The Washington Football Team needed a win to keep its playoff hopes alive, and thanks to a strong second half, the team got it as it downed the Cincinnati Bengals for the first time since 1991 with a 20-9 win. Here are five takeaways from the Week 11 victory.
1. Washington executed in the red zone.
After the conclusion of last week's game against the Detroit Lions, head coach Ron Rivera said he felt as if Washington left nine points on the field in the first half. Quarterback Alex Smith, who helped the offense gain 464 yards, said he was shocked when he saw the team trailing, 17-3.
This time, the yardage matched the production. And unlike last week against the Lions, the offense executed in the red zone with three trips ending in points.
The first score required a little creativity; facing a 3rd-and-2 at the Bengals' 12-yard line, Logan Thomas kept the chains moving after going in motion and lining up under center. That allowed Antonio Gibson to run into the end zone three plays later to give Washington a 7-0 first-quarter lead.
Washington didn't get into the red zone again until the third quarter while it was trailing, 9-7. Three chunk plays resulting in gains of 19, 14 and 16 yards set up the offense at the Bengals' six-yard line. Then Smith connected with Steven Sims Jr. on a three-yard touchdown pass to retake the lead.
A 32-yard field goal from Dustin Hopkins at the Bengals' 14-yard line put Washington up, 17-9, and from there, Washington was able to put the game out of reach with a 50-yarder from Hopkins in the fourth quarter.
2. The defense could have had more turnovers.
Washington's defense came away with a critical turnover in the first quarter when Chase Young knocked the ball out of Joe Burrow's hands right before he crossed the goal line, and Fabian Moreau secured a game-sealing interception in the fourth quarter. Washington won the turnover battle, 2-1, but there were plenty of other opportunities for Washington to have an even more dominant defensive performance.
Prior to Young's touchdown-saving play, Ronald Darby nearly had one of his own when he stepped in the way of Burrow's pass to A.J. Green but had the ball drop through his hands. On the next drive, Young nearly had another big play when he had the ball slip through his mitts. The Bengals scored five plays later.
Troy Apke also dropped a sure interception on a pass that was thrown right to him in the third quarter. Fortunately, those miscues did not have an adverse effect on the game, but there's a chance Washington's lead over the Bengals could have been much greater had it secured more of its turnover opportunities.
3. Jack Del Rio dialed up the pressure after Ryan Finley replaced Joe Burrow.
Washington's pass rush production has been volatile all season; to the defense's credit, though, it has recorded at least one sack in every game. That streak continued against the Bengals, but the pressure only started to hit home after Burrow was carted off the field with a knee injury and backup Ryan Finley entered the game.
The first sack came on Finley's first drive with the Bengals facing a 3rd-and-3 in the third quarter. Ryan Kerrigan worked his way into the pocket from the defensive left side and brought Finley down for a seven-yard loss. The next sack came on the following drive when Montez Sweat, who leads the team with six sacks, took Finley down again for an eight-yard loss.
Finley felt pressure for the rest of the game, and the Bengals' offense dipped in production because of it. After Burrow's injury, the Bengals could only muster 17 yards. Tim Settle recorded an 11-yard sack, and James Smith-Williams and Jimmy Moreland also worked together to bring Finley down for a five-yard loss on a 3rd-and-10.
"We definitely took over after that," Young said. "The sacks started coming and everything just started falling into place. I just felt even at the start of the game, we went out there with more emotion. I just felt like we had a lot more fun out there playing ball just together as a group. I felt like we trusted each other a lot more out there today. We're going to keep going. Just like I said last week; we're going to keep going."
4. Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin delivered.
Washington's offense was not as dominant as it has been in the past three games, but it was still solid with 325 yards on an average of 5.6 yards per play. The majority of its production came from Gibson and Terry McLaurin, who combined for 188 yards and a touchdown.
Gibson, who averaged 5.9 yards per carry, led the team in rushing once again with 94 yards on 16 carries. He now has eight touchdown this season, which not only leads the team but is also the most among rookie running backs. Most of his production came in the second half, as he had 75 yards on 11 carries, including two gains of 16 yards and one of 13 yards.
McLaurin had another productive day with five receptions on seven targets for 84 yards. Half of that came on a 42-yard contested bomb in the first quarter, which helped Washington take a first-quarter lead for just the third time all season.
McLaurin now has 871 yards and has surpassed his rookie reception total with 62 catches. He is 49 yards away from doing the same with his receiving yards, and based on the pace at which McLaurin is playing, that milestone should be easily achieved. He has recorded at least 74 receiving yards in five consecutive games and had less than 61 yards in just one game.
"When I got drafted here last year, I was just happy to be drafted, to be honest with you," McLaurin said. "There was a lot of people who saw me as a special teams guy. I felt like I was more than that, but at the same time, if that was my role coming in to earn my spot on this team, I was going to be the best gunner in the league. When I got that opportunity…to play receiver, I knew that was my opportunity to show that I'm not only a great special teamer, but I could be a great receiver as well."
5. Washington's first win against Cincinnati since 1991 kept its playoff hopes alive.
It's been 29 years since Washington managed to defeat the Bengals and 35 years since it was able to do so at home. But now that streak has been broken, and thanks to a historically poor NFC East, Washington's postseason hopes are still alive.
The Philadelphia Eagles, who are clinging to first place in the division, fell to 3-6-1 after a 22-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Washington (3-7) is now tied for second place with the New York Giants (3-7) and tied with the Eagles in the win column.
With Washington playing the Dallas Cowboys (2-7) on Thanksgiving, the Eagles playing the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks and the Giants playing the Bengals (2-7-1), there is a chance Washington could lead the division by the end of Week 12. Still, Rivera and the players have all their attention on the game in front of them.
"The biggest thing we've got to do is really focus in on the 'one game at a time' mentality," Rivera said. "That's what we do, and we'll see what happens. Again, I look forward to it on Thursday. I look forward to the opportunity to see where we are."