It was a simple scenario for the Washington Football Team to advance into the postseason – win or go home in their showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles on Jan. 3.
And in a back-and-forth contest with momentum swings galore, Washington slipped past the Eagles, 20-14, and became just the third team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a record below .500 (excluding the 1982 strike season).
With their top signal-caller back, Alex Smith, back in the lineup for the first time since being injured Dec. 13, the team got off to a fast start, scoring on the opening drive for the first time all season – capped with a toss from Smith to wide receiver Terry McLaurin from 5 yards out.
“It was tough being at home last week,” said McLaurin about coming back from injury after being in a walking boot. “My focus was just trying to be out here; I didn’t really care about catches or yards. I just wanted to be out here for my guys, all that we’ve been through this year, all of the ups and downs, it was for this moment right here. It wasn’t pretty, but we came out on the other side, and we’re champions.”
Washington Football Team safety Kamren Curl kept the party going after intercepting a pass from Jalen Hurts intended for Zach Ertz on the ensuing drive. Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins then eventually booted a 42-yard field goal to take a double-digit lead, 10-0.
“Coach [Ron] Rivera teaches us how to win,” Curl said. “We try to win every week; that’s how we came into the season. It was hard, it was a long season, but we kept our faith. For the whole season, we were always in the race . . . we stayed in the race and we finished it off.”
As the first half ended, Washington held a narrow 17 – 14 lead.
Both teams grappled to gain any form of momentum in the second half, which resulted in Smith throwing two interceptions. Hurts struggled as well (7-20, 72 yards, 1 interception) and benched for former Washington quarterback Nate Sudfeld after failing to convert on fourth down in the waning seconds of the scoreless third quarter.
Sudfeld did not fare any better, as he threw an interception on his second pass attempt at the start of the fourth quarter to Washington defensive back Jeremy Reaves.
Though Smith gave Philadelphia life by throwing another interception on the ensuing drive, the Eagles gave possession away just as quickly as they received it when Sudfeld fumbled and rookie phenom defensive end Chase Young scooped it up.
Four plays later, Hopkins nailed a 42-yard field goal to seal the Eagles’ fate, securing Washington’s first time in the playoffs in five years.
Final score: Washington 20 – Eagles 14. Next Up: Celebrated QB Tom Brady
The Washington Football Team (7-9) enters the postseason backed by one of the league’s best defensive units. Heading into Saturday night’s (Jan. 10) matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5), the Burgundy and Gold have only allowed 20 points or fewer in seven straight games (longest active streak in NFL).
“When we were 1-5, we could’ve stopped, and I feel like that is a testimony to the brotherhood, said Young looking ahead. “It feels good. Everything that we have been through this season with my team, it’s just a brotherhood . . . our love for one another, but we’re not done. It’s go time, it’s that time.”
Since Smith has been the starter in Washington, the Burgundy and Gold are 5-1, but only boast a record of 2-8 with all other quarterbacks under center this season.
“I think it speaks way more to the [team] character we have, [with] everything stacked against us,” Smith said. “For us to kinda getting off to the slow start that did to find a way to battle back and finish it off like this, I think says a lot about the character that we have in the locker room.”
Tampa Bay is hot coming into the wild card playoff game, winning four consecutive contests, including a 44-27 drubbing of the Atlanta Falcons on Jan. 3.
Led by future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, the Tampa Bay offense has been hitting on all cylinders, and the former six-time Super Bowl Champion has thrown for 4,633 yards, 40 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
However, Tampa Bay’s defense will have to try and contain McLaurin, who recently joined Gary Clark as the only players in Washington history with more than 2,000 receiving yards over their first two seasons.