Taylor Heinicke, COs eliminate undefeated Eagles in Philadelphia

Taylor Heinicke, COs eliminate undefeated Eagles in Philadelphia

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PHILADELPHIA — Taylor Heinicke said he wasn’t paying attention. He said he hadn’t given much thought to the fact that Monday night could be his last start, if Carson Wentz returned to the active roster with his broken finger ready to go.

His concern, he said last week, was winning. And to win a game against the NFL’s last undefeated team, he had to help his COs convert on third down, maintain practices and be consistent — all things Washington has typically failed to accomplish.

At the time, perhaps his comments sounded like standard football speech – say the right thing, no matter how obvious, and hope and pray the result comes close. In hindsight, the quarterback’s hopes — and his game — were sound, and Monday’s game may have all but guaranteed him a chance to remain Washington’s starter, regardless of Wentz’s health.

Relying heavily on running play and effective play on third down, Heinicke’s Commanders did what no other team has this season: They upset the Philadelphia Eagles, 32-21 — on their own land, no less.

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Calling it “probably the biggest win of my career,” Heinicke went 17-for-29 for 211 yards, no touchdowns and one interception for a 66.9 passer rating. Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts went 17 for 26 for 175 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for a rating of 94.2.

For the first time this season, the Commanders’ offense was consistent and methodical as they scored four goals in the first half, three of which lasted 13, 12 and 16 games. Washington (5-5) scored 13 points in the second quarter while keeping the Eagles scoreless, a feat in itself; Philadelphia (8-1) came into the game having scored nearly 60% of their points in the second quarter and had yet to be shut out.

“We’ve found that one of the best ways to slow down Jalen Hurts is to keep him off the field,” Commanders coach Ron Rivera said.

But his dominance in the first half didn’t stop there. Washington passed Philadelphia 235 yards to 101, converted 75 percent of third downs (9 of 12) and went 51 plays against the Eagles’ 19. Washington’s possession time of 17 minutes and 38 seconds in the first half was the longest in franchise history, and it was capped by a 58-yard field goal (the longest of Joey’s career). Slye) who gave a 20-14 lead and prompted a series of boos from Eagles fans.

For the game, Washington rushed for 81 plays for 330 yards, including 152 rushing yards, and converted 57 percent of his third downs (12 for 21). It was everything anyone expected and more.

“In a situation like this, I always thought we had the kind of guy in this locker room who could do things, and we’re starting to see that fall into place,” said Rivera, who suffocated in the locker room afterwards.

Two weeks earlier, her mother, Delores, died after a battle with lung cancer. Amid all the drama off the pitch in the organization, Rivera stressed to his team the importance of staying focused.

During the week, he told his players to let him handle the unimportant things. After the game, he fought back tears while telling his players that his mother “would have been proud”.

“It means a lot because the guys have been able to stay focused on what’s important,” he said. “…Hard work is starting to pay off.”

After their decisive first half, the Commanders opened the second by forcing a three-and-out and then embarking on another long drive, this one stretching 14 games and more than eight minutes before Slye only hits a field goal from 32 yards to extend Washington. lead to 23-14.

Commanders not only challenged their own game over the past two-plus seasons under Rivera — they showed control and attention to detail that had eluded them in most critical situations. With Heinicke at the helm, Washington plays on the edge, usually one throw away from disaster or glory.

Last week against Minnesota, his through ball through the middle was intercepted, costing the Commanders dearly at the end of their three-game winning streak. This week, his intoxicating games made the difference.

In the second quarter, center Tyler Larsen sent a snap over Heinicke’s head, but the quarterback pulled out, recovered and threw him out of bounds – beyond the line of scrimmage – to only cost Washington a down instead of a chunk of yardage or worse.

Then in the fourth, on Washington’s final drive, Heinicke escaped pressure and took a knee on third down, inflicting an unnecessary roughness penalty on Eagles’ Brandon Graham as Graham rammed into him.

“That last piece we called a tilt for Terry [McLaurin], and it was one of those things where if it’s open, give it to him, and if not, take a bag,” Heinicke said. “I wasn’t going to throw it unless it was wide open. When I took that knee and saw them coming towards me, I was hoping they would come towards me and of course they did. It was a mistake on their part but, hey, we’ll live with it.

The Eagles mistake also revealed Heinicke’s growth.

“Absolutely,” Rivera said. “That’s one of the things he learns, take what’s given.”

Throughout Monday’s game, the Commanders were mostly solid and when they made a mistake they fought back to make up for it. They committed early in the rush and stayed there (Brian Robinson Jr. finished with 86 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries), opening up chunk plays in the passing game. They moved the ball and ate time, converted from critical third downs and, for the most part, stayed away.

But the first two minutes of the game hinted at the start of another first-half disaster. Armani Rogers was flagged for holding the opening kickoff, causing Antonio Gibson to lose 33 yards on a long return. Washington then went three and out; after a punter roughing penalty returned the ball to Washington, Heinicke was sacked. Philadelphia got the ball back and needed just three plays to find the end zone on Hurts’ yard run.

The Commanders responded with their first long drive, using 10 rush plays sandwiched around two big passes – a 26-yard reception by McLaurin at third and second and a 14-yard catch by Jahan Dotson at second and 11. Gibson capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown.

This offense was totally different from what Washington had shown in previous weeks.

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A few mistakes would follow. Cornerback Benjamin St-Juste was called for pass interference on a deep pass from Hurts, and while the call seemed questionable, it nonetheless led to another Eagles score, this time a pass from six yards to tight end Dallas Goedert to set up Philadelphia 14-Sept.

Washington was then flagged for game delay at fourth-and-one, prompting offensive coordinator Scott Turner to raise his hands in the booth and the offense to settle for a Slye 44-yard field goal.

But after an interception by safety Darrick Forrest and two more Washington scores before the end of the half – a one-yard touchdown by Robinson and that 58-yard field goal by Slye – the Commanders had a 20-14 lead. at halftime. It was the first time in more than two years that Washington scored at least 20 points in the first half.

The Eagles appeared to bounce back from Javon Hargrave’s third quarter sack of Heinicke at the Philadelphia 14-yard line. The strikeout forced Washington to settle for a 32-yard field goal that extended its lead to nine. Philadelphia responded with a long drive, using 11 plays as Hurts threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith to make it 23-21.

A turnover was not in Washington’s plans, but given the circumstances, it was not a gross mistake. He was third-and-three at Philadelphia 43 when Heinicke launched a missile down the left sideline at McLaurin who stayed in the air just long enough for safety CJ Gardner-Johnson to come up and grab him.

Heinicke had said in the past that if he had a 50-50 chance with McLaurin, he planned to give the star receiver that shot, and his decision to do it here seemed wise, even if the result was poor. If the throw had sailed a little farther, the commanders would have been just steps from the goal line. Instead, he was picked, a turnover that ultimately had little consequence.

“He’s been great since he got here – honestly,” McLaurin said. “…He really plays like every game is his last. He plays without fear, man.

On the subsequent possession, defensive tackle John Ridgeway forced a fumble on a short pass to Goedert which linebacker Jamin Davis picked up and returned for a touchdown. The score was overturned in review – but the turnover held up and gave Washington another chance to extend its lead. Slye, having the game of his life, netted a 55-yard field goal with 7:33 left to give Washington a 26-21 advantage.

But no Commanders game, especially with Heinicke at quarterback, can end without late-game theatrics. This time it came thanks to the defense.

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Hurts threw a 50-yard pass to Quez Watkins, who stumbled on the turf, got up and then lost control of the ball when St-Juste hit him. Forrest recovered the fumble to end what could have been a winning drive.

“We definitely went into this game knowing no one believed in us,” Forrest said. “…We came ready to fight.”

With his team in position to seal the win in the final minutes, Dotson was flagged for offensive pass interference, nullifying a 21-yard hold by Curtis Samuel on third down. But after the punt, defensive end Montez Sweat thwarted another Philadelphia drive with a sack on third down.

Heinicke then stuck to the plan: convert third down, keep training.

On the third and seventh with McLaurin tightly covered, Heinicke rushed before taking a knee and firing the penalty on Graham which earned the Commanders another round of downs and a chance to bleed the clock.

When Philadelphia finally got the ball back, Casey Toohill recovered a wandering fullback for a touchdown on the last play of the game, allowing Washington to take the win and Heinicke waltzing down the tunnel in celebration.

“We thought if we could control the line of scrimmage and get the ball running, we could slow things down, and that’s what we were able to do,” Rivera said before looking into it. “I mean, the dude is a dynamic quarterback and he’s done a hell of a job – and Jalen isn’t a bad guy either.”

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