Commanders’ losing streak reaches four in a 21-17 loss to the Titans

With 19 seconds remaining, the Washington Commanders needed just two yards.

Two yards would give them a season-altering, come-from-behind win and could jump-start a season after a run of terrible losses.

Two yards could determine not only the near future of a team desperately in need of a resurgence but also the long-term future of the franchise as Coach Ron Rivera continues the third year of his rebuild.

But after three attempts to get the ball into the Tennessee Titans’ end zone Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field, the Commanders walked off the field much like they had in the previous three weeks: with a loss and more frustration over their sloppy play.

Carson Wentz was picked off at the 1-yard line with six seconds left, unceremoniously ending an 18-play, 87-yard march. Moments later, the Commanders fell, 21-17, for a fourth straight loss that dropped them to 1-4.

The defeat put the Commanders precariously close to the breaking point, at which the hole becomes too deep to climb out of and worries about locker-room fissures become real — no matter how early it is in the season.

Four takeaways from Sunday’s loss

Although the Commanders started faster Sunday than they had in their previous losses, that momentum wasn’t sustained, and the positive plays were trumped by glaring mistakes, be they coverage busts or penalties or simply individual failures. Washington finally converted a third-down attempt on its final drive; he finished 1 for 11.

Wentz was 25 for 38 for 359 yards, two touchdowns and that late interception for a 102.9 rating. He was sacked three times.

A team that seemingly has no shortage of ways to lose is running out of ways to explain its losses and how it’s going to fix its mistakes.

“Eventually we got to stop talking about it and actually go do it,” cornerback Kendall Fuller said.

Last week, in a 25-10 loss at the Dallas Cowboys, Washington accumulated 11 penalties for 136 yards. On Sunday, Washington had nine penalties for 71 yards. Two of them were called on center Nick Martin and right tackle Cornelius Lucas during the final drive.

Time management was a struggle again, too. Rivera challenged the ruling of an incomplete pass by Wentz on the final drive — and paid for it. On third and one, Wentz targeted Cam Sims, who dived for the ball in front of Rivera on the sideline. The officials ruled it was incomplete because he did not have full control of the ball, and after review, the call stood. Washington lost the challenge and a timeout.

Later in the drive, with 53 seconds remaining, wide receiver Curtis Samuel caught a short pass but was pushed out of bounds, so the clock kept running. Washington wasted nearly five seconds before calling a timeout.

The Commanders used their last timeout only one play later, when JD McKissic caught a nine-yard pass up the middle to put Washington at the Tennessee 24. Twenty-eight seconds remained.

“We’ll go back and look at it, and we’ll talk about what we did,” Rivera said. “It’s great to be able to second-guess. It really is.

The Commanders made it to the Tennessee 2-yard line after a deep pass intended for Terry McLaurin sailed over the wide receiver’s head as he was held by cornerback Christian Fulton in the end zone. The pass interference penalty, while warranted, was a gift for a team seeking a last-second win.

But Washington threw it away. With 19 seconds left — apparently not enough to run the ball or roll out with it — Wentz attempted three passes. He threw one into no man’s land and another that was deflected before the third, intended for McKissic, was intercepted.

“I had a chance there at the end to seal it, and I didn’t get it done myself,” Wentz said.

Wentz targeted McKissic up the middle, but linebacker David Long Jr. read the play and jumped in front to snag the pass.

“I think he was looking at a wide-open JD until the linebacker, who read it perfectly and made a hell of a play, made a play,” Rivera said.

Buckner: Five games into the Commanders’ season, the losing feels familiar — and inevitable

Frustration afterwards was palpable, perhaps because the loss came on the heels of significant changes that Rivera hoped would trickle down and benefit the team in all three phases.

Offensive coordinator Scott Turner returned to the booth after calling plays from the sideline over the first four weeks. “It’s a little calmer in the box,” Rivera said. “Probably a better situation for him to look at things looking down.”

Rivera also changed William Jackson III’s view. The experienced cornerback was benched in the first half, replaced by second-year player Benjamin St-Juste. Rivera said the move was his decision and he would review the tape to determine where they go from here.

“We just decided to make a change,” he said.

Jackson suggested that he came out because of a lingering back injury — a disc issue, he said — that he tried to play through but ultimately hindered his ability to stay on the field.

The Commanders also started Saahdiq Charles in place of Trai Turner, their right guard who, Rivera said, is still nursing a quadriceps injury. And they welcomed back rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr., whose NFL debut was delayed for four weeks because of an attempted armed robbery that left him with two gunshot wounds. He had 22 yards on nine carries.

The changes, especially at cornerback, seemed to create a needed spark, albeit a minimal one.

Joey Slye booted a 50-yard field goal to get Washington within 7-3, and defensive end Montez Sweat, who failed to get home in the first four games, recorded a pair of sacks.

Then the offense started to move. Second-year wide receiver Dyami Brown caught a 75-yard touchdown pass, the first of his career, on a play-action fake to put Washington ahead 10-7. Wentz and Brown connected again for a 30-yard, over-the-shoulder touchdown catch, putting Washington ahead again — for all of 2½ minutes late in the third quarter.

For a while there — and for the first time in weeks — Washington stopped beating itself. But problems quickly resurfaced.

Two of the Titans’ three touchdowns were set up by big plays. A 24-yard catch-and-run by Derrick Henry on a screen pass in the first quarter set up a similar play for a 13-yard touchdown by Dontrell Hilliard. Then in the third, Washington allowed a 61-yard catch by wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine that set up a one-yard touchdown run by Henry — his second of two such scores for Tennessee (3-2).

It got worse from there. In the fourth quarter, left guard Andrew Norwell had a memorable string of plays in which he was run over by defensive lineman Denico Autry, leading to a sack; was flagged for a false start on the subsequent series; and then was beaten again, by Titans linemen Jeffery Simmons and Sam Okuayinonu, for another sack.

It was only a week ago that Trai Turner, another free agent signing, was pulled because Rivera thought he didn’t appear “quite right” with a quadriceps injury. He, too, committed penalties and was the culprit on multiple sacks before Rivera determined it was a health issue.

More changes could be coming. But the one spark Washington really needs remains elusive.

“Win,” said McLaurin, who had five catches for 76 yards. “Win. It’s easier said than done, but we 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 and stuff like that.”

Visibly irritated postgame, Rivera insisted the team feels the same urgency as its fans but said there’s no panic. Not enough.

“Not for me, because there’s plenty of football left to play,” he said. “We’re going to work our butts off to get better. That’s all we can do. The only way to go is up.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.