A look at the good (Hail!) and bad (Fail!) from the Washington Commanders’ 28-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
Hail: Backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett
Brissett shined in relief of Sam Howell, who was benched by Coach Ron Rivera after throwing his league-leading 15th interception to cap an ugly afternoon early in the fourth quarter. Rivera explained the move by saying he was “just trying to take care of” Howell, and he added that the second-year pro will remain Washington’s starter for next week’s game at the New York Jets. That’s the smart decision in a lost season, despite how much better the offense looked with Brissett under center than it did for the first three quarters of Sunday’s game.
Brissett, who hadn’t attempted a pass all season, immediately led a five-play, 67-yard touchdown drive that he capped with a 29-yard strike to Terry McLaurin. After the Commanders’ defense forced a rare three-and-out, Brissett led a second scoring march, and his three-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-down play after the two-minute warning pulled Washington within a score. The Commanders’ comeback bid came up short, but Brissett finished 8 for 10 for 124 yards.
Fail: Goal-line execution and clock management
There were 4 minutes 47 seconds remaining after Brissett’s 49-yard completion to McLaurin gave Washington, which still trailed 28-14, first and goal at the Rams’ 1-yard line. The Commanders were stopped for no gain on consecutive running plays while demonstrating little sense of urgency. (Perhaps they are more interested in improving their draft position than winning any more games.) An offensive pass interference penalty on tight end Logan Thomas negated a touchdown on the ensuing snap and forced Washington to burn even more time off the clock. It wasn’t until the third play after the two-minute warning that Brissett found Curtis Samuel for a touchdown. Despite having all three timeouts remaining, the Commanders attempted an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, which failed.
One week after being held without a catch for only the second time in his career, McLaurin had six catches for a career-high 141 yards. He also found the end zone for the third time this season and for the first time since Week 8. McLaurin caught three passes for 93 yards after Brissett entered the game. He nearly made an incredible one-handed catch on a deep ball from Howell in the third quarter, but the officials, who missed a blatant defensive pass interference penalty on the play, ruled McLaurin didn’t have control as he hit the ground.
Fail: Leaving Cooper Kupp wide open
Two weeks ago, Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill ran right past Washington rookie safety Quan Martin on a 78-yard touchdown catch. On Sunday, Rams star wideout Cooper Kupp got similarly wide open against the Commanders’ perpetually confused secondary before stretching to pull in a 62-yard touchdown catch on Los Angeles’s second play of the second half. “I made that one a little tougher than it needed to be,” said Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, who, perhaps stunned not to see a defender within 15 yards of Kupp, nearly overthrew his best receiver. Kupp finished with eight catches for 111 yards.
Washington’s defense, which had failed to force a turnover during the team’s four-game losing streak coming into Sunday’s game, had two takeaways in the first half against Los Angeles. They both came courtesy of fumbles by second-year running back Kyren Williams, who overcame his ball security issues to finish with 27 carries for 152 yards and a touchdown. Percy Butler and Benjamin St-Juste forced the fumbles, and Kendall Fuller and Kam Curl made the recoveries. The Commanders failed to turn either takeaway into points and have lost three straight games this season when winning the turnover battle.
Washington was fortunate to be down only 13-0 at halftime — it was thoroughly outplayed through two quarters. The Rams converted 7 of 9 third-down opportunities in the first half and 9 of 16 in the game. The Commanders were 1 for 7 on third down in the first half and went three-and-out on three of their first five possessions. Los Angeles finished with 445 yards, the third-highest total allowed by Washington this season, and possessed the ball for nearly 36 minutes.
Hail: Fourth-down aggressiveness
As underdogs with nothing (except valuable draft position) to lose, the Commanders were more aggressive than usual on fourth down. For only the second time in Rivera’s four years at the helm, they had at least five fourth-down attempts. They converted three of them. On its second drive, Washington converted fourth and two at the Rams’ 45 after Howell stepped up in the pocket and found McLaurin for a 24-yard gain. Four plays later, Rivera passed up a short field goal attempt to go for it on fourth and short from the Rams’ 12, but Howell’s pass was batted down behind the line of scrimmage. Rivera didn’t completely let loose; trailing 20-0, the Commanders punted on fourth and five from the Los Angeles 44 early in the second half.
Long snappers are fond of saying that their job is to remain anonymous, because when their name is mentioned, it’s most often because they screwed up. Every Washington fan knows long snapper Camaron Cheeseman’s name, and not only because it’s sort of fun to say. Cheeseman, who has struggled with his accuracy since training camp, had three more bad snaps Sunday, including a dribbler on a punt that nearly got punter Tress Way killed in the second quarter.
“That’s not good enough, and we’re going to evaluate that,” Rivera said afterward.
“I mean, I’ve been worried all year,” Cheeseman said when asked if he was concerned about the Commanders potentially making a change at his position. “I haven’t been performing the way I’ve been wanting to. Most places, I probably wouldn’t be around still.”