The Washington Football Team traveled to face the Denver Broncos and was defeated, 17-10. Here are five takeaways from the evening.
1. The blocked field goals.
Two of Washington's stronger drives -- one in the second quarter and one in the fourth -- ended with the team heading back to the sideline empty-handed.
After the defense forced Teddy Bridgewater and the Broncos to punt on their opening drive, Washington marched down the field on 11 plays encompassing 56 yards. The unit stalled at Denver's 27-yard line after a false start and an incomplete pass to Terry McLaurin, and hopes of taking an early lead were swatted away with Chris Blewitt’s 45-yard attempt.
Washington found itself in the same position later in the game with the score tied, 10-10. This time, the team had an even better situation with Brandon McManus missing his first field goal in 14 attempts. Washington drove 28 yards downfield before calling on Blewitt, who had since made a 52-yard attempt.
But just like on his first attempt, Blewitt's kick was low and blocked. That cannot happen in a game where points are a difficult commodity to come by. Special teams, among everything else on the team, will be evaluated between now and when Washington returns to the field.
The Washington Football Team travels to Colorado to play the Denver Broncos in Week 8. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
2. Washington could not execute in the red zone once again.
For a second straight week, Washington out-gained its opponents in terms of total yards, and for a second straight week, Washington was held without a touchdown in the red zone.
Washington moved the ball at times, but it was hardly enough for the team to overcome its issues. Seven of the team's nine drives ended in either a punt, a missed field goal or some form of a turnover. Even with those struggles, Washington had a chance to score a game-tying touchdown. But a third-and-six at Denver's 6-yard line turned into a fourth-and-19 after a 12-yard sack, which was then followed by a Heinicke interception.
Washington wanted to correct its red zone issues this week after struggling in a similar fashion against the Packers. It's clear that work still needs to be done in the bye week.
3. Heinicke was uncharacteristically under pressure.
Heinicke has had a relatively clean pocket for most of this season, thanks to a solid offensive line. That was not the case against the Broncos, who were without Von Miller, as Washington gave up five sacks Sunday evening.
Sacks are always viewed as "drive killers," but that trope was especially true against the Broncos. Four of Denver's sacks came on third downs, which played into Washington being 5-of-14 on its conversions. The sack that backed Washington up from Denver's 6-yard line was only the most recent example. A sack on third-and-3 at Denver's 36-yard line led to an interception one play later, and a six-yard loss at Washington's 9-yard line sealed a three-and-out.
Losing Chase Roullier in the second quarter didn't help things, but it's still a head-scratching lapse from what has been one of the better offensive lines in the league. With two weeks to prepare for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it will have to rediscover its form.
4. Third downs are still an issue for the defense.
There aren't many holes to poke in the defense's performance Sunday evening. It forced three punts, a turnover and a missed field goal on its way to allowing 17 points. Those stats are normally good enough to win games.
Third downs, however, continue to be a glaring weakness for the unit.
The Broncos, which entered the game near the bottom in terms of third down conversions, ended the game 7-of-13 for a 53% conversion rate. Three of those seven conversions that were the most crippling came during the Broncos' two touchdown drives. Bridgewater got just enough to keep the chains moving on a third-and-one at the Broncos' 46-yard line. Three plays later, Denver had a 10-3 lead.
With the score tied at 10, Washington had two chances to get off the field on a third-and-eight and a third-and-two. It allowed Jerry Jeudy to make an 18-yard reception and Melvin Gordon to run in a seven-yard score.
There's another tough challenge waiting for Washington after the bye week. The Buccaneers are third in third down conversion rate.
5. Rivera will evaluate all positions.
Rivera has a key question that needs to be answered heading into Washington's bye week: where is Washington headed after falling to 2-6?
There are nine games left, and as Rivera said, anything can happen, but in order for Washington to get back on track, there are several issues that need to be addressed. Washington has not played consistently enough on either side of the ball to win games. The offense has struggled to finish drives, while the defense has lapses at key moments.
Rivera knows there are things Washington can improve upon. The next two weeks will be a chance to figure things out with even more difficult teams looming on the schedule.
"I think this team is still trying to search and find itself," Rivera said. "That's where we are."
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