LANDOVER, Md. — Just two yards stood between the Washington Commanders and their second victory of the season.
Down four points late in the fourth quarter, Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz orchestrated an impressive drive down the field that, following a pass interference call, had Washington set up first-and-goal from the Tennessee Titans’ two-yard line with just 18 seconds left. to play.
Washington, out of timeouts, opted to run three straight pass plays. The first pass was incomplete out of the back of the end zone, with Titans cornerback Christian Fulton nearly hauling in the football. On second down, a Wentz fastball intended for running back JD McKissic in between two Tennessee defenders fell incomplete.
Then on third down with just seconds remaining, Wentz opted to look McKissic’s way once again. An initial opening closed up instantly — Titans linebacker David Long read the design perfectly and leapt in front of Wentz’s pass for the game-sealing interception. Titans 21, Commanders 17.
“The guy made a heck of a play,” Wentz said postgame. “At least from my vantage point, it looked like he was covering Terry [McLaurin] a little bit on the crossing route. I just tried to squeeze it in there to JD … I thought we had six points when it left my hand. The result, that was unfortunate.”
Commanders head coach Ron Rivera agreed with Wentz that the interception was more due to a great play from Long, rather than an errant throw from his quarterback.
“I think [Wentz] was looking at a wide-open JD until the linebacker — who prepared it perfectly and made a hell of a play — made a play,” Rivera said.
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From Long’s perspective, his interception had to do with Tennessee specifically emphasizing red zone defense during practice this week. When the opportunity for him to make a play arose, he did just that.
“I was prepared for the play,” Long said. “The thing is we never panic. They made some plays. We never panic. … This is what you dream of. Don’t panic. Somebody made a play, and we walk off the field. It just ended up being me , but it’s a team effort.”
Wentz’s interception was crushing, of course, due to the simple fact that it sealed Washington’s fourth-straight loss. But the play was also so demoralizing for the home sideline because Scott Turner’s offense had put together such an impressive final drive before that final pass.
The Commanders took over the football with just over four minutes remaining at their own 13-yard line. Early on in the drive, Washington converted on a fourth-and-1 from their own 20-yard line. After moving the ball downfield effectively, Washington was faced with another tough sequence: third-and-5 from the Titans’ 24. On that play, Wentz found Curtis Samuel to keep the drive, and Washington’s comeback hopes alive.
Washington’s final drive had all the makings for a storybook ending. Tennessee’s defense had a different last chapter in mind.
“We’ve got to find a way to get that in the end zone,” McLaurin said. “It was a great job executing the two-minute drive to get it down there in scoring position. But if you don’t get it in, it’s really for [nothing]. That sums it up as an offense; we have to find a way to get the ball in the end zone to win the game. That’s all you can ask for in that situation and we fell short. We definitely have to do a better job of finishing that drive.”
Wentz offered a similar perspective as his star receiver.
“Obviously a bit of an emotional rollercoaster there,” he said. “You’re feeling very confident in your ability to go down and you’re moving the ball, converting, staying on the field. You get first-and-goal from the two and you’re thinking ‘we got this, we’ ve got a couple chances here.’ Hats off to them, they made a couple of good plays. It’s definitely frustrating and it stings a little bit extra just because I thought we had it there.”
Wentz’s final pass puts a big damper on what was a much better overall performance from the quarterback. Washington entered Sunday down three starters on the offensive line. The Commanders’ rushing attack was virtually non-existent. Yet, Wentz still managed to throw for 359 yards and two touchdowns. And, before the interception, Wentz had to turn the football over.
Yet, none of that truly matters big picture. The Commanders are now 1-4 and firmly in the basement of the NFC East — a minimum of three games back of first place, pending Philadelphia’s result in Arizona. With a short week upcoming and the Chicago Bears next up, Week 6 is almost certainly a “must-win” game.
“Win. Win,” McLaurin said when asked how much has changed. “It’s easier said than done. But we’ve just got to find a way to finish games, finish drives, play more complementary football and not shoot ourselves in the foot with negative plays, penalties, stuff like that. That’s not going to help you win games.”