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Hail or Fail: Sean Taylor memorial draws criticism before another Commanders win

Fans gather around the Sean Taylor memorial unveiled on the main concourse before Sunday’s game. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

A look at the good (Hail!) and bad (Fail!) from the Washington Commanders’ 19-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Hail: Big hits and big hats

After eclipsing 100 rushing yards for the first time in his career, scoring a touchdown on a 14-yard catch and bowling over multiple would-be tacklers in the process, Washington rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. sported an enormous hat in the Commanders’ locker room.

Robinson’s oversize lid drew comparisons to Rick Moranis’s character’s ridiculous helmet in “Spaceballs” and the cowboy hat the late Norm Macdonald wore as Turd Ferguson on “Saturday Night Live.” The big hat is made by a Phoenix-based company called Noggin Boss, which was co-founded by former Maryland punter Sean Starner. (Terps football coach Mike Locksley donned a big hat at a Maryland baseball game this year.) Noggin Boss doesn’t have an NFL license, so any Commanders fans looking to replicate Robinson’s look would need to spend $75 for a plain black big hat and then affix the big logos themselves. It seems worth the effort.

Brian Robinson Jr. racks up big yards and wears a big hat

Fail: Details of the Sean Taylor memorial

Before the game, the Commanders unveiled a Sean Taylor memorial installation on the main concourse. The display — a wire mannequin with a Redskins helmet and uniform designed to look like what Taylor once wore — most importantly met the approval of the late safety’s family members in attendance, including his daughter Jackie, but attracted criticism and ridicule from others.

Putting aside the debate about the merits of the general concept for the memorial, which some suggested looked like a display plucked out of a sporting goods store, the most disappointing aspect is its lack of personalization and attention to detail. The installation features burgundy Reebok pants and a white Nike No. 21 jersey; Taylor, who was shot and killed during a home invasion 15 years ago, never wore the latter because Nike didn’t become the NFL’s uniform provider until 2012. The soccer cleats, which Taylor was known to wear, are a nice touch, but not taping the face mask of the helmet the way Taylor used to is a huge miss. It all adds up to another unforced error by a franchise that botched the jersey retirement ceremony for Taylor a year ago. Perhaps the Commanders will try again in 2023.

Hail: Playoff position

Washington’s win, coupled with the Seattle Seahawks’ overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders later in the day, put the Commanders in the NFC’s seventh and final playoff spot. If the season ended today, all four NFC East teams would be in the playoffs, which would be a first for any division. With two crucial games looming against the New York Giants over the next three weeks, FiveThirtyEight’s model gives Washington a 66 percent chance to qualify for the postseason.

Fail: Passing offense

For the second time in the past four weeks and the third time this season, Washington finished with more rushing yards than passing yards. After throwing for 63 yards on the Commanders’ opening drive, Taylor Heinicke finished 14 for 23 for 138 yards. It’s the third time in six starts that Heinicke has failed to eclipse 200 yards. The rain may have had something to do with it, but Washington wide receivers Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel combined for zero catches on one target. That’s not ideal.

Hail: Special teams

Joey Slye turned in his second missed extra point of the season after Washington’s go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, but he made both of his field goal attempts and helped limit Atlanta’s Cordarrelle Patterson, who returned his record ninth career kickoff for a touchdown last week, to one return for a measly nine yards. Commanders punter Tress Way was terrific as usual. Two of Way’s three punts were downed inside the 20 and he drew a roughing the kicker penalty in the final minute that enabled Washington to run out the clock.

Fail: Rushing defense

The Falcons rushed for 167 yards, which is four fewer than the Commanders allowed on the ground in their previous three games combined and the third most they’ve allowed in a game all season. Tyler Allgeier led Atlanta with 54 yards on 11 carries; Patterson and quarterback Marcus Mariota added 52 and 49 yards.

Commanders have found a fragile and frightening winning formula

Hail: Two games over .500

At 7-5, Washington is two games over .500 for the first time since 2018, when it started 6-3 but finished 7-9 after Alex Smith suffered his life-threatening leg injury. The Commanders have won six of seven for the first time since 2012 and have two separate winning streaks of at least three games for the first time since 2005. The team’s first 10-win season since 2012 is very much in play.

Fail: Blown coverages

Playing without injured cornerback Benjamin St-Juste, Washington limited Mariota to 174 passing yards but also was burned on a couple of occasions. Falcons tight end MyCole Pruitt didn’t have a defender within five yards of him when he caught a touchdown pass in the second quarter. Before Kendall Fuller’s game-saving interception in the final minute, Atlanta drove 80 yards on 10 plays, including a 45-yard completion to former Virginia wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, who was wide open over the middle. Washington’s defense has made great strides in recent weeks, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

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