The Washington Football Team hosted the Los Angeles Chargers at FedExField to start the season and could not hold on to a late lead in a 20-16 loss. Here are five takeaways from the opener.
1. Washington picked up some momentum after a slow start.
There wasn't much to like about Washington's first drive on either side of the ball.
Justin Herbert and the Chargers zoomed down the field on 10 plays covering 75 yards. Herbert fueled the unit by completing all five of his passes for 43 yards, while Austin Ekeler capped things off by punching in a three-yard score. On offense, things weren't much better, as the unit could only gain six yards on three plays.
After that, Washington started to look more like the team fans expected during the offseason. The defense held the Chargers to just 18 yards on their next two drives with Herbert completing 2-of-4 passes. It helped provide a spark to the offense, which ended three of its last four drives with field goals from Dustin Hopkins.
It was a small amount of progress, but it helped keep Washington in the game with a 13-9 score at halftime.
Check out photos of the Washington Football Team during its Week 1 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers. (Photos courtesy of Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team, Karlee Sell/Washington Football, and Joe Noyes/Washington Football)
2. Third downs were a problem on both sides of the ball.
Although there were moments when Heinicke and Washington's offense moved the ball well -- Antonio Gibson had 108 total yards, including 90 on the ground -- it was rare for that to happen on third down. the unit was 3-of-10 on such plays with two of the most critical failed conversions coming when it trailed by four in the fourth quarter.
Washington struggled even more on defense, though, as Herbert's Chargers converted 14-of-19 attempts.
The frustration was clear on the faces of Ron Rivera and the defensive players after the game, particularly when it had the chance to get off the field with nearly seven minutes left to play. The Chargers faced four third downs on what was the final drive of the game, including a 3rd-and-16, but the team gashed Washington on gains of 17, 19, 20 and nine yards each time. After the final conversion, the game way essentially over.
It was an uneven outing for the defense, but the players are dedicated to having a short memory as it prepares for an NFC East matchup against the New York Giants.
3. Taylor Heinicke came in for an injured Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s debut at FedExField lasted about three drives. With Washington trailing 10-6, Fitzpatrick took a hit from behind and headed to the locker room with a hip injury. He did not return.
Taylor Heinicke trotted out to replace the veteran quarterback. It took some time, but the former Old Dominion star began to flash some of those playoff heroics that earned the love of Washington fanbase.
After his first drive ended in a three-and-out, Heinicke directed a five-play, 45-yard drive that resulted in a 48-yard field goal. It ended up being a pivotal moment, because the next time Washington was on the field, Heinicke threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Logan Thomas that gave the team a 16-13 lead.
Heinicke's throws were accurate and on time, while his ad libbing in the backfield kept plays alive. He ended the day 11-15 for 122 yards and a touchdown.
4. Mistakes overshadowed big plays.
There were some satisfying moments littered throughout the afternoon. There were just as many head-scratching plays that took away their significance.
Rivera and Jonathan Allen described after the game how the mistakes on defense kept the Chargers on the field. Missed assignments haunted the secondary, which allowed Keenan Allen to make nine catches for 100 yards. It seemed Washington had few answers for Mike Williams, who hauled in eight passes for 82 yards and a score.
The defense did provide the offense with some opportunities; it just couldn't capitalize on them. Shortly after William Jackson III recorded an interception at Washington's 4-yard line, Gibson coughed up the ball and gave the ball right back to the Chargers. Montez Sweat caused a fluky fumble, which resulted in a touchback, but Washington couldn't capitalize on a 12-play drive that ended in a missed field goal.
The most frustrating part is that these were small mistakes that led to heavy blows. The good news is that Washington is already dedicated to fixing these mental errors.
5. Terry McLaurin is unreal.
If there was anyone who still doubted Terry McLaurin, now's the time to join the bandwagon.
Washington was facing a 3rd-and-8 at the Chargers' 48-yard line. Heinicke, surveying his options, unloaded a shot down the left sideline to McLaurin, who had beaten Michael Davis. At first, it looked like safety Justin Jackson had forced the incompletion, but then McLaurin held up the ball to show he somehow made the catch. A referee then came in to make the official ruling, and the play went down as a 37-yard completion that set Washington up at the Chargers' 11-yard line.
What was even more impressive was how McLaurin made the catch. While still running forward, he leaned back and turned his body to the right, leaving his feet before getting the grab. One play later, Washington had the lead. McLaurin finished with four receptions for 62 yards.