- The Washington Times
Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Kendall Fuller’s interception of Russell Wilson on Seattle’s two-point conversion attempt sealed the victory for Washington on Monday. But it was Antonio Gibson’s two-point conversion run in the third quarter that was the difference in the 17-15 victory.

If not for Gibson’s conversion — or the injury to kicker Joey Slye that necessitated going for two — then Wilson’s 32-yard pass to Freddie Swain with 15 seconds remaining would have likely been followed by a game-tying extra point and overtime, not a failed two-point attempt.

Gibson’s successful run was one of many for the second-year running back, and the coaching staff’s confidence in the running backs was evident in Washington’s win.

Gibson and fellow back J.D. McKissic touched the ball 48 times — 36 carries and 12 catches — for 202 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion. The team totaled 152 yards on the ground, its third-best mark of the season.

Gibson was the workhorse for Washington, earning 29 carries for a season-high 111 yards and catching all seven of his targets for 35 yards. The 36 touches are by far a career high for the Memphis product, topping his 26 totes in Washington’s win over Tampa Bay two weeks ago.

“Lately he’s really been feeling good,” said Washington coach Ron Rivera about Gibson. “He played a heck of a football game — a really physical game. He played downhill.”

McKissic, meanwhile, had himself a revenge game against his former team, scoring both of Washington’s touchdowns. His first was a 10-yard receiving touchdown from quarterback Taylor Heinicke in the second quarter, while his second was a 10-yard scamper in the third quarter that preceded Gibson’s two-point conversion. He was later injured and carted off the field in the fourth quarter, but Rivera didn’t disclose his status after the game.

McKissic played the first three years of his NFL career in Seattle and was barely utilized in two of the three seasons. 
“I think he’s one of the most versatile guys in the league,” Rivera said. “He’s a threat on first, second or third down. He’s a guy you want to have there as much as possible, and he’s a resilient player.”

Twelve of Heinicke’s 35 pass attempts were to his running backs, which the 28-year-old signal-caller said was due to Seattle’s defensive alignment.

“They had some injuries in their secondary, so we felt like with their defense, how they play, they didn’t want to give up anything deep,” Heinicke said. “The checkdowns were there all night … and those are an easy five or 10 yards every time.”

The success of the run game is the key aspect to Washington’s formula during its three-game winning streak, which has seen the team go from a 2-6 squad looking at a top-five draft pick to a 5-6 team now looking at the No. 7 seed in the NFC.

The main difference in Washington’s rushing attack since the bye week is its commitment to it, as well as Heinicke’s ability to convert third-down passes to extend drives. Before the bye, Washington averaged 118 yards on 26 carries, but in the three games since, offensive coordinator Scott Turner has dialed up 39 rushing plays per game for 145 yards.

In the last three games, Washington has averaged a time of possession of 38 minutes and 53 seconds, with the success of Gibson, McKissic and, most important, the offensive line to thank.

“It really starts with the guys up front,” Heinicke said. “The offensive line doesn’t get a lot of credit, but these last three weeks they’ve been phenomenal, not just running the ball but protecting me as well.”

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

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