The loss, arguably the worst of coach Ron Rivera’s tenure in Washington, was bad enough to raise the question of whether any change during the season is near — not necessarily to salvage a season that continues to ebb and flow, but to recognize a sold-out crowd of fans who expected more than this.
Months after commanders appreciated a wave of hope following the sale of the franchise to a group led by Josh Harris, the team is now 12th in the NFC and has a slim chance of making the playoffs.
“It’s a low point, that’s for sure,” Rivera said.
Washington had no one to blame but himself.
The Commanders turned the ball over six times, with three interceptions by quarterback Sam Howell and a fumble each by tight end Logan Thomas, wide receiver Byron Pringle and running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. The defense, as for she was a sieve. A week after allowing 11 explosive plays (defined as runs of 12 yards or more and passes of at least 16 yards) to the Seattle Seahawks, he gave up nine to the Giants.
In the first quarter, running back Saquon Barkley scored an easy 24-yard touchdown on a passing play while linebacker Jamin Davis lagged behind in coverage. Barkley also had a 36-yard throw in the third quarter after three missed tackles, added a five-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and finished his night with a 31-yard run that set up a field goal.
Wide receiver Darius Slayton, whose 24-yard catch in the first quarter set up Barkley’s first touchdown, also caught a 40-yard touchdown pass with no defender in sight in the second quarter, thanks to botched coverage from the Washington secondary. Commanders. Tight end Daniel Bellinger received a similar gift when he found himself wide open for a 26-yard catch in the fourth quarter. DeVito connected with Barkley for his second touchdown of the day shortly after.
“Their main plan seemed to be they wanted to play man (coverage) and then let their D-line do what they do,” Giants receiver Isaiah Hodgins said of the Commanders. “They’ve had some success with sacks and all that, but playing a man role in the NFL for an entire game is not easy, and we have guys who can make plays. So we started doing that, and I didn’t really notice a meter. They stuck to their plan.
New York’s counter, Hodgins said, was to use much of the quick passing game to take the ball out of DeVito’s hands and turn Washington’s size on the back end into a liability.
“Their reaction is just a little bit slower, so we have a real advantage earlier in courses and games because their body takes longer to react to whatever they see,” Hodgins added. “. . . They play a lot of men, so for us, we’re doing a lot of meshing, trying to get picks and get their defenders to pick themselves for our receivers. They were having a bit of trouble with the mesh (and we) started calling them even more.
The trend of big plays continued in New York until the end. Isaiah Simmons returned an interception 54 yards for the game-clinching score with 16 seconds left.
If the damage had been limited to explosive operations, Washington might have found a way to overcome it. But commanders fought in other ways.
Howell, whose development in his first season as a full-time starter sparked optimism, was sacked four times. His first interception was a slight overthrow to Dyami Brown. His second was a deep shot to double coverage. And his third, Simmons’ touchdown, was a failed attempt to throw the ball.
“(I) felt the pocket collapse on me, so I was just trying to get the ball out of bounds, and it just didn’t go far enough,” he said of the pass intercepted by Simmons.
When asked if he thought the game was a regression for Howell, Rivera said it was “a step forward,” adding, “He’s learning; he grows up. He made a few mistakes, but he held on and fought and gave us a chance to win the football game.
Three fumbles, two of which led to touchdowns for New York, didn’t help.
“It was just poor ball security from me and the other guys who turned the ball over,” Thomas said. “We just have to be better at it. This is something we preach. They did a good job breaking the ball and getting it out.
Howell scared fans when he was slow to get up after taking a hard hit from Xavier McKinney following a seven-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter. Howell landed hard on his left side and lay on the ground waiting for trainers when several of his teammates rushed to him. A fight broke out on the sideline, resulting in the disqualification of Commanders receiver Curtis Samuel and Giants defensive back Cor’Dale Flott.
Howell returned to the field after a quick evaluation in the medical tent and insisted after the game that he was “fine” and that the hit did not affect his play for the rest of the game. He finished 31 of 45 for 255 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating of 62.7. He also had three runs for 35 yards and a score.
“I think the most frustrating thing is I think we have a really good football team,” Howell said. “We have so much potential in this locker room. That’s what’s disappointing: we’re not getting the results we really feel we’re capable of.
For the better part of the last three years, Rivera has preached development and consistency as he tried to turn around a franchise in turmoil. Despite overcoming a slew of off-field issues, many of which involved the team’s former owner, the on-field product had a similar performance to Sunday’s.
The commanders still haven’t managed to get all three phases – offense, defense and special teams – to play well. They still struggled to get off to a fast start and still failed to fix many of their nagging mistakes, including big passes allowed on defense and missed tackles that led to big points.
They also consistently collapsed against teams they should have defeated easily.
“That’s kind of the theme of the season: We’ll play really well, and then we’ll have four- or five-minute lapses in a game that allow for big plays in the game,” defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said. who had 1.5 of his team’s nine sacks. “Until we fix this problem, we will never be the defense we can be.”
Rivera agreed, acknowledging that the lack of consistent play hindered the team’s development. When asked if he would consider making a change, Rivera said only that “there are things we need to look at” and that the team will “continue to discuss it and go from there.”
“Whatever my answer is, it will be revealed and people will say it’s an excuse,” he added. “So we’re just going to take responsibility.” We’re going to show up tomorrow, we’re going to prepare and we’re going to prepare to play in Dallas, because we have a very short week.
Tramel Raggs contributed to this report.