Analysis | Hail or Fail: Playoffs?! After historic comeback, Commanders can dream.


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A look at the good (Hail!) and bad (Fail!) from the Washington Commanders’ 17-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

Hail: A historic comeback

According to NFL Research, Washington was 1-128 this century heading into Sunday’s game when trailing by multiple scores in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, with its only win coming thanks to Santana Moss’s heroics in the Monday Night Miracle at Dallas in Week 2 of the 2005 season. Make it 2-128 after Taylor Heinicke led scoring drives of 82 and 89 yards to erase a nine-point deficit in the final 4:55 against the Colts. Heinicke was 5 for 5 for 76 yards on Washington’s game-winning touchdown drive. He sparked the march by scrambling out of the pocket and finding Curtis Samuel for a fourth-down conversion deep in Washington territory and capped it with a one-yard touchdown run.

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Fail: A near-disastrous loss

Commanders co-owner Daniel Snyder watched the game from a suite at Lucas Oil Stadium, and he couldn’t have liked what he saw until the final five minutes. The Commanders struggled to sustain drives before then, averaging 3.4 yards per carry and converting only 2 of 12 third downs. The defense forced two huge turnovers but also allowed Colts second-year quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who was making his first career start, to complete 17 of 23 passes for 201 yards.

With games against the 6-1 Minnesota Vikings and 7-0 Philadelphia Eagles on deck, a loss to the lowly Colts could have effectively buried Washington’s 2022 hopes by Halloween. Instead, the Commanders woke up one spot outside the NFC playoff picture, calling to mind the immortal words of former Colts Coach Jim Mora. “Playoffs?! You want to talk about playoffs?” For at least one more week, sure.

About the only way Indianapolis native Terry McLaurin’s homecoming could have been better is if the last pass he caught from Heinicke had traveled one yard farther. With the Commanders trailing 16-10 in the final minute, Heinicke saw McLaurin breaking toward the end zone on an improvised route and lofted a 50-50 ball in his direction. Except it was more like an 80-20 ball, because McLaurin, who finished with six catches for 113 yards, was playing in his hometown for the first time as a pro, this was his city, and he was not going to be denied, even with star cornerback Stephon Gilmore in excellent position to potentially make a game-ending interception.

“I’ve got to make that play,” Gilmore said of McLaurin’s spectacular 33-yard catch that set up Heinicke’s game-winning touchdown run.

He didn’t, McLaurin did, and the Commanders are back to .500.

Fail: Instability on the offensive line

During the first half, the Fox broadcast team of Brandon Gaudin and Robert Smith noted that Washington has had seven different starting offensive line combinations in eight games this season, which is the most in the league. The latest combo, much like the baked cracker and cheddar flavor of the elite snack Combos, was lacking. With Trai Turner at right guard in place of Saahdiq Charles for the first time since Week 4, the unit struggled to create lanes for Washington’s running backs. Though he was only sacked twice, Heinicke rarely had time in the pocket to look for receivers downfield and was forced to rely heavily on short and underneath routes. Washington’s line deserves credit for its excellent pass protection on the Commanders’ game-winning drive, including the play that resulted in McLaurin’s clutch catch.

Hail: Antonio Gibson, touchdown machine

Gibson, the subject of trade rumors last week, managed only 19 yards rushing on seven carries, but he had a team-high seven catches for 58 yards, including a nine-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The third-year running back is tied with rookie wide receiver Jahan Dotson for the team lead in touchdowns this season with four. The ball from Gibson’s second-quarter score isn’t headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame like the one he caught last week, which was the 3,000th touchdown in franchise history, but it’s a notable piece of memorabilia in its own right. No player in franchise history has more touchdowns through his first 38 games than Gibson’s 25.

And you thought the Commanders were good at digging themselves deficits. Washington took a lead into halftime for only the third time this season. Meanwhile, the Colts have trailed at the half in 10 straight games dating back to last year, which is the longest active streak in the NFL, and they’re the only team to trail after three quarters in every game this season. It’s a wonder Coach Frank Reich’s squad has three wins.

Davis stepped up in the absence of fellow linebacker Cole Holcomb, who missed the game with a foot injury. With the Colts facing third and goal from the Washington 1-yard line early in the third quarter, the 2021 first-round pick burst through the line and tackled running back Jonathan Taylor for a loss. Indianapolis settled for a field goal to take a 9-7 lead. Davis matched his season high with six tackles.

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Fail: Running the ball out of shotgun formation on fourth and short

Ron Rivera kept punter Tress Way, Washington’s best weapon for much of the day, on the sideline when the Commanders faced fourth and inches from the Indianapolis 49-yard line on their first drive of the second half. Heinicke took the snap in shotgun formation and handed off to rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr., who was met in the backfield almost immediately by linebacker E.J. Speed. Giving the ball to a guy who started the play seven yards behind the line of scrimmage was a baffling decision, and it was hardly a surprise when it resulted in a turnover on downs.





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