Culture Changed: Washington Football Team wins NFC East.
The Washington Football Team has won the NFC East. Yes, you heard that correctly. After a 2-7 start they become the second team in NFL history to make the postseason with a start that poorly. They also became the first team to make the playoffs with a record under 500 since Ron Rivera led the 2014 Carolina Panthers to a division crown. Washington, coming off a brutal loss to Carolina last week filled with drama within the organization found a way to overcome the obstacles just as they had been doing all season.
Washington traveled into Philadelphia to take on an eagles team who had nothing to play for after being eliminated last week. However, the game was flexed to Sunday Night because of the dramatic playoff implications it had for three possible teams. The New York Giants defeated the Dallas Cowboys earlier in the day which led to them desperately needing a Washington loss to make the playoffs.
Washington today returned quarterback Alex Smith and receiver Terry Mcluarin who were both greatly missed last week. Washington started off on defense and made a statement early. The Washington defense continued to look stout forcing an early punt by Jalen Hurts and the Eagles. Washington now was taking the ball from their own 9 for their first offensive drive of the game. Starting slow had been a common theme this year for Smith and Washington. However, Washington finally changed that narrative tonight as they scored on their opening drive for the first time all season. A 15-play 91-yard drive was capped off by a Terry Mclaurin touchdown in the back corner of the endzone.
Washington now had momentum early for pretty much the first time all season. Momentum quickly kept rolling for Washington when on the second play of the Eagles drive, Jalen Hurts was picked off by Kameron Curl on a short pass intended for Ertz. Washington, now with terrific field position, looked to put the pressure on Philly early. Washington however, only was able to convert a field goal giving them a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
The game quickly became interesting again when Hurts began to show why he was such a threat with his legs. Washington appeared to have gotten a stop on third down until a questionable defensive holding call gave the eagles drive new life. The Eagles used this to their advantage and Hurts ran it in from 6 yards out to make it 10-7. Washington then went three and out on the next possession. All game, it appeared Smith’s calf injury was definitely hurting the way he was playing. Smith showed very little to no mobility in the pocket and was having trouble driving off his right leg. Anyways, Hurts once again got the nerves of Washington fans going when he executed another excellent drive. It took only 7 plays for Hurts to once again run it in himself to give Philadelphia the lead.
Washington and Philadelphia both stalled on offense the next few possessions giving Washington a chance to score before the half which could go a long way in this game at this point. Washington took advantage of good field position and got down into the redzone. On a third down and four, The Eagles shot themselves in the foot jumping offsides and giving Washington the first down. Smith, who had been struggling a bit thus far made a big play when the team needed him most. Smith found tight end Logan Thomas in the endzone where they connected on a spectacular leaping catch through traffic. This gave Washington a 17-14 advantage going into the break.
The second half got under way and things got really ugly on both sides. Neither team was able to engineer any type of offense and punt after punt was becoming the theme the entire third quarter. With little time left in third, Smith threw a crucial interception in their own territory as the ball bounced off J.D Mckissic’s hands and into the arms of the Eagles corner. Hurts and the eagles moved the ball down now all the way to Washington’s four yard line. Everything was going wrong and it seemed as if Washington was going to let their playoff hopes slip away. Amazingly, that Washington defense once again kept this team in the game. After Chase Young and Sweat got pressure on Hurts three straight plays it left Eagles coach Doug Pederson with a decision to be made on fourth and goal. Pederson elected to go for it and Washington’s pressure was too much for Hurts as he threw short of his receiver in the endzone. Washington now took over on downs catching a huge break.
With 12 minutes left in regulation, Washington wasn’t out of the woods yet at all since the Eagles were once again getting the ball back only down 3. Wait for a second…Who’s that out there? Many wondered as Nate Sudfeld was trotting onto the field as Hurts stood on the sideline. In a very bizarre coaching decision by Pederson, Hurts did not play the remainder of the game. Pederson’s decision left Giants players tweeting out in frustration as they thought their hopes of the playoffs were being thrown away. It took only 3 plays for Sudfeld to make a mistake when Jeremey Reaves picked him off on a throw way downfield. Washington now took the ball at their own 41.
Washington, now with 11 minutes left, was looking for a long drive and score to put this game away. Just as they drew up! Smith on the third play of the drive through an interception when his intended target Thomas fell down.
Philly took over with great field position and thankfully for Washington Hurts still was on the sideline. On the second play, a low snap was bobbled by Sunfeld when Montez Sweat knocked the ball further free allowing for a pivotal fumble recovery by Chase Young. How many breaks could Washington get tonight? It was time to take advantage. Washington got just what they needed when Hopkins nailed his 42 yard kick to extend the lead to 20-14 with 7 minutes to go.
On the next Eagle drive, Young continued to make his presence felt as he reeked havoc on Philly’s offensive line forcing many rushed throws by Sudfeld. Since Hurts 2 scores in the first half, Washington’s defense was shutting everything the Eagles tried to do offensively down. This Washington defense is special…If Washington were able to put together some better offensive possessions, this game would look a lot different.
Washington forced the punt which Steven Sims JR muffed the ball as he caught it but thankfully was able to recover his own drop. Sims, dropped a punt last week which rolled into the endzone for a Carolina score last week. A turnover there could have taken the division title right out the hands of Washington.
Washington started to utilize Antonio Gibson well as they tried to run down the clock. After Philadelphia used up their timeouts, Washington was forced to punt one more time after coming up just one yard short on third down. Washington punted and gave the eagles the ball with just a minute left at their own 10 yard line. Time wasn’t enough for Sudfeld as the clock ran out leaving Washington victorious and now playoff bound.
Washington clinched their first division title since week 16 of 2015 where they also came into Philadelphia and left as division champions after the win. Giants players and fans after the game were furious at the way Hurts was benched and questioned if Doug Pederson was really coaching to win or not. Nevertheless, it’s over. Washington against all odds was NFC East champion. Washington will host Tampa Bay next Saturday Night at 8:15 PM.
Although Washington only finished the regular season 7-9, a clear foundation has been set for this franchise. Chase Young and the defense were elite forces who need to all be built around for the future. Ron Rivera, despite going through cancer treatments and other mishaps in the organization, remained true to his promise of “changing the culture” here in Washington. Alex Smith finishes the job he never got to finish after his leg injury that many believed to have ended his entire football career. The heart of Smith and this team can’t be questioned as they have done what many said they couldn’t do this year. The future is bright in Washington. Be ready Brady, that defense is coming.