A look at the good (Hail!) and bad (Fail!) from the Washington Commanders’ 45-15 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
After Washington’s sixth loss in its past seven games, the Commanders — and their fans — get a break. Ron Rivera’s squad can’t possibly allow 45 points in a lopsided defeat this coming weekend because there’s no one on the schedule. Washington enters the bye after 13 mostly miserable weeks allowing an NFL-worst 30.4 points per game. The franchise has clinched its 23rd nonwinning season in 32 years since its last Super Bowl title and its fourth straight under Rivera. On the plus side, the Commanders would pick fourth in the 2024 NFL draft if the season ended today.
On first and 10 from the Washington 38 late in the first quarter, Sam Howell attempted a quick throw to Jahan Dotson at the line of scrimmage. One problem: Dolphins linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, who was completely unblocked, stepped directly in Howell’s throwing lane, snatched the ball out of the air and returned it for a touchdown. It was a familiar sight for Howell, who has thrown four pick-sixes this year, including one in each of the past three games.
Washington’s single-season franchise record for interceptions returned by the opposition for scores is five by Joe Gibbs’s 1990 team, which finished 10-6. Stan Humphries and Jeff Rutledge combined to throw a pick-six in three consecutive games that year, including one in the “Body Bag Game” at Philadelphia on “Monday Night Football.” According to Stathead, the NFL record for pick-sixes thrown in a season is eight by the 2004 Dolphins, who were quarterbacked by A.J. Feeley, Jay Fiedler and Sage Rosenfels.
The rookie defensive end out of Clemson, who had 1.5 sacks in Washington’s loss to the Giants two weeks ago, burst through the line to tackle Dolphins rookie running back De’Von Achane for a loss of seven yards in the first quarter. It was a rare highlight for Washington’s struggling defense before the floodgates opened and led to Miami’s only punt of the first half.
Fail: Helping make history
The Dolphins improved to 9-3 for the first time since 2001 after scoring 31 points in the first half, which was the franchise’s most through two quarters in a road game since Dec. 7, 1986. Dan Marino threw three first-half touchdown passes that day as the Dolphins built a 31-10 lead, and they held on to defeat the Saints, 31-27. Tyreek Hill became the first Miami receiver with multiple touchdown catches of at least 60 yards in a game since Paul Warfield had scoring grabs of 12, 86 and 60 yards in a win over the Steelers on Nov. 14, 1971. Hill finished with five catches for 157 yards, 152 of which came in the Dolphins’ dominating first half.
Hail: Choreographed celebrations
One of these years, the Commanders will be the team having fun in the end zone. For the second straight week, Washington’s opponent punctuated a touchdown with an elaborate celebration. After his 78-yard touchdown catch on Miami’s first possession, Hill took a seat on the FedEx Field turf and raised his right hand. Teammates Braxton Berrios, Raheem Mostert, Cedrick Wilson and River Cracraft sat in a row behind him, right hands in the air, before Miami offensive lineman Robert Hunt made his way down the line and forcefully lowered each of their arms as an amusement-park ride operator would a safety bar. Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle then proceeded to direct a thrilling roller-coaster ride.
It was understandable when Rivera opted to punt rather than go for it after Howell threw incomplete on third and eight from the Miami 45-yard line on the first drive of the game. It was laughable when Rivera opted to try a 53-yard field goal rather than go for it when the Commanders, who were trailing by 23 points, faced fourth and eight from the Miami 35 early in the fourth quarter. Tress Way did well to handle Camaron Cheeseman’s high snap, but Joey Slye pushed the ensuing kick, which would have made a three-score game a — let me check the numbers — three-score game, wide right.
The Commanders claim they have sold out every home game this season. That’s great. On a misty Sunday, the team could thank everyone who showed up in teal and orange. “As we were warming up and as we came out, on our sideline there was just a lot of Dolphins fans. I can’t remember an away game where we’ve had that much support, that much love from our fans,” Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said after throwing for 280 yards and two touchdowns in three quarters of work. “None of that goes unnoticed, and we really appreciate that as players.”
Commanders wide receiver Terry McLaurin was held without a catch for only the second time in his five-year career, which is concerning. McLaurin, who had 77 catches in each of the previous two seasons, is on pace for 78 grabs but only 908 receiving yards this season, which would be the fewest of his career. “Nah, I ran a lot of cardio,” McLaurin, who was targeted three times Sunday, said when asked if he was frustrated about his lack of involvement in the offense. “It happens. It comes with it when it’s tough. Yeah, it’s frustrating, but I’m going to keep coming in and practicing and playing hard.”