The Washington Football Team came out of the bye week looking to improve its position in the NFC East against the New York Giants, but five turnovers were too much for the team to overcome in a 23-20 loss. Here are five takeaways from the game.
1. Turnovers put Washington in a halftime hole.
It looked like Washington (2-6) was going to continue its offensive growth on the first play of its opening drive when Kyle Allen completed a pass to Antonio Gibson, who sprinted 21 yards downfield. But then the ball popped loose and was recovered by the Giants, and Graham Gano kicked a field goal seven plays later.
Washington forced a stop on the Giants' next drive, but then Isaiah Wright couldn't control the ensuing punt, which was recovered again by the Giants. Four plays later, Wayne Gallman crossed the goal line with ease to put New York up 10-0.
"It was a tough one for Isaiah because it drifted away from him," said head coach Ron Rivera. "You wanted him to catch that or you want the ball to bounce to the goal line, but they had guys in position to stop it."
It was a frustrating start for Washington, especially considering it finally gained some momentum at the end of the first quarter on a nine-play, 44-yard drive that ended in a 48-yard Dustin Hopkins field goal. But that was answered by 10 more points from New York.
By halftime, the Giants held on to a 20-3 lead, but much of that can be credited to Washington's own mistakes. Washington ended the game with five turnovers compared to none for the Giants.
2. Alex Smith played much better in his second game.
Alex Smith has one of the most incredible comeback stories in sports, but his return to the field was underwhelming, at least statistically. In Week 5 against the Los Angeles Rams, he finished the wet and soggy game 9-of-17 for 37 yards and was sacked six times.
Offensive coordinator Scott Turner said after the game that those numbers are not indicative of Smith's progress, and that was apparent once Smith was thrust into the lineup again when Allen was carted off the field with an ankle injury. He finished the game 24-for-32 for 325 yards and a touchdown.
While these numbers are far more impressive, what should be even more pleasing to Washington fans should be how Smith looked going through his progressions. He scrambled, avoided pass rushers and planted off his formerly injured leg to make an average of 10.2 yards per completion.
Smith's performance was not perfect, though. He had an interception with 49 seconds left in the first half. J.D. McKissic fell down as Smith threw ball, and Blake Martinez was there to make the pick. He also threw two more in the second half.
Rivera said earlier in the season that if Smith were put in the starting lineup, his performance would come down to getting comfortable in the offense. It's safe to say Smith has accomplished that. Rivera said after the game Smith would be the starting quarterback against the Detroit Lions next week.
"Alex is a pro," Terry McLaurin said. "He's been in this league for a long time. He gave us a chance to win. He got us back in the game. For a guy who wasn't taking a lot of starter's reps this week, I thought he played well. We made some third downs. I just told him after the game that I'm looking forward to a full week of practice with him and see where we go from there."
3. The emergence of Cam Sims.
Washington was in desperate need of a big play as it tried to put points on the board before halftime. As Smith searched for an open receiver, he saw Cam Sims open in the middle of the field. Sims made the catch and sprinted for a 32-yard gain.
The drive ultimately resulted in an interception, but it was a sign of things to come from the former Alabama receiver. Sims, who scored his first-career touchdown against the Giants three weeks ago, made three catches for 110 yards on seven targets.
Sims did even better on his next reception. He caught Smith's pass down the left sideline for a 45-yard gain. This time, the play helped Washington close the Giants' lead, as Antonio Gibson dove through the end zone to make the score 20-10.
Then, as Smith was searching for a target on a 3rd-and-4 at Washington's 27-yard line, Sims made his third reception and evaded receivers for a 33-yard gain. Seven plays later, Hopkins kicked a 44-yard field goal to end the drive.
"It's hard to say where he has not been better," McLaurin said after the game. "The way he came into camp -- I've only known Cam for two years – but the way he came into camp this year, I knew he had potential to have a great year if he had the opportunity."
4. The run defense struggled.
Three weeks ago, Washington's only blemish on its run defense against the Giants came on a 49-yard run from Jones. Other than that, the unit performed well on the ground by limiting New York to 83 yards on 25 carries.
That was not the case in the second matchup at FedExField. The defense held Jones to four yards, but seven Giants players combined for 166 yards and a touchdown on 35 attempts for an average of 4.7 yards per carry.
After the game, Rivera said the team had issues with gap control.
"We had a couple of guys who were knocked out of their gap. We had a couple of guys who were late to their gap. So, as we get a chance to watch the tape and really see exactly who and why and how, those things will be worked on and corrected."
The bulk of the Giants' running game came from Gallman, who led the team with 68 yards, and Alfred Morris, who had nine carries for 67 yards. Gallman also scored the Giants' first touchdown on a two-yard run, capping off a four-play, 16-yard drive that followed Wright's muffed punt.
By halftime, New York had 109 rushing yards. Washington performed better in the second half, but according to Jon Bostic, it wasn't good enough.
"We didn't start fast," he said. "We've been preaching that all year. We've got to play a full 60-minute ball game on offense, defense and special teams. Everybody got to be able to play together. If we're only putting 30 minutes together or a good 45 minutes together, we're not going to win too many ball games."
5. Smith's interceptions dashed Washington's comeback hopes.
Washington had not one, but two chances to tie or take the lead over the Giants in the final five minutes. However, both of those drives were squandered by a pair of interceptions from Smith.
The first came as Washington was driving from its own 11-yard line. Smith had completed six of his nine attempts and had the offense at the Giants 40 thanks to an 11-yard catch from McKissic. On a 3rd-and-10 with a little more than two minutes left, Smith targeted McKissic again, only this time the pass was a little too high and was grabbed by Jabrill Peppers.
The next interception was even more disappointing. Two plays after the defense forced a three-and-out, Smith forced a pass intended for McLaurin, but Logan Ryan was there to make the catch instead and effectively ended the game.
"He tried to make things happen and force things," Rivera said, "and unfortunately bad things happened each time. There will be times where he's going to force something and something will happen. We'll all be happy about that."