The NFL's No. 1 passing defense was anything but in the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Rookie Joe Burrow carved up the unit by completing 21-of-29 passes for 195 yards -- a shade over what the Washington Football Team has been allowing per game this season. He led Cincinnati to nine points, though it should have been much more if not for two missed field goals from Randy Bullock and Burrow's fumble at the goal line. The Bengals' offense was rolling, while Jack Del Rio's defense was searching for answers.
The second half was a completely different story, with Washington shutting down all facets of its opponent's attack. It forced back-to-back three-and-outs to start the third quarter against Burrow, who was carted off with a leg injury, and limited backup Ryan Finley to 30 passing yards. More importantly, it held the Bengals scoreless on its way to a 20-9 win at FedExField.
With the victory, Washington (3-7) moves into a tie with the New York Giants for second place in the NFC East standings. It will have a chance to overtake the Philadelphia Eagles (3-6-1) in the win column when it plays the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day.
Washington failed to score on its opening possession for the 10th straight game, but it did take a rare first-quarter lead with Antonio Gibson's eighth rushing touchdown of the season. Terry McLaurin set up the score with yet another big play, this time snagging a 42-yard strike from Alex Smith, and Gibson capped the drive by plowing into the end zone.
Washington remained ahead for much of the first half thanks to the Bengals' self-inflicted wounds. Bullock missed a 34-yard field goal on the opening drive, and on the next possession, defensive Chase Young shellacked Burrow at the goal line to force a fumble. Defensive standout Ronald Darby (six tackles, four pass breakups) recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
Cincinnati (2-7-1) eventually found the end zone on Burrow's five-yard touchdown to A.J. Green, and Bullock redeemed himself by hitting a 53-yard field goal after missing an extra point. Still, the Bengals only scored nine points despite outgaining Washington, 247-125.
As has been the case all season, Washington's defense performed much better after intermission. It only had to face Burrow for two series, but his six plays only resulted in eight yards and a pair of punts. Washington's dominance continued against Finley, who took more sacks (four) than completed passes (three).
Washington retook the lead early in the third quarter and never looked back. It was a five-play, 55-yard drive that included two scintillating runs from Gibson, who finished with 94 yards on 16 carries. On 2nd-and-3 from the three-yard line, Washington put the ball in Smith's hands, and he delivered by hitting Steven Sims Jr. for a touchdown while taking a big hit. Sims' first score of the season gave Washington a 14-9 advantage, and Dustin Hopkins padded that lead with field goals from 32 and 50 yards, respectively.
Smith, who picked up his first win in more than two years, finished 17-of-25 passing for 166 yards, a touchdown and a batted ball that resulted in an interception. McLaurin (five receptions for 84 yards) served as his favorite target.
Defensively, rookie safety Kam Curl led Washington in tackles for the third straight game. The group also recorded at least four sacks for the fourth time this season.