Washington Football Team comes up short but shows promise in Wild Card round

The clock struck midnight on the Washington Football Team Cinderella story when Tampa Bay was able to hold off Washington, eliminating them in the Wild Card round Saturday. In a year where no one gave Washington a chance to even be in this position, Washington put up a valiant effort with their fourth quarterback of the season against the greatest one ever in Tom Brady.

Washington, 7-9, was hosting their first playoff game since 2015. In just five years, the Washington Football Team had changed drastically since that 2015 season. A rebranding of the name, a new coach, the firing of Bruce Allen, and many players who have been brought in as part of head coach Ron Rivera’s movement to change the culture here in Washington.

It’s clear things are very different in Washington now for them to even be in that position. Washington’s highly ranked defense knew they were going to have their hands full with a dangerous Tampa offense and they quickly found that out on the first drive. Tampa running back Leonard Fournette started off hot with three carries for first downs on the first drive as Tampa started to move down field. A Brady pass to Chris Godwin set up Tampa in the redzone on their first possession of the game. The defense held up and the Bucs settled for a Succop 29 yard field goal to take the early lead.

Down 3-0 it was time for Washington’s fourth quarterback of the season to start a game for them. Taylor Heinicke was making his first start since 2018 when he was with Rivera in Carolina. Heinicke came in week 16 against Carolina during the fourth quarter this season and completed 12 of 19 passes late in the game and looked solid. Heinicke on his first pass of the game threw a perfect pass over the middle intended for Cam Sims but the pass was dropped around mid field. Washington failed to convert third down and went three and out. The Bucs were forced to punt in five plays on their next possession and the ball was now back in Heinicke’s hands. On the ensuing drive, Heinicke found his man in Sims connecting with him for a big 36 yard completion. Washington, now in Tampa territory suffered a major blow when Heinicke’s pass was tipped at the line and intercepted, killing a brewing drive. Brady and the Bucs offense continued to show the weapons they possessed by once again moving the ball into WFT territory. On the 6th play of the drive, Brady caught Jimmy Moreland asleep as he got beat deep by receiver Antonio Brown for a 36 yard touchdown pass. The Bucs now led 9-0 after the extra point was blocked. 

Finally! Heinicke found his groove making plays in the air and on his feet to get the ball now in Tampa’s redzone for the first time today. Heinicke then hit Steven Sims JR for a 10 yard gain creating first and goal for Washington. On third and goal Washington got on the board when J.D Mckissic took the handoff in for a 2 yard score. Washington now only trailed 9-7 early in the second quarter. 

On the ensuing kickoff, Rivera made a very questionable decision when Hopkins attempted pretty much an onside kick that was unsuccessful. Tampa now had a great field position to start. The Bucs got back into Washington territory when Brown took an end around for a 22 yard gain. The Washington line was struggling to get to Brady early which was proving to be costly allowing him to find his weapons open down field. A few plays later, Brady aired it out to Godwin for a 27 yard score. Tampa now led 15-7 after failing the two-point conversion. The onside kick attempt proved costly giving Tampa a short field to work with.

Heinicke continued to impress when on the next possession he was once again hitting his receivers and picking up first downs. Washington got to Tampa’s 41 yard line before being forced to punt on a drive that looked promising at first. Tampa then scored a field goal on their possession and led 18-7 with a little bit of time left in the first half. Washington failed to score again before half and trailed 18-7 at the break. Washington in the second half needed to apply more pressure on Brady to try to slow down their offense. Heinicke so far was playing well, the offense just needed to find their groove.

To start the second half, Washington got just what they needed executing a solid drive and converting a field goal making it now a one score game at 18-10. Two Possessions later, Washington caught their first break of the game. Tampa was driving down field once again until tackle Daron Payne made a spectacular play knocking the ball free from the Bucs running back just before his knee hit down. John Bostic recovered and Washington took over the ball on their own 39. In just 7 plays, Washington executed one of their best drives all season. Heinicke completed a 19 yard pass to Sims then used his feet to pick up another 13 yard gain. A horse collar tackle on a Gibson carry set up Washington now deep in Buccaneer territory. On third and five on the Tampa 8, Heinicke made one hell of a play. Under an immense amount of pressure, Heinicke escaped four defenders and started to scramble. Heinicke then kept running til he got to the 4 yard line where he made a full on dive toward the pylon for an incredible touchdown run. Washington players were so fired up by the play that even Chase Young made his way from the sideline over to Heinicke to congratulate him. “That’s my guy!” he repeated as the camera was on him. Washington failed the two point try but now only trailed two late in the third quarter. Washington was down but not out. Heinicke was balling out.

Tampa on the next drive put together a 9 play 55 yard drive but was only able to get a field goal after Payne broke through for a critical sack on Brady on third down. Washington defense was satisfied with this; it now gave the offense a chance now to take the lead. 

Unfortunately, Washington went three and out on the possession. In even worse news, Heinicke appeared to be shaken up after on third down he took a hit on his shoulder from Jason Pierre-Paul. Heinicke was escorted towards the locker room as the ball was punted away. The Buccaneers took the ball and Brady once again to do what Brady does. Brady made a few deep connections with Mike Evans and set the Bucs up in position to score again. The Bucs did just that when Fournette ran it in fron 3 yards out. Washington now trailed by 12 with 9 minutes to go.

In good news for Washington, Heinicke was back on the sideline getting ready to go back in. Heinicke told reporters after the game he had a separation in the AC joint in his shoulder. Nevertheless, Heinicke was on the field now trying to get Washington a desperate score. Heinicke continued with what he had been doing all game as he was moving the ball down the field and hitting receivers for big gains. Cam Sims finished as the leading receiver with 7 catches for 104 yards. Washington pushed the ball deep into Tampa’s redzone. On third down from Tampa’s 11 yard line, Heinicke dropped a beautiful throw right into Sims. JR’s bread basket getting both feet down in bounds for a huge touchdown. Washington was now only down 5 again with 4:50 remaining. Win or lose at this point, Heinicke was electric on the field tonight for Washington.

WFT kicked off to Tampa now hoping to get one more stop and another chance for Heinicke to lead a game-winning drive. Brady and the Bucs offense didn’t allow for that to happen, getting a quick field goal in two minutes that just barely snuck in between the uprights. Washington was still only down one score with 2:49 remaining and no timeouts.

Heinicke on the final drive remained poised. He hit Sims and Mclaurin each for first down gains and were now on the Bucs 49 yard line. However, on third down, Heinicke was dropped for a sack and an 11 yard loss. The sack left Washington now with a 4th and 20 that had to be converted or the season would come to an end. Heinicke escaped a few defenders and heaved it up in the air for Logan Thomas but multiple defenders were there to knock it away and end Washington’s remarkable season.

Brady took the kneel down and secured his first playoff victory with his new team. Washington was now eliminated but a bright foreseeable future now was in the eyes of the fans and this organization. 

With all the adversity the Washington Football Team overcame this season, no one can discredit all the things they accomplished. A new head coach who was brought in to turn this franchise around developed cancer and was treated for it during the season. A quarterback situation like no other in the league turned into a division championship led by Alex Smith who nearly lost his leg and his life two years ago. There was no question that the players on this team had bought into Rivera and were willing to run through a wall for this team.

“I’m disappointed for our guys. They competed their butt off. They showed they can compete.” Rivera told reporters after the game. All Pro guard Brandon Scheriff had nothing but positive things to say in regard to Rivera and this season. “We never gave up. Coach Rivera wanted to come in and change the culture, and he did. I absolutely love him.” Kevin Pierre-Louis who played with Seattle in 2013-16 when they won a super bowl said, “I can truly recognize this organization is heading in the right direction. 

With the offseason upon them, Washington now has many decisions to make for next year. Is Heinicke the guy? Heinicke after the game told reporters, “I love Ron. I want to be back in Washington.” Heincike for sure earned himself a chance to compete for the starting job next season. Washington will also hope to possibly make a splash in free agency signing someone to be a good receiver to complement young star Terry Mclaurin.

The Washington defense turned a lot of heads this season. Chase Young showed everyone he was worth the hype and the second pick. Young proved to be a leader for this team and defense who wants nothing but wins for this team. “We can get crazy better.. We’re not taking our foot off the gas,” Young said after the loss. Washington also found some important pieces this season in the production from tight end Logan Thomas and running back Mckissic. Both of those guys developed nicely this season and have potential to be big pieces on an even better Washington team for years to come.

The 2020 season is over. However, this is just the beginning of something bigger for this Washington football team. The culture is now actually damn good…

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