The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Inside the weird vibes and existential debate after the Commanders-Giants tie

Commanders safety Jeremy Reaves (39) and running back Antonio Gibson (24) leave the field at the end of the team’s 20-20 tie with the New York Giants. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — In the Washington Commanders’ locker room Sunday afternoon, players and coaches seemed unsure of how to feel. They were used to receiving a black-and-white judgment every week, harsh but comforting, and the 20-20 tie with the New York Giants was an unsettling gray. Several players described the postgame vibe as “weird.”

The tie caught some off guard. At the end of overtime, when the Giants missed what could have been a game-winning field goal, defensive tackle Efe Obada said he was ready to keep playing. The five-year NFL veteran, who grew up in England, thought football, like soccer, played overtime with two halves. But then everyone started walking onto the field for postgame handshakes.

“I was like, what the f---?” he said.

Some players were frustrated, such as defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, who said the NFL shouldn’t allow games to end in ties. Others, such as left tackle Charles Leno Jr., compared the tie to a kid kissing his sister: “It’s not technically a win, but it’s not a loss.” A few players didn’t know how to feel, and after trying to sound optimistic but not too optimistic and starting and stopping his sentences a few times, running back Antonio Gibson laughed and said, “You see how I’m talking right now?”

Quarterback Taylor Heinicke said he wouldn’t buy his customary Air Jordan sneakers for a tie. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin suggested penalty kicks to decide the winner. Safety Kam Curl leaned back on the familiar black-and-white thinking, dismissing the tie as a loss: “We wanted to come in here and get a dub. We ain’t get that done.”

Commanders and Giants have unfinished business after a 20-20 tie

In a way, it makes sense the Commanders were so unnerved. There were nearly as many draws in the group stage of this year’s World Cup (10) as there have been in the NFL since 2000 (14), according to the statistical website TruMedia. Even Coach Ron Rivera, whose Carolina Panthers had one of those ties in 2014, seemed a little rusty.

“I wasn’t sure how to address [the team after the game],” he said, laughing. “We came up here, and we expected to win, and we didn’t. We tied. It doesn’t hurt us; it doesn’t help us.”

Headed into the bye week, Rivera took a neutral tack. “Get better and get ready,” he told his players, according to a video posted to the team’s website. “Don’t get selfish. This is about us. Take care of yourselves for us.”

Many players insisted this was the first time in their lives that they had tied. Leno, Curl and tight end John Bates said they couldn’t remember a time, even in youth sports, when they walked off the field neither a winner nor a loser. But unlike his teammates, linebacker Jon Bostic wasn’t so certain.

“I can’t think of one off the top of my head, so I don’t think [I’ve tied before],” he said. “But I could be dead wrong.”

In fact, he was. In 2018, Bostic started for Pittsburgh in a 21-21 tie with Cleveland. Now a nine-year vet, Bostic is one of the Commanders’ smartest players, and his recall of what certain coordinators like to call in specific situations is legendary among teammates. But he didn’t remember a memorable performance in which he had a sack and nine tackles (two for loss). He suggested part of the reason was the pace of the NFL, which requires players to cram for weekly tests.

“It’s so fast, you can’t think about the result,” he said. “We try not to pay attention to what the scoreboard says. . . . I’m paying attention to down and distances, where guys are lined up, the got-to-have-it plays.”

Several players suggested they would prefer college’s overtime rules — teams exchange possessions until one wins — to the NFL’s. Right guard Wes Schweitzer pointed out that, at San José State, he went three overtimes against Navy in 2013. Backup swing guard Saahdiq Charles went seven overtimes at LSU against Texas A&M in 2018, tying the record for the longest game in NCAA history.

“Did y’all win that game, Wes?” Charles asked.

“We lost,” Schweitzer answered.

“We lost, too,” Charles said, laughing. “That s--- sucked.”

The Commanders needed a decisive win. All they got were more ‘what-ifs.’

Running back Jonathan Williams suggested a lack of practice reacting to ties contributed to why everyone in the locker room felt so weird about the result.

“You can’t be excited — ‘At least we didn’t lose!’ — because that’s a loser’s mentality,” he said. “But we didn’t lose.”

Nearby, defensive tackle John Ridgeway was packing his bags and interjected, “I mean, we lost.”

“It doesn’t feel like a loss,” Obada protested. “It’s not a loss.”

Ridgeway furrowed his brow and reconsidered. “It’s not a win-win, but it’s not a loss-loss,” he said, then paused. “It’s like, I came here to say hi to a couple guys and left.”

Obada burst out laughing.

Ultimately, the Commanders seemed to take heart in the idea that this tie with the Giants made their Week 15 matchup a two-for-one. A win would give Washington the head-to-head tiebreaker. By the time they left the locker room for the buses, several players were excitedly chatting about the chance they’d have when they came back fresh.

“When you tie, it forces you to think, ‘Okay, we had one play here, one play there that could’ve been better,’ ” McLaurin said, adding, “I think it’s going to be a great time for us to really reflect on this game, see how we could get better and get some guys healthy for a battle back at home.”