The Washington Commanders took their first loss of the season, dropping Week 3 against the Buffalo Bills, 37-3. Here are five takeaways from the defeat, presented by Maryland Lottery.
1. Washington's offense couldn't get out of its own way.
It's always hard to beat a team like the Bills, who have made it to the postseason in five of the last six years. It's even tougher when a team gives them extra opportunities to score.
That's how it felt as the Commanders tried to get some kind of spark on Sunday. It seemed as though every positive was countered with a mistake that helped swing the momentum back in Buffalo's favor.
Sam Howell's interceptions were at the root of that. The opening drive for Washington's offense started well enough. The unit moved 43 yards downfield in five plays. Even after the back-to-back sacks, the Commanders were at least in good enough shape to tie score. But Howell's pass to Dyami Brown was snagged by Terrel Bernard.
Washington found itself deep in Bills territory in the second quarter, this time at the 1-yard line, helped by an 18-yard scamper from Howell. But once again, the offense ran out of steam when it needed to capitalize. Howell's fourth-down pass fell incomplete, and the Bills responded with a 15-play field goal drive that took almost 10 minutes off the clock.
It was even more frustrating in the second half. Washington drove down to the Bills' 15-yard line before getting a third interception, and that snowballed into a punt, a fumble, a pick-six and another punt. The Bills were the better team on Sunday, but Washington didn't really give itself much of a chance to compete with its slew of mistakes.
2. Josh Allen hurt the Commanders with his legs.
Josh Allen only ran the ball three times, but the effects of those runs were brutal.
The first one came on the Bills' opening drive of the game. The Commanders had a chance to get off the field early with Buffalo backed up at its own 25 on a third-and-10, but Allen managed to weave through the Commanders' pass-rush and convert with a 13-yard run, keeping his offense alive for what eventually led to a field goal.
The second rush was even more frustrating. Washington had the Bills backed up again, this time at their own 11. But Allen did what he does best; he avoided the pressure from the Commanders' defensive line, stepped up and ran 23 yards upfield to convert on a second-and-12. The Bills went on to score another field goal to make the score 13-0.
The last one helped to truly put the game out of reach for the Commanders. It was second-and-goal at the Washington 10-yard line, and Allen took the ball in himself for the touchdown that made the score 23-0.
The Commanders knew that rush discipline was going to be a priority in order to limit Allen and the Bills' offense. However, despite some pressure from the defensive line at times, the Commanders finished the game without a sack.
Check out the best shots from the Washington Commanders' Week 1 matchup against the Buffalo Bills. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
3. Howell was sacked nine times.
While Allen was kept clean for the afternoon, the same could not be said for Howell.
It's hard to blame one person or position group when a quarterback is sacked nine times, like Howell was against a Bills team that had only gotten three sacks in their first two games. Some of that is on the offensive, but it could also be the quarterback holding the ball too long or a myriad of other factors.
Regardless of the reason, Washington has given up 19 sacks through three games, and they only added to the frustrations that plagued the offense.
While the interception on Washington's opening drive is inexcusable, so too are the sacks that preceded it. Washington was at the Bills' 25-yard line, but after Howell was taken down on consecutive plays, Washington was backed up to the 34 and out of field goal range.
There's no reason to go over all nine sacks, but they did seem to come in pairs. In the third quarter, back-to-back sacks stalled what was a promising start to a drive, putting Washington in a third-and-17 scenario. In the fourth quarter, with the score 30-0, the sacks disrupted a drive before it even began.
The last two came on the Commanders' final drive. At that point, they were the symbolic period on what was an all-around disappointing day for the unit.
4. The defense lapses in the fourth quarter.
Up until the fourth quarter, the Commanders' defense managed to hold the Bills to just 16 points, which by any metric is a solid accomplishment. It's hard to hold an offense like that down for long, though, and in the fourth quarter, the Bills put the game away.
It started with a fumble from Antonio Gibson that gave the Bills the ball at the Commanders' 31-yard line. Allen, who had been solid up to that point, completed all three of his passes during the six-play drive and capped things off with his 10-yard touchdown.
Next, now with Kyle Allen in at quarterback, the Bills wore down the Commanders with nine consecutive running plays, pushing them over 150 yards on the ground. The Commanders tried to make a stand at the goal line, but Latavius Murray plowed forward for the two-yard score to make things 37-0.
The Bills were the toughest test for the Commanders' defense through three games. While there were some good moments from the unit in the first three quarters, the Bills still managed to put up 386 yards of offense and convert nine of their 15 third downs. The unit has plenty of talent, but it still has a lot to work on.
5. Back to work.
Losses like the one Washington was dealt are always hard to swallow. They force teams to go back to the film and reevaluate much of what they thought was working in previous weeks.
There is a lot for the Commanders to learn as they begin preparing for Week 4. First, the Commanders cannot have consistently slow starts. Getting things together in the second half might work against teams like the Cardinals and Broncos, but that isn't the case against the league's best teams like the Bills, who will capitalize on those mistakes and keep the momentum in their favor.
On defense, explosive plays might come less often compared to previous years, but they are still a problem. Sunday's game marks the second time the Commanders were burned for a touchdown on an explosive play, the most recent being a 35-yard touchdown from Gabe Davis. Sometimes, the Commanders can recover from such plays; other times, not so much. Against the Bills, it was the latter.
The important thing to remember, though, is that there are still 14 games left in the season for the Commanders to correct themselves. There's still time to fix their mistakes, but with several quality teams coming up on the schedule, they must work quickly to do so.