The Washington Commanders pulled out their third straight win with a 17-16 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Here are five takeaways from the game, presented by the Inaugural Washington Commanders Fan Cruise.
1. Terry is a monster.
The Commanders and their fans know this, but it needs to be mentioned again: Terry McLaurin is a star.
McLaurin was the reason Washington was able to pull out a win last week against the Green Bay Packers. This week's win was not completely on his shoulders, but it was close. He finished the game with six catches for 113 yards, and while he did not score a touchdown himself, two of his catches directly led to Washington getting in the end zone.
The first came on the Commanders third drive of the game after the Colts took a 3-0 lead. With the ball at Washington's 39-yard line, McLaurin broke away from the defender covering him and zoomed down the left sideline for a 42-yard gain. That set up the Commanders at the Colts' 19-yard line, and two plays later, Taylor Heinicke connected with Antonio Gibson for the nine-yard score.
The second was by far the play of the game. Washington faced a 16-10 deficit with 41 seconds left on the clock. McLaurin, who was technically a decoy on the play, managed to get behind Stephon Gilmore and was running towards the end zone. Heinicke unloaded a 33-yard shot to McLaurin, who wrestled the ball away from Gilmore at the 1-yard line. Heinicke scored the game-winning touchdown one play later.
McLaurin already had plenty of memories at Lucas Oil Stadium; his catch was the exclamation point on a stellar homecoming.
2. The offense was stagnant for most of the evening.
While Washington's final two drives were efficient, they did not hide the fact that the offense did not do much for most of the contest.
After Washington jumped out to a 7-3 lead, it did little to build on its lead. The offense was marred by a lack of consistency, as the unit went 2-of-12 on third down attempts. The Gibson touchdown was followed by drives of just 29 and 20 yards, and the second half added to that frustration.
The opening drive of the third quarter fizzled out after a turnover on downs at midfield, and prior to Washington's scoring drives in the fourth quarter, it had put up a meager 22 yards on 13 plays.
Washington has won its last three games by a combined eight points. On the one hand, that shows how gritty the team can be. On the other, it reflects how much the team struggles at times. With two quality opponents up next on the schedule, the Commanders will need to iron out this issue.
Take a look at the top photos from the Washington Commanders' Week 8 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. (Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
3. The defense bailed out the team several times.
As great as McLaurin's play was, it would not have been enough to save the game had it not been for the defense.
While the offense was trying to string together plays, the defense was doing all it could to keep the team in the game. And for what it is worth, the unit was successful at that. Third downs continue to be a strength, as the Colts converted just 5-of-12 attempts.
But what truly saved the Commanders was the defense's ability to force critical turnovers. The defense forced two fumbles, one of which came off a sack from Jonathan Allen and was recovered by Daron Payne. The next was caused by Darrick Forrest, who popped the ball from Jonathan Taylor's grasp at the Commanders' 26-yard line and was recovered by Casey Toohill.
And it should be noted that Washington held the Colts out of the end zone at the 1-yard line, leaving them to settle for a field goal that put them up by two points instead of six.
So, the defense continues to improve on a weekly basis. The Commanders will need that over the next two weeks with the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles up next.
4. Big plays continue to be a problem.
As good as the defense was Sunday evening, it was not perfect. Explosive plays continue to be an issue, and they returned at the worst possible time against the Colts.
In the first quarter, Taylor broke loose on a third-and-2 for a 27-yard run that led to Indianapolis getting on the board first with a field. Granted, Washington did a good job of keeping the Colts out of the end zone, but it missed an opportunity to get the Colts off the field.
The next explosive play came on a second-and-11 in the third quarter after the Colts were backed up on a holding call. Washington allowed Paris Campbell to get behind the secondary, and Sam Ehlinger delivered a 38-yard strike to the wideout that led to the Colts taking the lead with their third field goal.
The final explosive play came off a penalty. Campbell drew a pass interference call on Rachad Wildgoose at the Commanders' 6-yard line, resulting in a 30-yard swing in the Colts' favor. The Colts scored on the following play, giving them a nine-point lead.
The Vikings and Eagles have shown they can be explosive when they need to be, so this is a persistent problem the Commanders will need to fix quickly.
5. Back from the brink.
Things have changed quite a bit for the Commanders in the past week. Prior to the primetime matchup against the Chicago Bears, Washington had a 1-4 record and were close to disaster on multiple fronts. Now, after winning the past three games, the Commanders have stabilized and are primed to start the second half of the season off strong.
That does not erase the problems Washington has on either side of the ball. The team is still inconsistent and has several holes to plug up before they can be seriously considered a playoff contender.
However, Washington has proven that it can win despite those problems, and while all three wins were ugly, finding ways to win is what good teams do.