The Washington Football Team returned to FedExField for a home matchup against the New Orleans Saints and could not overcome critical mistakes in a 33-22 loss. Here are five takeaways from the afternoon.
1. Washington took advantage of early turnovers.
Washington's defense had allowed all four of its previous opponents to score on their opening drives. That streak ended against the Saints.
Five plays after New Orleans began the game on offense, quarterback Jameis Winston threw the ball directly at linebacker Cole Holcomb, who made the second interception of his career at Washington's 46-yard line and returned it to the Saints' 31. The offense couldn't take the ball much further, but it did send a 45-yard kick sailing through the uprights for a 3-0 lead.
Later in the first quarter with Washington down 7-6, Chase Young got his first sack of the season and popped the ball out of Winston's grasp with Daron Payne scooping it up. Taylor Heinicke then orchestrated a seven-play drive and handed the ball off to Antonio Gibson for a five-yard touchdown that put Washington pack on top, 13-7.
Washington had two turnovers on the year heading into the game. It matched that number in one afternoon and showed when its units are clicking, it can be a potent team.
2. Big plays kept the Saints alive in the first half.
Allowing massive gains in the passing game had been a problem for Washington through its first four games, and that continued against New Orleans.
Deonte Harris, who has emerged as the Saints' No. 1 receiver in Michael Thomas' absence, managed to get wide open on the drive following Winston's interception and ran unopposed for a 72-yard score. The play took up almost all of a three-play drive that took just 1:14 off the clock.
Then, with just a few ticks on the clock, it looked like Washington was going to head into the half tied 13-13 with the Saints, but Winston had one last bomb to throw at the secondary. Winston launched a 49-yard bomb to the end zone, and with a scrum of players reaching for the ball, Marquez Callaway managed to secure it, giving New Orleans a 20-13 lead as it headed into the locker room. Callaway finished the game with four receptions for 85 yards.
While the big plays were certainly frustrating, it was even more aggravating that there were positive moments in the first half that were overshadowed by the errors.
The Washington Football Team returned to FedExField for a Week 5 matchup against the New Orleans Saints and was defeated in a 33-22 loss. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Karlee Sell/Washington Football Team)
3. Heinicke's second pick was part of an up-and-down day.
Washington was routinely backed up deep in its own territory throughout the game, as Blake Gillikin had three punts within the 5-yard line. In those situations, the margin for error is minuscule to say the least. Heinicke made a gamble to keep his team alive, and this time, the quarterback came up empty-handed.
With Washington facing a third-and-10 at its own 2-yard line, Heinicke scrambled to his left and searched for an open target. He thought he had DeAndre Carter open on the left sideline, but he held the ball too long and allowed P.J. Williams to get the pick. It set the Saints up at Washington's 26-yard line, and four plays later, Callaway scored his second touchdown to secure a 27-16 lead.
Heinicke's performance was mixed Sunday afternoon. He made some solid throws, but he completed only 48% of his passes with two interceptions. He was trying to keep the offense on the field with his second pick, but the ill-advised throw left Washington fighting too far from behind for the rest of the game.
4. The pass rush was more active.
Washington's pass-rush has been noticeably quiet for most of the season thus far, but it was certainly more active against the Saints. And unlike previous weeks, its pressure found its mark.
Young's first sack of the season has already been mentioned, and the offense was able to capitalize on it with a touchdown. Payne also got in on the action in the second quarter by taking down Winston for an eight-yard loss.
There were other times, however, where the pass-rush was still able to put pressure on Winston without recording a sack. Winston routinely had players in his face and had to scramble to avoid defenders.
After Washington had only recorded seven sacks through four games, the two sacks and pressures it generated was a sign of progress. But as Matt Ioannidis said after the game, the defensive line still has to play better.
5. Washington fails to get off the field in the final minutes.
With less than eight minutes left to play and Washington only down five, there was still time to come back in miraculous fashion yet again. And with New Orleans staying on the field for a fourth-and-1 at its own 35-yard line, the defense was one play away from getting off the field.
But Winston slipped through an open gap to convert, and he went on to direct an eight-play drive culminating in his fourth touchdown pass of the game. Washington had the ball one more time but could not convert on fourth-and-10.
Washington's performance on Sunday was glaringly inconsistent. The positives were matched by a negative multiple times, and despite the mistakes, there was still a chance to win the game. Washington out-gained New Orleans, and its defense held Winston to 4-of-11 on third downs. But lapses in critical moments were the team's undoing.
With the Kansas City Chiefs coming to FedExField next Sunday, Washington still has work to do on both sides of the ball.