On Sunday, the Washington Commanders secured their second win in a row, rallying to defeat the Green Bay Packers, 23-21, at FedExField. Here are three numbers to know from the victory:
It has been an emphasis for truly the last calendar year: the defense needs to be better on third down. That mission has not been without bumps -- hiccups that received a lot of unwanted attention both in 2021 and this season. Earlier this year, explosive plays on third downs had been costly for the Commanders. Slowly but surely, though, the unit has improved in those situations, and yesterday's performance will have the entire Commanders defense and defensive staff basking in pride.
Say what you will about the Packers this year, the feat is still remarkable. The Commanders defense did not allow an Aaron Rodgers-led offense to convert any of its six third down opportunities. It was the first time the Packers have not had a third-down conversion since Oct. 17, 1999, and the first time Rodgers has not converted a third down in a game in his career. It was also the first time since Week 3 of the 2017 season against the Oakland Raiders that Washington did not allow a third down conversion in a single game.
"That's what you wanna do defensively," Bobby McCain said of the third down conversion stat following the game. "We knew coming into the season, we knew third down would be big for us and getting off on third down is how you win football games."
There has been a lot of hubbub about "which" and "rather" in the Commanders running back conversation. When it comes to the usage of Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson Jr., the best answer is "both." Sunday's win was a beautiful example of how the running back duo can be used to devastating effect on the offense.
Robinson carried the ball 20 times for 73 yards in the win and showed off his ability to hit his gaps for short but significant gains. Gibson finished with 13 touches for 77 yards while putting his reception skills on display. His 20-yard catch and nine-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter were two of the offense's biggest plays.
Together, Robinson and Gibson combined for a season-high 163 total yards, which amounted to 44% of the Commanders total offense. It was the first time the team has had two running backs rush for at least 55 yards since Nov. 26, 2020 at Dallas. Head coach Ron Rivera was excited about what he saw of the two and it looks like we are likely to see a lot more of this see-saw action out of the backs.
"It goes back to my prior experience having a couple running backs that are a really good tandem," Rivera said in his postgame presser. "You have a guy that's pretty much a hammer that is a very physical runner inside. Then you see Antonio use his athleticism, his vision, his speed and quickness to take that ball and bounce it outside and turn the corner. He did that a couple times and it was very impressive. That's what we envision."
Terry McLaurin has established a bit of reputation for making catches that seemingly look impossible to make. It does not seem to matter if he has four defenders draped on him or if he is falling backwards while contorted, the Commanders wide receiver finds a way to haul it in. He dominated in contested catches among receivers across the league both as a rookie in 2019 and last year.
McLaurin flaunted that talent on the Commanders' big touchdown in the third quarter. Down by four, Heinicke found McLaurin, who had torched his defender, for a 37-yard touchdown catch towards the right front corner of the end zone, beating out Jaire Alexander for the score. According to Next Gen Stats, the pass had a catch probability of 19.8%. The Commanders wide receiver now has 11 touchdowns with a probability under 25%, which is tied for Mike Williams for the most since McLaurin entered the league in 2019.
Humble as always, McLaurin was grateful for the opportunity in that moment to give his team the lead and for the fact that this group trusts him to step up.
"You want those moments to be able to come through for your team, to bet on yourself, to have your quarterback have confidence in you, your coordinator to have confidence in you," McLaurin said. "That's what you want as a player, that's what you ask for. To be in those situations to make plays and I think we were off to the races after that, so hopefully we can have more of that."