After a tie at MetLife Stadium earlier in the month and a bye last weekend, the Washington Commanders came into FedExField well-rested and rearing to go for their Week 15 rematch against the New York Giants. However, missed opportunities hurt the home team throughout the night, as the Burgundy & Gold suffered its first loss since Nov. 6. Here are three numbers to know from the 20-12 divisional defeat:
Head coach Ron Rivera repeatedly emphasized that red zone issues would be a big focus for the coaching staff and players to spend extra time working on during the bye week. While Washington has been able to mostly overcome that weakness in its impressive run since early October, its red zone issues returned in last night's game, as Washington was only able to score on just one of its three trips into the red zone.
Both of the drives deep into New York territory that came up empty occurred during the fourth quarter. After Jahan Dotson made a stellar 61-yard catch, followed by a 19-yard run by Brian Robinson Jr., Washington found itself at New York's 11-yard line. The momentum, unfortunately, stalled shortly after those two big plays once Taylor Heinicke suffered a sack-fumble on third-and-4 just five yards outside the end zone.
The result was much of the same on the Commanders' next possession with less than two minutes left to go in the contest. Washington had done well to move the chains and put itself in a good spot to perhaps tie the game, but it could not make the most of its five plays within 10 yards of the end zone. The Commanders did not need to wait for today's film review to see how crucial the lack of red zone execution was.
"When you get down there, it's hard enough to drive the football in this league and convert first downs over and over again. So, when you get in the red zone you have to score," Dotson said in the locker room after the game. "It's tough when you're just giving the ball back to the other team without putting points on the board."
The Commanders turned the ball over twice in last night's loss -- once in the first half and once in the second -- and on both occasions, the recovered possession resulted in points for the visitors.
In his postgame interview, Heinicke himself called the first turnover "the turning point of that game, the biggest play of that game." Though they were not dominating, the Commanders came out fine enough in the first quarter with the defense playing well and the offense finding its rhythm. Then came the play early in the second quarter that Heinicke was referring to. Heinicke, pinned back near his own end zone, was hounded by Kayvon Thibodeaux, who stripped the ball from his hands, recovered it and scored a touchdown. That play gave New York a lead that they never relinquished.
The second turnover came in the fourth quarter with Washington down by five and knocking on the door of New York's end zone. On third-and-4 on the Giants' five-yard line, Heinicke was brought down and was unable to secure the football while hitting the ground. New York scored a field goal on the ensuing drive and slammed the door shortly after that.
Washington suffered a tough defeat at the hands of the Giants in primetime, but Terry McLaurin provided a bright spot once again
Just about five minutes into the third quarter, McLaurin came back to get a pass from Heinicke and found a diagonal opening to slice open the Giants' defense for a 20-yard gain. The play was Washington's third-longest of the game and saw the wide receiver achieve an impressive milestone. With that catch and run, McLaurin eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards for the third straight season, making him the first Commanders player to do accomplish that feat since Henry Ellard did so in 1994-96.
McLaurin is 12th on the Commanders' all-time receiving yards list and has the potential to most up at least one more spot. He is 176 yards away from taking the 11th spot away from Michael Westbrook.
While the milestone did come in a loss, it did further cement McLaurin as one of the best receivers Washington has had in recent memory.