The Washington Commanders needed a better performance against the Philadelphia Eagles than the one they gave against the New York Giants. To their credit, the Commanders were demonstrably better on both sides of the ball.
The Commanders weren't mistake-free, though, and the few errors they made ended up being costly ones.
That's the problem with playing against a team like the Eagles, who came away from FedExField with a 38-31 win over the Commanders to put the Burgundy & Gold at 3-5. The Commanders played well enough to win at several points, but in order to beat a team of that caliber, they needed to play that way from start to finish. Thanks to an inconsistent second half, they failed in that endeavor, and they continue to look for answers as they try to salvage the season.
It's ironic that Washington's best performances have come against the Eagles, both of which were losses, and in many ways, the Commanders got the hot start they have been searching for since their last matchup against the NFC East foe.
The offense has gone through several peaks and valleys this season, and Sunday's game was one of its best outings. The unit outgained the Eagles by almost 100 yards, got five more first downs, averaged 6.8 yards per play and completed 58% of its first downs.
Check out the top photos from the Washington Commanders' Week 8 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
Quarterback Sam Howell was at the center of all of it. He responded to one of the worst showings of his young career against the Giants with a career day against a significantly tougher defense. He threw the ball 52 times, one more than his previous career high of 51 against the Chicago Bears, and had 39 completions for 397 yards and four touchdowns.
Howell was helped by the fact that he had the cleanest pocket of his career, as he was only sacked one time all day. Some of that was a credit to the adjustments the Commanders made on the offensive line with Tyler Larsen at center and Saahdiq Charles at left guard, but there was also an emphasis on getting the ball out of Howell's hands faster through quick passes, screens and the occasional run play.
That worked to tremendous effect in the first half with the Commanders scoring on two of their first three drives. Thanks to a 29-yard run by Brian Robinson Jr. and a 26-yard reception by Terry McLaurin, they were able to strike first and go up 7-0. That was followed up by a nine-play drive on their ensuing possession that covered 75 yards and ended with Howell throwing his second touchdown pass of the day to Jahan Dotson, who led the team with eight catches for 108 yards, to make the score 14-3.
It's tough to keep a team like the Eagles down forever, though, despite an effort from the defense that was opportunistic at times. That was the case in the second quarter after A.J. Brown got the Eagles down to the Commanders' 3-yard line. Kam Curl forced the ball loose from Kenneth Gainwell's grasp, and Phidarian Mathis was there to scoop it up.
But after the Commanders failed to convert a fourth-and-short at the Eagles' 35-yard line, the Eagles were back in scoring position at the Commanders' 16-yard line. Brown, who once again was a problem for the Commanders with 130 receiving yards, made an improbable one-handed in the end zone to make the score 14-10.
After a 61-yard field goal from Joey Slye, which was a franchise record, the Commanders had a 17-10 halftime lead. So, despite the late miscues, they were still in a good position.
At that point, the game became something of a shootout.
The Eagles tied things up with Brown's second touchdown of the day -- a 25-yarder in the front corner of the end zone. The Commanders responded with a 14-play drive that included four third-down conversions, including a seven-yard catch from Logan Thomas to put the Commanders back up by seven points.
The Eagles tied the score again with a 38-yard touchdown pass by DeVonta Smith on a busted coverage. This is where the mistakes started to prove catastrophic for the Commanders. Howell's pass intended for McLaurin was intercepted by Reed Blankenship, and the Eagles struck on the scoring opportunity with a touchdown pass to Julio Jones for their first lead of the day.
The situation was not ideal for the Commanders with just over seven minutes left, but it was still conceivable for them to at least tie the game. Once again, the offensive miscues ended up costing the team. McLaurin had two drops on third and fourth down. Then, after the defense managed to force the Eagles to punt for just the second time all afternoon, Howell was sacked on fourth down, giving the Eagles the ball back at the Commanders' 16-yard line.
From there, the Eagles put the game away with a seven-yard score from D'Andre Swift, and while the Commanders did cut the deficit to seven points with Howell's fourth touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder, Washington's attempts at an onside kick failed, allowing the Eagles to run down the clock.
Washington's next matchup will be on the road against the New England Patriots on Nov. 5 with a 1 p.m. kickoff.