3 Takeaways from WFT's Week 14 LossDecember 13, 2021
3 Takeaways from WFT's Week 14 Loss
Over the past month, the Washington Football Team unexpectedly surged into the NFC playoff picture. It reeled off four consecutive wins to get back to .500 and climb the wild-card standings. However, it couldn't keep that momentum going Sunday afternoon.
Washington got off to a slow start and was unable to pull off a late comeback attempt in a 27-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field. It would have been an opportunity for Washington to cut Dallas' NFC East lead to one game, but it instead fell to 6-7, three games back of the Cowboys.
Dallas scored the first 24 points of the game in the first half. Washington, meanwhile, didn't put points on the board until midway through the third quarter. It scored a pair of touchdowns late in the fourth, but the Cowboys managed to hold on.
Here are three takeaways from Washington's Week 14 loss.
Injuries on Offense Are Catching Up to This Team
Washington's offense has been getting banged up in recent weeks. Injuries have seen players rotated in and out of the offensive line, while quarterback Taylor Heinicke (knee) and wide receiver Terry McLaurin (concussion) were on the sideline during Sunday's late comeback attempt.
However, Washington kept powering forward. But injuries finally caught up to the team Sunday. Center Tyler Larsen was carted off with an Achilles problem, which came after Heinicke had been sacked four times and taken seven hits.
The absences of Heinicke and McLaurin were felt late on. On Washington's final possession, DeAndre Carter dropped a wide-open pass from Kyle Allen, who then fumbled and lost the ball with two minutes, 34 seconds to go. Dallas ran out the rest of the clock to preserve its victory.
"When the front seven keeps getting pressure on you and the secondary covers like they did today...that's a good defense," Heinicke said, per Howard Fendrich of the Associated Press. "We just have to keep responding."
Heinicke's knee injury may not cause him to miss any additional time. But if he continues to take beatings behind an offensive line that keeps losing players, and if he's without top playmakers such as McLaurin, there could be more offensive struggles on the horizon, especially with another matchup against the Cowboys' strong pass rush in Week 16.
Defense's Big Plays Kept This Game Close
Although the score may not indicate it, Washington's defense had another strong performance Sunday. It allowed only one touchdown, and it made enough big plays to keep things interesting as Dallas nearly collapsed late in the fourth quarter.
Washington had forced two straight Dallas punts before it cut the deficit to 27-14 on Jonathan Williams' 1-yard touchdown run with five minutes to go. The Cowboys got the ball back, and two plays later, quarterback Dak Prescott was intercepted by linebacker Cole Holcomb, who returned it 31 yards for a score to cut Dallas' lead to 27-20 with 4:13 remaining.
After that, Washington forced a three-and-out on the Cowboys' next drive, putting the ball back in its offense's possession with the chance for a game-tying drive. Although that didn't happen, Washington's defense did its best to nearly spark an improbable victory.
"I thought we came out [in the second half] and fought," Holcomb said, per The Athletic's Ben Standig.
Like the offense, the defense has been hit hard by injuries this year. But it was an encouraging sign for Washington to have another solid defensive showing against a strong Dallas offense.
Playoffs Still Possible, but Tough Road Ahead
If the season ended today, Washington would be in the playoffs despite its Week 14 loss. At 6-7, it owns a five-way tiebreaker for the third and final NFC wild-card spot over the other four teams with identical records: the Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.
So Washington's playoff hopes are alive, and it remains in control of its destiny. However, things won't get any easier over the next four weeks.
Sunday's loss to the Cowboys marked the first of five straight NFC East games for Washington to end the regular season. It still has two games against Philadelphia, another against Dallas and one against the New York Giants. Of those four contests, only one (Week 17 against the Eagles) will be at home.
Washington hasn't made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since notching three straight berths from 1990 to 1992. If that's going to change, it will need to play well against its biggest rivals, mostly on the road in hostile environments.
The team needs to move past Sunday's loss and get back to playing the way it did during its four-game winning streak to get back to the postseason.