But as he stood hopeful, the official confirmed he was close but not close enough, prompting Heinicke to toss his helmet in frustration and pace the sideline. The fall from euphoria was steep — as was the jump down after his premature Lambeau leap — but that has become a familiar feeling for the Washington Football Team in recent weeks.
Despite a strong showing from its defense, especially in the first half, Washington frittered away multiple scoring chances with turnovers and failed red-zone opportunities to lose to the Green Bay Packers, 24-10, and fall to 2-5.
For the game, Washington came up short on three pivotal fourth downs, turned the ball over twice, finished 0 for 4 in the red zone and, counting a blocked field goal, essentially squandered 20 points in its 14-point loss.
“It was disappointing,” Coach Ron Rivera said. “We had opportunities, and we just didn’t convert when we had a chance.”
The loss was Washington’s sixth straight at Lambeau, dating from 2001, and drew similarities to the others it has endured this season: Big plays were followed by needless errors, long drives often went unfinished, and any good simply was not good enough.
The attention to detail was intermittent. Take the opening possession, when Green Bay capped a 13-play, 75-yard drive with a touchdown — seemingly a tradition by Washington opponents of late. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke contain on fourth and three in the red zone and found four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Davante Adams open in the middle of the field for a 17-yard touchdown.
“If we’re disciplined and we do our job and finish it, we keep him contained,” Rivera said.
Washington responded with a scoring drive of its own when Heinicke, whose play in recent weeks appeared conservative compared with his usual freewheeling style, rediscovered his legs and his connection with wide receiver Terry McLaurin. A 12-yard completion to McLaurin set up a 40-yard leaping touchdown to tie the score at 7.
But after Washington forced a three-and-out, its mistakes quickly started to pile up.
Chris Blewitt, the kicker Washington signed to replace Dustin Hopkins, made his NFL debut five years after attempting his final kicks at the University of Pittsburgh. His first field goal attempt, from 42 yards early in the second quarter, was low and got blocked, denying Washington the lead.
When Washington made it back inside the 30, Rivera decided to go for it on fourth and three instead of having Blewitt kick from the 27-yard line. But Heinicke’s pass to McLaurin along the left sideline was deflected by Packers cornerback Eric Stokes.
Green Bay responded with a nine-play scoring drive as Rodgers capitalized on Washington’s depleted roster. The team’s injury list ahead of Sunday’s game featured 10 starters, including cornerback William Jackson III, who was ruled out with a knee injury. In his place, Washington used Danny Johnson in nickel packages, and though he held up well, Rodgers targeted him often to set up a 10-yard touchdown pass to Allen Lazard with 15 seconds left in the second quarter to put Green Bay up 14-7.
“When you get down there multiple times and you don’t score three or seven, that kind of hurts you a little bit,” McLaurin said. “It puts pressure on our defense, especially when they were playing a pretty good game today. They created chaos and had Aaron Rodgers just moving around off his spot. We just want to do a better job as an offense getting down there and scoring. Not just three but seven points is very important.”
Late-half touchdowns have been daggers for Washington (see New Orleans, Week 5) and proved just as damaging in Green Bay, putting a blemish on the defense’s best showing of the season. In the first half alone, Washington’s oft-criticized group had five quarterback hits (including three sacks), a batted pass and a blocked field goal.
But Green Bay’s momentum carried into the second half. Two plays in, Heinicke was sacked from behind by Packers outside linebacker Rashan Gary. Gary knocked the ball out of Heinicke’s hand just as he was about to throw, and the ball landed on the chest of defensive end Dean Lowry for a fumble recovery deep in Washington territory.
Less than two minutes later, Rodgers threw a back-shoulder, 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Robert Tonyan as Washington rookie linebacker Jamin Davis trailed in coverage.
“It was little things like that,” Heinicke said. “I feel we don’t do that and a couple calls go differently, we’re right there in it. I thought the defense played awesome. It was a really good collective effort from the team; we just fell short in a couple areas.”
Heinicke’s knack for bouncing back has kept games alive, but two rushing attempts that were ruled short later in the quarter squandered seven more points. Heinicke said he crossed the goal line on both attempts. The officials, however, ruled he “gave himself up” too early on his three-yard scramble on third down.
“When I was going toward the goal line, I saw a couple defenders coming in starting to pursue me, and I didn’t know if I was going to take a big hit or not, so I thought, ‘Hey, let’s just dive and squeeze my way in there,’ ” he explained. “So for them to say I was giving myself up on the 1-yard line, it’s their decision to call that, but it is what it is.”
According to Rivera, the officials said they couldn’t tell whether Heinicke’s knee was down as he lay atop a pile of players at the edge of the goal line.
Either way, Washington let seven points slip away. Soon, three more would disappear, too.
Washington’s next drive included two fumbles (both recovered), a drop in the end zone by McLaurin and another failed fourth down, when Heinicke overshot tight end Ricky Seals-Jones. The turnover on downs led to a 39-yard Packers field goal that expanded their lead to 24-7.
Heinicke all but sealed it when he threw an interception in the corner of the end zone on Washington’s final trip inside the Green Bay 20.
“As a football team, I think we’re so close,” said defensive end Jonathan Allen, who had two sacks. “Week after week, the most frustrating part is us just letting little things slip through the cracks that affect the game. ... There’s so many opportunities that we’re leaving on this field, and 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, so we’re what, 2-5? Then that’s just who we are.”
Heinicke finished 25 for 37 for 268 yards with a touchdown and an interception for an 86.3 rating. He also had 10 carries for 95 yards — the third most ever by a quarterback against the Packers. Washington topped Green Bay in yards (430 to 304) and first downs (25 to 19), and it more than tripled the Packers’ rushing yardage (195 to 57).
But as Rivera and multiple players lauded the team’s improvements, they also magnified its persistent problems. Despite statistical production, despite a roster with talent, despite coming off a season that ended with a playoff berth, Washington remains close — but not close enough.