Taylor Heinicke Credit: All-Pro Reels

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One week after the Dallas Cowboys handed the Washington Football Team its worst defeat in the Ron Rivera eraa 56-14 blowout on national televisionWFT still technically had a chance to make the playoffs and faced a must-win game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon at FedExField. Win, and Washington would keep its slim playoff hopes alive. Lose, and those chances evaporate.

With 30 seconds remaining in the game Sunday and the Eagles leading 20-16, Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke aired a deep pass intended for 6-foot-6 tight end John Bates, who tripped and fell before the goal line. (Heinicke later told team broadcaster DeAngelo Hall that he thought it “may have been” a pass interference.) Eagles safety Rodney McLeod intercepted the pass, ending the game and Washington’s playoff hopes in a season full of inconsistency and adversity.

“That’s the goal when you start, when you put on the pads at the beginning of the season, is to have a chance to make the playoffs, win your division, make the playoffs, and try to make a run at the Super Bowl,” Washington wide receiver Terry McLaurin said after the game. “And to know that we’re not going to be able to do that this year is disappointing, especially off the year we had last year, we felt like we were going to try to take some momentum into this year. But with the NFL, everything is earned week in and week out, and I felt like we went on a stretch run when we won that stretch of games and then we got into the division and we just didn’t get it done.”

Washington (6-10) will play the New York Giants (4-12) Sunday, Jan. 9 in its final game of the season. In early December, Washington had won its fourth game in a row and appeared to be in a favorable position to earn a wildcard spot in the playoffs with only division games remaining. But the team followed the win streak with four straight losses and now sits in third place in the NFC East behind the Cowboys (11-5) and Eagles (9-7).

Rivera, in his second season as head coach, has had to rely on a rotating cast of players due to COVID-19 outbreaks and injuries on the team. Two weeks ago against the Eagles in Philadelphia, Washington started journeyman quarterback Garrett Gilbert because Heinicke and backup Kyle Allen were both on the COVID-19 reserve list. More recently, players on the team have had to deal with traumatizing personal tragedies. Defensive end Montez Sweat’s brother was killed in a shooting in Henrico, Virginia, and that news came just days after safety Deshazor Everett was involved in a fatal single-car accident in Loudoun County that killed his girlfriend. Additionally, running back J.D. McKissic, tight end Logan Thomas, and safety Landon Collins have all recently been ruled out with season-ending injuries. Reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young tore his ACL in November. But players are not using the adversity as an excuse for their performance on the field.

“We have gone through adversity with COVID and personal tragedies that’s been going on with our brothers, and the adversity that we’ve had throughout the whole season, but I don’t think anybody would say that’s the reason why we didn’t get it done,” McLaurin said. “We just didn’t get it done. Every team is dealing with something during this part of the season: injuries, COVID. So by no stretch of the imagination do I want that to be out there that we felt that was an excuse or a crutch of why we didn’t get it done. We just didn’t get the job done.”

Sunday also saw tight end Ricky Seals-Jones go down after he collided with a camera operator and had to be carted off the field with a neck injury. Shortly after the game, a railing along the north tunnel at FedExField collapsed and fans fell onto the field near Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts as he headed to the locker room. This is all happening on top of the controversy that continues to swirl around team owner Dan Snyder for his role in creating what a report summary by lawyer Beth Wilkinson called a “highly unprofessional” workplace environment. In a season that started off with slight promise, the onslaught of challenges can feel staggering, even for a franchise known for its dysfunction.

“We showed what we’re capable of, we showed some resilience at times,” Rivera told reporters after the game. “And then some times, it was overwhelming. I think that’s a good word for the last couple of weeks for these guys, it was overwhelming on them. As I said last week, these are young men who had to deal with an awful lot. But I think this is something we’ll grow from, we’ll learn from … Hopefully next week we’ll play to our abilities.”

In front of a FedExField crowd that included lots of green jerseys, Washington did display its potential at times Sunday. The team led 16-7 at the half, with undrafted rookie running back Jaret Patterson scoring on an 11-yard run in the first quarter, the first touchdown at FedExField for the Maryland native. After the game, players spoke about the season finale against the Giants as a way to end the season on a positive note. Heinicke, who went 27 of 36 for 247 yards with one interception, told Hall that “guys will be pumped up” for the game.

“We’ve had two four-game losing streaks this year,” Heinicke said. “And the last thing we want to do is make it five and end the season like that.”

Photo by All-Pro Reels, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.