Coming off the bye week at 2-6, the Washington Football Team faced a daunting challenge hosting the 6-2 defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Washington stepped up in all three phases defeating Tampa Bay 29-19, correcting many of the errors that plagued them earlier in the season.
Recently signed Joey Slye knocked down all three field goals, while the offense and defense rose to the occasion in important moments. It will look to use the victory as a springboard to build and grow the remainder of the season.
"You're getting an opportunity to play against the defending champs and have them play the way they did, play the emotional inspired type of game they did, speaks a little bit about to what we're learning and developing and growing," said head coach Ron Rivera. "It's still a process. We're not where we want to be, but very, very pleased with the guys."
Third-down inefficiency stymied Washington's offense during its four-game losing streak as it was unable to keep drives alive. Prior to Sunday, Washington was successful on 34.7% of third down opportunities, which ranked 26th in the NFL. However, on Sunday at FedEx Field Washington displayed vast improvement converting on 11-of-19 third down opportunities.
Most encouraging, four of those conversations came in critical situations on Washington's final 19-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that iced the victory. That game-clinching drive spanned 10:26, indicative of the strides Washington's offense made after the bye week.
On that possession, with Washington facing a 3rd-and-4 situation from the Tampa Bay 25-yard line, Taylor Heinicke fired a strike towards the sideline to a diving Adam Humphries to keep the drive alive.
Three plays later on 3rd-and-5, Heinicke connected with Terry McLaurin who impressively held onto the ball as he was sandwiched by two defenders. Both plays by Heinicke and his playmakers speak to Washington's improvement offensively in critical situations near the end zone.
"I thought we did a great job of getting in the huddle and saying: 'hey this is our game to lose," Heinicke said postgame. "We're still up by 4. Let's go end it right now.' Everyone had a part. The offensive line did great. Terry had a couple huge catches there on third downs, same thing with Dyami Brown**.** So everyone took part in this game. It was really nice to see."
While Washington's offense showed drastic improvement in their areas of weakness, the defense showed growth against one of the NFL's most explosive offenses. Before Sunday, Washington ranked last in the league allowing opponents to convert 56.52% of third down opportunities.
However, the Buccaneers' offense kept the chains moving on just 4-of-10 third down situations, unable to consistently keep drives alive. Improved defensive third down efficiency represents just one of the areas that Washington hopes to continue building on. Improved tackling played a key role in that progress as Tampa Bay wasn't often able to create extra yards after contact.
"We just believe in each other, man," Bobby McCain said. "It's football, so you're going to win some, you're going to lose some and that's just how it goes."
Moving forward, the goal for Washington is to build on the progression and resilience it showed against Tampa Bay. That will be put to the test next Sunday in Charlotte when Washington takes on the Carolina Panthers.
"We had a couple bad things happen on offense and the defense rose up," Rivera said of the resilience postgame. "And then we had a couple bad things happen on defense and the offense rose up. To see them be resilient during a time like this, that was good. That was good for them. It was very good for them. They earned it, they deserve it."