Despite a rousing fourth quarter from quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. and the offense, the Washington Football Team could not overcome a 17-point deficit and were defeated by the Seattle Seahawks, 20-15. Here are five takeaways from the team's first loss in more than a month.
1. Dwayne Haskins Jr. had an uneven day.
Things were not looking good for Haskins, who made his first start in about two months against the Seahawks, at the end of the first quarter. He was completing passes, but not many of his throws were downfield. His longest pass was nine yards on the first three drives, and he finished the quarter 5-of-8 for eight yards.
Haskins slowly started to improve as the half went on, though. He was accurate at times, threw the ball away when his reads were not open and evaded pressure in the pocket. He completed four of his first five passes on Washington's fourth drive and finished the half 15-of-24 for 98 yards and led the offense to a field goal at the end of the second quarter.
There was still a fair share of growing pains from Haskins as well. He threw an ill-advised pass in the second quarter that was tipped and later intercepted, ending a productive 48-yard drive. He bounced back by delivering a 30-yard strike to Terry McLaurin, but then immediately followed that up with another interception.
But things quickly changed for Haskins at the end of the third quarter. He directed the offense on two touchdown drives of 14 and 11 plays, respectively, and completed 13-of-18 passes, one of which was a six-yard touchdown to J.D. McKissic.
With Washington trailing, 20-15, it looked as if Haskins on his way to giving the team a late lead, but back-to-back sacks with just over a minute left bumped the offense from Seattle's 23-yard line to the 37-yard line. Haskins' Hail Mary attempt was batted down, and the second-year quarterback finished 38-of-55 for 295 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
"I think he started a little bit slow," head coach Ron Rivera said after the game. "He was kind of feeling his way around things, and as he kind of settled in a little bit later, you saw him get more effective and make some things happen."
2. Logan Thomas was reliable as ever.
Logan Thomas was considered to be a talented player that needed to be developed when Washington signed him in the offseason. It may have taken much of the season for Thomas to find his stride, but he has become one of Washington's most reliable weapons.
Thomas, who is having a career season in several categories this season, caught a career high 13 receptions on 15 targets for 101 yards. Since Week 12 against the Dallas Cowboys, he has caught 91% of his targets.
It quickly became clear that Thomas was going to have a strong day. On Washington's first drive of the second quarter, he made four catches for 44 yards, including a 20-yard gain that put the offense at Seattle's 29-yard line. At the end of the half, he had half (64 yards) of the offense's total production.
Arguably Thomas' best catch of the game came on Washington's 14-play, 96-yard drive that extended into the fourth quarter. With Washington facing a 2nd-and-3, Thomas caught a low pass and then ran downfield for a 17-yard gain. That set Washington up at the Seahawks' 44-yard line, and nine plays later Peyton Barber was in the end zone to make the score 20-9.
"I feel like Logan has really executed at a high level," McLaurin said. "To be able to pass-catch and make guys miss and get open and get separation like he can at that size is pretty impressive. I feel like he causes some mismatches for defenses, and him and the quarterbacks, whether it's been Alex [Smith] or Dwayne, they've been connecting a lot. And that just helps our offense as a whole when you have another weapon who's executing at a high level."
Thomas, however, is crediting Haskins, who he said was resilient and tough throughout the game, for his own performance.
"He was getting through his progressions and getting to his check downs," Thomas said. "He did a good job. Obviously I'm thankful to be one of the guys that was the recipient of that, but I would love the 'W' instead."
3. Seattle found open running lanes.
Washington's defense had been one of the better run-stopping units during its four-game winning streak. It held the Cincinnati Bengals to 70 yards and the Pittsburgh Steelers to 21 yards. That was not the case against the Seahawks, as they found plenty of running lanes and sprinted their way to 181 yards.
Chris Carson paced the team with 63 yards on 15 carries while Carlos Hyde had 55 yards, most of which came on a 50-yard touchdown to open the third quarter, but Russell Wilson proved to be just as affective with 52 yards. Many of Wilson's yards came on scrambles, including a 38-yarder in the second quarter that highlighted a 10-play, 96-yard drive that ended with Seattle taking a 13-0 lead on a pass to Jacob Hollister.
After Hyde's 50-yard romp, which gave Seattle 179 rushing yards, Washington's stuffed the ground attack. It gained just five yards for the rest of the game, not accounting for Wilson taking a knee on the final three plays. That effort helped Washington come up with a critical three-and-out midway through the fourth quarter, as Khaleke Hudson broke through the line of scrimmage to take Carson down for a four-yard loss on first down. The Seahawks were eventually forced to punt, giving Washington the ball back trailing, 20-15.
Rivera called it "big time" for Washington's defense to make big plays when it needs them, but it still took too long for the unit to make adjustments. Linebacker Jon Bostic said the Seahawks were not doing anything different that what he has seen before; the team simply did not execute.
"We've got to execute what [defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio] calls. When we execute it, we were stout versus the run. When we didn't, that's when things got a little icky. So we'll make those corrections tomorrow and get back to it next week."
4. No sacks for the pass rush, but it still affected the game.
With Seattle coming into FedExField giving up 41 sacks and Washington forcing nearly as many, the expectation was that Wilson would be under duress for most of the game. But Seattle's offensive line contained the pass rush for the most part, as Washington finished the game without a sack for just the second time all season.
It was frustrating for a defense that had 24.0 sacks since Week 7 to be so limited, particularly since Wilson was making it pay whenever they brought blitzes. Prior to Wilson's 38-yard scamper, Wilson extended the Seahawks' opening drive with an 11-yard run on a 3rd-and-4 that helped Seattle get in field goal range.
But like most areas of Washington's defense, the pass rush started to improve in the second half. It still could not get to Wilson for a sack, but it did force him to scramble and alter his throws. The most impactful example came in the fourth quarter when Montez Sweat batted Wilson's pass in the air, which allowed Daron Payne to record his first career interception. It was the first pick by a Washington defensive tackle since 2005.
"[Defensive line coach Sam Mills III] always says batted passes cause interceptions," Payne said. "So once you get your hands on it, we're always looking for a turnover."
Payne said that overall, there are still areas the defense needs to improve on. It does not have anything to do with their effort, but he and his teammates need to play with better technique and avoid having a slow start.
"It may just be us coming out and feeling things out instead of us coming out and playing fast and hard like we do most of the time in the second half. Once we do that, we'll be better off as a team."
5. Washington remains in sole possession of first place.
Washington (6-8) still has a first place lead in the NFC East thanks to the New York Giants (5-9) losing on Sunday Night Football. The Dallas Cowboys (5-9) moved into second place after defeating the San Francisco 49ers, while the Philadelphia Eagles (4-9-1) dropped to fourth after falling to the Arizona Cardinals.
Washington controls its own destiny, meaning that if it wins its final two games, it will win the division. It can clinch the title this weekend if it beats the Carolina Panthers and the Giants lose to the Baltimore Ravens.
Rivera and his players are preaching the same message they have been for the past month, which is to focus on what is in front of them. That attitude has kept them in the hunt so far this season, and with Washington having the chance to finish the season 8-8, that is not going to change.
"Obviously, everybody knows what needs to happen for us to get in and vice versa for the other teams," Thomas said. "But it doesn't matter unless we take care of our business next week playing here again against the Panthers."