The Washington Football Team travelled to play the Buffalo Bills and couldn't find its footing in a 43-21 loss. Here are five takeaways from the afternoon.
1. Mistakes fueled an early Buffalo lead.
Buffalo and Josh Allen looked crisp to start the afternoon with three touchdowns on its first four drives. It didn't help that Washington kept the home team rolling with some costly errors.
It seemed Washington had found some early success after the Bills breezed downfield on a 75-yard drive. Taylor Heinicke found Terry McLaurin on the right sideline for 16 yards, but an offensive pass interference call put the unit in a hole and was forced to punt two plays later.
Washington then got a break after the defense turned over the ball on downs, thanks to a stop by Jamin Davis. That was essentially erased by a Logan Thomas fumble, and after a pass interference call on William Jackson III on 3rd-and-8, Buffalo found the end zone again on a Zach Moss reception.
Then, after a pick thrown by Heinicke, all Buffalo needed was 17 yards to give Allen his third touchdown pass of the day.
The score could have been closer, but thanks to a handful of gaffes, Washington was staring at a three-score deficit.
2. Disaster was followed by a wild three minutes.
With the game dangerously close to getting out of hand, Washington needed a response. It got two through exciting and unconventional means.
After Antonio Gibson opened the drive with a two-yard run, Washington turned to Gibson again, and this time the second-year back turned a routine screen pass into a 73-yard sprint and dove into the end zone.
It looked like the Bills would have a chance to extend its lead back up by three scores, but then Dustin Hopkins, who had just lobbed a 41-yard kick across the field, recovered the ball at Buffalo's 24-yard line. With a short field in front of it, Washington moved into scoring position with help from a 14-yard haul from Thomas on 3rd-and-4. Heinicke capped off the drive with a dive to the pylon.
It was a three-minute surge by the offense, and it helped Washington recover from the gashes it suffered in the first 20 minutes.
3. Big plays were a problem.
Allen had one of the better days of his career -- he had 300 yards midway through the third quarter -- and he was assisted by a defense that allowed multiple crippling big plays.
Emmanuel Sanders, who finished the day with five receptions for 94 yards and two touchdowns, was particularly a problem for Washington's secondary. He got things started with a 28-yard grab in the corner of the end zone on the Bills' opening drive. After Washington's second touchdown, Sanders grabbed a 41-yarder that set his offense up at Washington's 17-yard line.
There were other Bills players who found open holes in the defense for big gains. Facing a 3rd-and-15 in the first quarter, Allen hit Gabriel Davis for a 23-yard pass. With just a few ticks in the first half, Cole Beasley helped move the Bills closer to field goal range with a 22-yard reception.
In all, the Bills had 13 plays that resulted in gains of 10 yards or more.
4. A learning experience for Taylor Heinicke.
Washington's Week 2 game against the New York Giants was fueled by Heinicke's 336-yard performance. On Sunday, he was one of many Washington players who had a mistake-filled afternoon. For a young quarterback who has shown promise, it's a chance to learn from those moments.
There were still some good plays; Heinicke's first instinct is to get the ball to his playmakers, and he did that on the touchdown pass to Gibson. He can still scramble when he needs to, and he showed that off on his four-yard score. He also had an impressive touchdown toss to Thomas in the fourth quarter.
But Heinicke's two interceptions on the day helped kill the momentum Washington gained. He threw an ill-advised pass in the direction of McLaurin that was picked off by Jordan Poyer, resulting in Buffalo's third touchdown. In the third quarter, with Washington trailing 33-14, Micah Hyde stepped in the way of Heinicke's pass.
Heinicke finished the game 14-of-24 for 212 yards. There will be an opportunity to bounce back against the Falcons, who managed to pull out a 17-14 win over the Giants.
5. How does Washington respond?
Ron Rivera summed up the afternoon in one sentence: "We got our butts kicked."
Aside from a few individual moments, Washington was outplayed in Buffalo. It was out-gained by Allen and the Bills, 481-290, and three turnovers negated much of Washington's positive plays. On defense, the unit allowed the Bills to convert 9-of-15 first downs.
The next question Rivera has on his mind is how will his team respond to starting the season 1-2?
"It's going to be about what we learned from what happened and whether we're going to get up," Rivera said after the game. "That's what we're gonna be judged on. That's the truth of the matter."
Washington is approaching its most difficult stretch of the year. After going back on the road to play the Falcons, it faces a gauntlet that includes the Chiefs, Saints, Broncos and Buccaneers. It'll certainly present several tough tests for the young team.
Anyone who manages to make it in the NFL will eventually have blowout losses, Rivera said, but how Washington responds will show the head coach what its character is like.
"We'll find out what we're made out of."