- The Washington Times
Monday, November 14, 2022

PHILADELPHIA —  Lost in all the chaos, lost in all the scandals, there’s a pressing on-the-field question as it relates to the Washington Commanders: Are they actually good? 

The answer — at least in Philadelphia on Monday night — is yes. 

The Commanders pulled off a remarkable 32-21 upset win over the previously undefeated Philadelphia Eagles on “Monday Night Football” in the biggest win of the Ron Rivera era. In 2020, Washington had a similar statement win over the Pittsburgh Steelers that helped fuel a playoff run late in the season, but Monday’s outing was arguably even more impressive as the Eagles had been 8-0.

Washington improved to 5-5 with the victory. But the fact the Commanders are at .500 in a season in which there has been near-constant turmoil is more than notable. 

The win, which put the Commanders a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the NFC, comes just days after the Commanders were sued by the D.C. attorney general, weeks after the team confirmed owner Dan Snyder was mulling a sale of the franchise and months after running back Brian Robinson Jr. was shot twice in an armed robbery attempt. 

Robinson was key to Washington’s victory as the Commanders rushed for 156 yards. Starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke (211 yards) was also a standout, as was star wide receiver Terry McLaurin (eight catches, 128 yards).

And the Commanders defense had perhaps their best outing of the season — holding the Eagles to 263 yards and forcing four turnovers. For good measure, Washington even tacked on a touchdown as time expired with defensive end Casey Toohill — a former Eagle — scooping up an errant Eagles‘ lateral and running it into the end zone. 

The Commanders — now 4-1 after a 1-4 start — controlled time of possession, 40:24 to 19:36.

Washington came into Monday’s rematch with a decidedly different game plan than the first meeting. Back in Week 3, the Commanders allowed nine sacks while quarterback Carson Wentz attempted 43 passes in a 24-8 loss. This time around, the plan was clear: Run the ball. 

Initially, Washington seemed as if it was headed toward disaster. On just the fourth offensive play of the game, Eagles pass-rusher Josh Sweat came screaming off the edge to strip Heinicke of the ball and recover the fumble at Washington’s 18-yard line. The Eagles needed just three plays to score — capped off by Hurts’ quarterback sneak for a touchdown.

On the following drive, though, Washington committed — and stayed committed — to the run.

Over the course of 13 plays, Robinson ripped off a handful of three-yard and four-yard gains. Heinicke attempted only three passes, but of those, they were crucial — one for 26 yards on third down and another for 14 on second-and-11. Antonio Gibson finally crossed the goal line with five minutes left in the quarter — tying the game at 7. 

Even when the Eagles scored quickly in response to Washington’s touchdown — a Goedert 9-yard score gave Philadelphia a 14-0 lead less than two minutes before the end of the first — the Commanders remained patient. They stuck with feeding Robinson and Gibson, while mixing in the occasional Heinicke pass. 

The most notable difference was Washington’s effectiveness on third down. Entering Monday’s game, the Commanders ranked just 27th on third down — converting 34.2% of its chances. But against the Eagles, Washington went 9 of 12 on third down in the first half alone. 

That dramatic improvement gave Washington a chance at the upset — and the conversions came at key moments. After Joey Slye’s 44-yard field goal, the Commanders responded on their next offensive series with a 16-play, 86-yard drive that featured three conversions on third down and a fourth-down conversion on fourth-and-1. Robinson punched in a 1-yard score to give the Commanders their first lead of the evening at 17-14, with 1:39 left to go in the half.

But it wasn’t just Washington’s offense that had an impressive showing. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s unit clamped down on one of the league’s most explosive offenses — forcing a three-and-out immediately after the offense went ahead. 

With just over a minute yet, Heinicke led an efficient drive that allowed Slye to tack on a career-high 58-yard field goal that put Washington ahead 20-14 at the half. 

The lead marked the first time this season that the Eagles trailed at the half.

The Eagles, though, were undefeated for a reason — and Washington surely knew its NFC East rival would respond. In the second half, Philadelphia narrowed the deficit, with Hurts finding wideout DeVonta Smith on an 11-yard strike with 14:54 left in the fourth to make it 23-21. The touchdown capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive in which Washington missed a number of tackles that gave Philadelphia the opportunity to stay on the field. 

And crucially, the Eagles finally made stops, grabbing a turnover when safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson intercepted Heinicke on a badly underthrown deep ball to a wide-open Terry McLaurin.

Washington’s defense, however, forced a turnover of its own. Defensive tackle John Ridgeway, whose costly unnecessary roughness last week helped give the Vikings the win, stripped the ball from Goedert just six plays after Heinicke’s interception. Linebacker Jamin Davis initially ran the fumble back for a touchdown, though the officials ruled Ridgeway down by contact upon review.

Still, the Commanders used the short field to kick a 55-yard field goal — with Slye just making it with 7:33 left. 

On Philadelphia’s next drive, Hurts hit wideout Quez Watkins on a long bomb — but the 51-yard gain was all for nil as Commanders cornerback Benjamin St-Juste forced a fumble upon contact that teammate Darrick Forrest recovered. Washington went three-and-out, though the Commanders were still able to burn 2:17 off the clock — and force another three-and-out on the Eagles’ ensuing possession. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.