Taylor Heinicke, Commanders shock undefeated Eagles

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PHILADELPHIA — Taylor Heinicke said he wasn’t paying attention. He said he didn’t think much of Monday night being his last start, and is ready to go if Carson Wentz returns to the active roster from his broken finger.

His concern, he said last week, was that he won. To win a game against the NFL’s last undefeated team, he had to help his generals convert on third down, sustain drives and stay consistent — something Washington has typically failed to accomplish.

At the time, perhaps his comments felt like standard football talk – say the right thing, no matter how obvious, and hope and pray the result will come somewhere close. In retrospect, the quarterback’s hopes — and his play — were smart, and Monday’s game could have given him a chance to be Washington’s starter, regardless of Wentz’s health.

Relying heavily on the running game and playing efficiently on third down, Heinicke’s Commanders did what no other team had done this season: They upset the Philadelphia Eagles, 32-21 — on their home turf, no less.

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Calling it “probably the biggest win of my career,” Heinicke finished 17 for 29 for 211 yards, no touchdowns and an 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 94.2 rating.

For the first time this season, the Commanders’ offense looked consistent and methodical as it went on four first-half scoring drives, three of which spanned 13, 12 and 16 plays. Washington (5-5) held the Eagles scoreless for 13 points in the second quarter, a record in itself; Philadelphia (8-1) entered the game scoring nearly 60 percent of its 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,” Generals coach Ron Rivera said.

But its dominance did not stop in the first half. Washington held Philadelphia to 101 for 235 yards, converted 75 percent of its third downs (9 of 12) and converted 51 plays to the Eagles’ 19. Washington’s 17-minute, 38-second time-out was in the first half. The drive was the largest in franchise history, and it was capped by a 58-yard field goal (the longest of Joey Sly’s career) that created a 20-14 lead and sparked a round of cheers from Eagles fans.

For the game, Washington ran 81 plays for 330 yards, including 152 on the ground, and converted 57 percent (12 of 21) of its third downs. It was unexpected and overwhelming.

“I always thought we had the kind of guys in that locker room that could make things happen in a situation like this, and we’re starting to see it come together,” Rivera said. And then the locker room.

Two weeks ago, his mother, Delores, died after a battle with lung cancer. Amid all the organization’s off-field drama, Rivera stressed to his team The importance of focus.

During the week, he told his players to let them 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 were able to focus on what’s important,” he said. “… hard work is starting to pay off.”

After their decisive first half, the Commanders forced a three-and-out in the second and then embarked on another long drive that ended with Sly hitting a 32-yard field goal to extend Washington’s lead 14 plays and eight minutes later. leading to 23-14.

The Commanders haven’t just outplayed their own game over the past two-plus seasons under Rivera — they’ve shown the control and attention to detail that eluded them in crunch situations. With Heinicke at the helm, Washington plays on the edge, usually one thrown from disaster or glory.

Last week against Minnesota, his deep pass interception over the middle proved invaluable to the Commanders. Their three-game winning streak ended. This week, his top plays are different.

In the second quarter, center Tyler Larsen sent a snap over Heinig’s head, but the quarterback backed up, recovered and threw out of bounds — past the line of scrimmage — a not-so-significant amount or foul for Washington.

Then in the fourth, on Washington’s final drive, Heinicke took a knee on third down after getting away from pressure, and Graham drew an unnecessary roughness penalty on Brandon Graham.

“That last play, we called Terry a slant [McLaurin]and if he’s open, give it to him, if not, take a sack,” Heinicke said. “I’m not going to throw it unless he’s wide open. When I took that knee and saw them coming at me, I believed they were going to come at me, of course. , they did. It was a mistake on their end but, hey, we’ll live with it.

The Eagles’ mistake also exposed Heinig’s development.

“A lot,” Rivera said. “One of the things he’s learning is to take what’s given.”

Throughout Monday’s game, the Chiefs were often loud, and when they made a mistake, they fought back to make up for it. They committed to the run early and stuck with it (Bryan 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 up clock, converted crucial third downs and often got out of their own way.

But the first two minutes of the game suggested the start of another first-half disaster. Armani Rogers was flagged for holding the opening kickoff, resulting in a 33-yard loss on a long return by Antonio Gibson. Washington then went three-and-out; After a rough-the-punter penalty gave Washington the ball back, Heinicke was stripped. Philadelphia recovered the ball and needed only three plays to find the end zone on the Hurts’ one-and-a-half run.

The Chiefs responded with their first long drive, using 10 plays surrounding two big passes — McClure’s 26-yard reception on third-and-2 and Jahan Dodson’s 14-yard catch on second-and-11. A one-yard touchdown run.

The offense was unlike what Washington showed weeks ago.

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A few mistakes will follow. Cornerback Benjamin St-Just Hurts was called for pass interference on a deep pass, and while the call looked questionable, it led to another Eagles score, this time on a six-yard pass to Dallas Goedert to put Philadelphia up 14. 7.

Washington was flagged for delay on fourth-and-one, prompting offensive coordinator Scott Turner to throw up his hands in the booth and settle for a 44-yard sly field goal.

But after safety Tarrick Forrest and Washington intercepted two scores before the end of the half — a Robinson run for a one-yard touchdown and Sly’s 58-yard field goal — the Commanders took a 20-14 halftime lead. It was the first time in two years that Washington scored at least 20 points in the opening half.

The Eagles appeared to bounce back after Javon Hargrave sacked Heinicke at Philadelphia’s 14-yard line in the third quarter. The sack forced Washington to settle for a 32-yard field goal that extended its lead to nine. Philadelphia responded with a long drive, Hurts throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass to Devonta Smith to make it 23-21.

A turnover wasn’t in Washington’s plans, but given the circumstances, it wasn’t a huge mistake. On third-and-three at Philadelphia’s 43, Heinicke launched a missile down the left sideline toward McClarin, hanging in the air long enough for safety CJ Gardner-Johnson to reach up and catch it.

Heinicke has said in the past that if he has a 50-50 chance with McClarin, he plans to give the star receiver that shot, and even if his decision was bad, it seemed wise to do so here. Had the throw gone a little farther, the Generals would have been steps from the goal line. Instead it was picked up, a turnover that ultimately had little effect.

“He’s been great since he’s been here – honestly,” McLaren said. “…He literally plays every play like it’s his last. He plays without fear, man.

On the ensuing possession, defensive end John Ridgeway fumbled a short pass to Goedert, which linebacker Jamin Davis recovered and returned for a touchdown. The score was reversed on review — but the turnover stood and gave Washington another opportunity to extend its lead. Sly, having the play of his career, hit a 55-yard field goal with 7:33 left to give Washington a 26-21 lead.

But any Commanders game, especially with Heinicke at quarterback, is bound to end without late-game theatrics. This time security came.

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Hurts sent a pass in the 50th to Cuse Watkins, who stumbled to the turf and then lost control of the ball as Saint-Just cleared him. Forrest fumbled to end what had been a game-winning drive.

“We definitely came into this game knowing that nobody believed in us,” Forrest said. “… we came ready to fight.”

With his team poised for the win in the final minutes, Dodson was flagged for offensive pass interference, negating Curtis Samuel’s 21st catch on third down. But after the punt, defensive end Montes Sweat thwarted another Philadelphia drive with a sack on third down.

Heinicke then stuck to the plan: convert on third down and sustain the drive.

With McClarin tight on third-and-seven, Heinicke took a knee and fumbled before drawing a penalty on Graham, giving the Chiefs a new down and a chance to bleed the clock.

When Philadelphia finally got the ball back, Casey Douhill recovered a fumbled fumble on the final play of the game for a touchdown, allowing Washington to clinch the win and allow Heinig to waltz down the tunnel in celebration.

“We felt that if we could control the line of scrimmage and run the ball, we could slow things down, and that’s what we were able to do,” Rivera said before leaning into it. “I mean, the dude’s a dynamic quarterback and he’s done a heck of a lot — and Jalen’s not a bad guy either.”

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