There was one problem, though. He didn’t score. After a lengthy review and discussion, the officials overturned his joyful moment. Outside of the context of his childhood fandom, the play now looked like a taunt that spoiled too soon.
Guess the cliche “Look before you leap” deserves a lifetime contract.
For Heinicke, that unpleasant replay begot another unpleasant replay on the next play, when his fourth-down, fumble-and-recover sneak was deemed short of the goal line. When all the mayhem and agonizing inspection ended, so too did Washington’s comeback hopes during a 24-10 loss to Green Bay on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“I felt like I was in there both times,” Heinicke lamented afterward.
In a game of squandered opportunities, in a season of vanishing expectations, the temporarily nameless team was deceptive with its bursts of competitiveness once again — just competent enough to make clear all the little details that must be addressed as the 2021 campaign nears the halfway point. Considering the Packers’ status as a championship contender, this was the most complete game Washington has played so far. Still, the coaches and players were left to wince at their 2-5 record and contemplate what it says about them that a two-touchdown loss actually qualifies as not so bad.
“We’re such a better football team than what our record says, but at the end of the day, you can only go by what we’ve done,” said defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, whose two sacks led a quality defensive effort. “So we’re what, 2-5? Then that’s just who we are. Losing teams find ways to lose games, and winning teams find ways to win games. And right now, we’re finding ways to lose.”
You can make the claim that, over the course of 123 plays, Washington was better than Green Bay. Go punch by punch, and it did more things right. But the game doesn’t reward teams incrementally like that. While the Washington players can consider it a step forward that they focused and minimized the big mistakes, they still failed in big situations. They went on the road and outgained the Packers 430-304, held possession for almost six more minutes and prevented Aaron Rodgers from unleashing all of his Hall of Fame talent. But it didn’t matter as much because Green Bay converted 6 of 12 third-down tries and scored a touchdown on a fourth-down pass to Davante Adams on the opening drive.
The Packers broke a 7-7 tie with a touchdown drive just before halftime. Then, to start the third quarter, they capitalized on a Heinicke fumble and used the short field to score and go ahead 21-7. Although it was admirable that Washington kept fighting back — an encouraging sign that, despite the early struggles, Coach Ron Rivera still has command of this team — the game got away in those moments. And for all the opportunities Heinicke and the offense created to get back in the game, they managed just 10 points because they failed to reach the end zone on all four trips to the red zone.
New kicker Chris Blewitt watched his first field goal attempt get blocked. With 3:03 remaining in the second quarter, Rivera declined another field goal try and went for it on fourth and three at the Packers 27-yard line, but Heinicke couldn’t complete the pass. Then came the back-to-back replays that went against Washington in the third quarter. Still, after all that disappointment, the defense forced a Green Bay punt and gave the offense good field position. However, on the next possession, it couldn’t score in the red zone again.
On a third-down play, Heinicke bought time and found McLaurin open. The wide receiver, who had seven receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown Sunday, mistimed his dive, and the football wound up hitting him in the helmet.
“That’s on me,” McLaurin said, shaking his head.
And on fourth down, another pass fell incomplete.
“It was disappointing,” Rivera said of the game. “We had opportunities, and we just didn’t convert when we had a chance.”
In the first seven games, Washington turned preseason expectations into trepidation about its overall direction. Now, it must salvage some respectability. A 14-point loss that featured some surprisingly competitive moments only shows how bad this start has been. The bar is that low.
Nevertheless, you’re talking about a team that had the same record after seven games a year ago. As a matter of fact, Washington fell all the way to 2-7 in 2020, recovered and finished strong. But that was Rivera’s first season, and the NFC East was so bad that playoff motivation remained despite the early futility. This time, Dallas is off to a 5-1 start. There will be no seven-win division champion this time. The players will have to improve for improvement’s sake.
“I’m seeing the growth that we’re looking for,” Rivera said. “I loved the fight in these guys today. There’s no quit. They played hard, and that’s all you can ask for as a coach, that the guys are going to come out and play hard and give themselves an opportunity. I thought they did. And now we, as a football team, we just got to grow and get better.”
Ten games remain. The strength of schedule is a little more manageable, and so are some of the quarterbacks, even though matchups against Tom Brady, Dak Prescott (twice) and possibly Russell Wilson loom. Playing better against Green Bay doesn’t soothe any concerns, but splitting the final 10 games would alleviate some of the anxiety about a regression.
Can this team put such a conclusion together? It would be a rise only to mediocrity, but after how poorly this season started, that would be quite a jump.
You know, maybe we shouldn’t talk prematurely about making a leap.