchdown and a receiving TD in the same game.
Saints at Giants
Saints D throttles Giants to end Tommy DeVito parade. Saints linebacker Demario Davis flew around early, blasting Giants ball carriers and drilling DeVito for a sack, setting the tone for the hometown defense. Davis led a Saints squad that smothered everything Brian Daboll’s offense attempted. Runs? Stuffed. Dropbacks? Sacked. Heaves? Broken up. Davis tallied 10 tackles, a sack, and two tackles for loss in the contest. New Orleans swarmed DeVito, generating seven sacks, including three by Tanoh Kpassagnon. The Saints allowed a meager 3.2 yards per play on 61 snaps, holding Big Blue to 193 total yards and 12 first downs. For the second consecutive week, Dennis Allen’s defense didn’t allow a touchdown.
- Tommy DeVito banged around in loss. New York’s best story hit an ugly chapter. DeVito had few answers Sunday, rarely able to escape pressure, taking seven sacks and finding nothing downfield until the game was out of hand. With the ground game silenced, New York was one-dimensional and couldn’t move the chains, going three and out four times. DeVito exited late in the first half after getting hit on a slide but returned in the third quarter after getting checked for a concussion. Later in the game, he tweaked his leg after getting stepped on by one of his offensive lineman. The young QB didn’t turn the ball over, but the sacks were drive-killers. DeVito has been a sensational story, leading Big Blue to three straight wins ahead of Week 15, but Sunday showed the limitations of an offense that doesn’t have answers against one of the better defenses in the NFL.
Next Gen stat of the game: Tanoh Kpassagnon recorded a season-high seven pressures on 22 pass rushes (31.8% pressure rate) in Week 15 against the Giants. Kpassagnon entered Week 15 with just a 9.8% pressure rate this season, ranking 67th among 80 edge rushers (min. 175 pass rushes).
NFL league links
Washington Post (paywall)
The competitive portion of the New York Jets’ cursed-from-the-start season officially ended Sunday. And it occurred in appropriately unsightly fashion as quarterback Zach Wilson suffered a concussion and the visiting Jets were shut out in a lopsided defeat to a Tyreek Hill-less version of the Miami Dolphins.
The 30-0 loss and other Week 15 results eliminated the Jets from playoff contention, casting further doubt on the already remote possibility that Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Aaron Rodgers would return from his torn Achilles’ tendon to play as soon as next Sunday against the Washington Commanders in East Rutherford, N.J.
Rodgers, 40, was on the Jets’ sideline for Sunday’s game in Miami Gardens, Fla. His 21-day practice window — which the Jets opened late last month — expires this week, at which point the team must activate him from injured reserve or officially end his season. Rodgers has said a possible late-season return would depend on his health and the Jets’ playoff chances.
There seemingly would be little point to Rodgers participating in meaningless games and risking another injury. But he is one of the sport’s most polarizing figures, and there always is the you-never-know factor with him. Perhaps he merely wants to show that it can be done.
This really is amazing. pic.twitter.com/tikwf2mnL8— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 17, 2023
I heard on Pardon My Take earlier this week that the Carolina Panthers were selling tickets for 45 cents. I almost didn’t believe it. I figured somebody saw a 45 cent ticket somewhere, but in reality, most tickets were going for more than that.
I think I was wrong.
That is shocking. I understand that the weather is a big factor. I understand that they Panthers are easily the most pathetic team in the league this year. But that is shocking. I’ve never seen an NFL stadium this empty. Even if those pictures are taken before kickoff, or during halftime, it’s nuts how few people are at this game.
Can’t help but feel bad for Bryce Young. You go from being the biggest swinging dick in all of Alabama, to starting for an NFL franchise where you can’t drum up an audience of more than a few hundred people.
That’s unbelievable for an NFL franchise. At that point, you should honestly bite the bullet and advertise it as a free game. I know they basically did that with the 45 cent tickets, but if you billed this as “FREE NFL FOOTBALL” then you might at least have some respectable attendance numbers. That would be embarrassing in it’s own right, but at least that’s kind of fun.