The Washington Commanders returned from the bye week to take on the New York Giants in primetime and could not pull off the comeback in a 20-12 defeat. Here are five takeaways from the Week 15 matchup, presented by the Washington Commanders Inaugural Fan Cruise.
1. The missed opportunities.
The Commanders outgained the Giants in nearly every category offensive category Sunday night. Brian Robinson was dominant on the ground, and Jahan Dotson proved once again why the Commanders were right to take him with their first-round pick.
Once the Commanders got into Giants territory, though, things began to go awry.
It started on the Commanders' opening drive, which saw the offense get down to the Giants' 32-yard line. But after two plays resulting in losses of three yards apiece, Washington elected to punt instead of trying a 49-yard field goal attempt.
As frustrating as that was, that was overshadowed by the Commanders' final two drives. A chance at closing the Giants' lead from five to two points was wiped away with a fumble by Taylor Heinicke, and then, after the Giants put up another field goal to make the score 20-12, Washington's final attempt at tying the score at the Giants' 1-yard line was dashed thanks to a penalty and an incomplete pass on fourth down.
In total, the Commanders got to the Giants' side of the 50 on seven of their 10 drives. Four of those drives ended with no points.
Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders' Week 15 game against the New York Giants. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
2. The defense's lapses came at inopportune times.
From a straight statistical perspective, the Commanders' defense had a good night in multiple categories. The unit only allowed 13 points, held the Giants to 2-of-10 on third downs and limited Daniel Jones to 160 passing yards.
Unfortunately, the final score eliminated that optimism, and while the defense did play well overall, its occasional miscues proved to be massive blows to the team's chances at pulling out a win.
Ron Rivera said after the game that the Giants' 18-play, 97-yard scoring drive was the most disappointing stretch for the defense. It is never a good thing to allow drives of that length, but there were two opportunities -- a third-and-9 at the Giants' 31 and a fourth-and-9 at Commanders' 35 -- when the Giants were able to get just enough to stay on the field. Had Washington managed to get the Giants off the field or even kick a field goal, the outlook of the game could have been much different.
The moments, while problematic, were not the only body blows that Washington took Sunday night. After the second Heinicke fumble, the Giants ran up the middle of the Commanders' defense three straight times and gashed the unit on gains of 12, 15 and 14 yards. Prior to those plays, Saquon Barkley only had 39 yards on the ground. He finished the night with 87.
3. Washington's receivers flashed.
It is difficult to highlight individual performances in a loss, especially in a game with serious playoff implications. With that said, Washington's offense did flash at certain moments, thanks to its playmakers.
Dotson, who finished with a season-high 105 yards on four receptions, continued to show why the Commanders were right to take him with their first-round pick. His 61-yard grab in the fourth quarter was impressive, but that was preceded by his sixth touchdown of the season in a moment where the Commanders desperately needed a spark. He finished off Washington's 91-yard drive with a 19-yard score, securing the grab with a defender providing tight coverage.
But Dotson was not the only receiver to make big plays for the Commanders' passing attack. Terry McLaurin finished the night with 70 yards on six targets, including a 20-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter. Not only did that help Washington get in scoring position, but it also put McLaurin past the 1,000-yard mark for the third straight season, making him the first Washington receiver since Henry Ellard to accomplish that feat.
McLaurin is 12th in all-time receiving yards for the franchise, and he is 176 yards away from moving past Michael Westbrook for the 11th spot.
Washington has needed more from its passing attack, and even though it did not prove to be enough against the Giants, there were moments where progress was made.
4. The final drive.
With two minutes left, Washington needed a miracle to tie the game, and the team was just a few yards away from getting it.
It started with the kickoff return. Antonio Gibson caught the kick at the goal line and sprinted past his blockers for a 43-yard yard return. Then, it was Curtis Samuel’s turn to provide a spark; he got a step on Darnay Holmes down the right sideline and hauled in a 27-yard grab that moved the Commanders to the Giants' 30. Washington covered 23 yards in three plays, including a nine-yard run by Heinicke, and with 1:03 left to play, Washington was one yard away from the end zone.
Then disaster struck. Brian Robinson’s touchdown was nullified by an illegal formation penalty called on Terry McLaurin. Heinicke's ensuing pass was incomplete, leaving Washington one last shot on fourth-and-6 to score.
Heinicke's pass intended for Samuel was incomplete, resulting in a turnover on downs. Washington began calling for pass interference, but the officials kept their flags in their pockets. Here is what referee John Hussey had to say about the decision.
"Pass interference is a judgment call," Hussey said. "To the officials, it didn't rise to what they felt was a restriction, thus they didn't call it. That's basically the bottom line there. It's a judgment call, and they didn't believe it was pass interference."
Maybe it was pass interference; maybe it was not. Either way, as frustrating as the ending was, Washington had multiple opportunities to change the outcome before that moment.
5. Washington's playoff chances tighten up.
If the season ended today, Washington would be one of the 14 teams in the playoffs. That is not the case, though, and there are three games left for the Burgundy & Gold to earn the right to play in the Wild Card round of the postseason.
The road to reaching that goal is precarious at best.
First, Washington must travel to California to play the San Francisco 49ers on Christmas Eve. While they are dealing with Brock Purdy as their starting quarterback, the 49ers still possess the best defense in the league and run one of the most creative and successful offenses. The 49ers have been on a roll over the past two months, as they have won seven straight games and scored at least 30 points in four of those contests.
The Saturday showdown is about as close to must-win as it can get for the Commanders. As they showed against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football, the Commanders can compete with teams of that caliber. However, they must perform better than they did against the Giants, and they only have five days to prepare one of the top teams in the conference.