The Washington Football Team returned from the bye week with a 29-19 upset over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here are five takeaways from the victory.
1. Washington took advantage of early turnovers.
It's rare for Tom Brady to throw an interception. It's even rarer for him to throw two in the first half.
Under normal circumstances, it's Brady who makes teams pay for early turnovers, but this time it was Washington that was collecting the debt.
The first pick was a tag-team effort. Two plays into Tampa Bay's ensuing drive that followed a 46-yard field goal from Joey Slye, safety Kamren Curl slammed into Jaelon Darden as he attempted to haul in Brady's pass. The ball popped loose, and William Jackson III was there to give Washington the ball at the Buccaneers' 28-yard line. Seven plays and 18 yards later, Slye extended Washington's lead to six.
Washington's offense was back on the field again after another pick from Brady, and this time it was Bobby McCain who made the grab. Brady over shot on a pass intended for Mike Evans, and McCain was there to set Washington up near midfield.
Washington turned that into a 10-yard drive ending with a 20-yard touchdown grab by DeAndre Carter. Washington needed to execute on scoring opportunities to compete with Tampa Bay, and in the first half, it did so effectively.
2. Washington leaves the game riddled with injuries.
Washington has dealt with injuries to key players all year, and it will have to deal with a few more after Sunday's game.
The biggest loss of the day was Chase Young, who went down in the second quarter while working on the right side of the defense. It was later diagnosed as a knee injury, and he did not return to the game.
Next, it was tight end Ricky Seals-Jones who went down with a hip injury. Seals-Jones also did not return to the game, and rookie John Bates took the veteran's place in the lineup. Seals-Jones has been a reliable piece of Washington's offense since becoming the team's No. 1 option at the position. He finished the game with three receptions for 30 yards.
The Washington Football Team comes out of its bye week to take on the Tampa Buccaneers at FedExField in Week 10. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Karlee Sell/Washington Football Team; Joe Noyes/NFL)
3. The defense showed tremendous improvement.
Coming into Sunday's game, the Buccaneers were the league's best scoring offense that averaged 423 yards per game. On Sunday, the Buccaneers finished with 273 yards and 19 points, which is tied for its lowest-scoring performance of the season.
Much of the early success from Washington can be traced back to the first drives of the game. It set the tone early against Tampa Bay, allowing 13 yards in the first three drives and forcing two turnovers. It helped create a two-score lead that Tampa Bay struggled to get out of all game.
Even though Tampa Bay tried to rally in the second half, Washington still managed to bottle up Brady and the Bucs. A key stat for Washington came on third down, which was the most headache-inducing part of the team's struggles early in the season. Tampa Bay was held to 4-of-10 on its third down attempts and punted twice in the second half.
4. Taylor Heinicke finds magic again.
Taylor Heinicke made a name for himself in the playoffs against the Buccaneers. In the days leading up to the matchup, he hoped the team would rediscover some of that magic. That magic was found, and Heinicke's encore performance against Tampa Bay was his best trick yet.
Heinicke juked, dodged and evaded defenders on his way to 26-of-32 for 256 yards. He was the game manager that Washington needed him to be, and he made clutch, gutsy throws. He only had three carries for 15 yards, but they were valuable yards. The best part about his performance: no picks.
His performance was the catalyst for Washington's drastic turnaround on third downs. The team was 11-of-19 on third downs, by far its best outing of the year. And to truly cap things off, Heinicke put the game away by orchestrating a monstrous 19-play, 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter that finished with a one-yard touchdown from Antonio Gibson that made the score 29-19.
5. The offense executed.
The game-sealing drive was only the exclamation point on what was Washington's biggest win of the season thus far. It also summed up the theme of Washington taking advantage of its scoring opportunities against one the conference's best teams.
Slye, who the team signed earlier this week, was perfect on the day. The unit scored on two of its four red zone trips, both of which came in the second half by way of Gibson's legs. Washington had a chance to take a double-digit lead, and where it may have failed to do so in previous weeks, it accomplished that with Carter's touchdown.
For the third straight game, Washington out-gained its opponent, 320-273, and managed to put up 94 yards against a defense that allows just 78 yards per game. And even though Washington had a nearly catastrophic fumble in the fourth quarter, it responded with a drive that essentially ended the game.
There's no denying it; this is a turning point for Washington in several ways. Now that it has pulled off an upset against the defending Super Bowl champions, the next step is to build off it.