The Washington Commanders went from seventh place in the NFC to getting eliminated from playoff contention after they dropped the ball against the underachieving Cleveland Browns, 24-10, in Week 17 of the 2022 NFL season. Just a few weeks ago, the Commanders carried a 7-5-1 record and needed at least one win to further secure their playoff positioning. Instead, they just absorbed their third straight loss, and it (along with the Packers’ win over the Vikings) was enough to kick them out of the playoff race. The Commanders fell to 7-8-1 and dead last in the NFC East. Here we’ll discuss the four Commanders most to blame for their Week 17 loss vs. the Browns.
The Commanders had more than enough opportunities to secure a playoff spot over the past month. However, they were unsuccessful. They have now gone 0-3-1 in their last four games. The team has had a tumultuous season, with inconsistent play from the quarterbacks, defense, and a subpar record.
In Week 17 against the Browns, Washington had a strong first half. They even led, 7-3, at halftime. However, they struggled in the second half on both offense and defense. The Commanders were missing several key players on defense, including Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jonathan Allen. Still, this does not excuse their poor performance on offense.
In this game, the team started Carson Wentz after benching Taylor Heinicke in the fourth quarter of the previous match. However, this decision backfired as Wentz threw two interceptions in the first quarter alone. Despite a 21-play touchdown drive at the end of the second quarter that gave them the lead at halftime, the team was outscored 21-3 in the second half. This was just a continuation of their recent trend of poor performances.
For now, let us look at the four Commanders most to blame for their Week 17 loss vs. the Browns.
4. Commanders Secondary
Without Benjamin St-Juste and Kam Curl, Washington’s secondary was unable to stop Browns WR Amari Cooper. The latter had over 100 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s game.
A significant turning point in this game occurred in the third quarter when Watson passed the ball to Cooper near the sideline. The play should have been routine, but Commanders CB Kendall Fuller missed the tackle. It allowed Cooper to easily score a 46-yard touchdown. This gave the Browns a 10-7 lead, and they maintained control for the remainder of the game.
3. Commanders Linemen
Both Washington’s offensive and defensive linemen must be held accountable for their performance here. On defense, Efe Obada demonstrated a lack of awareness on two potential sacks. He just allowed Deshaun Watson to escape. It was a poor effort from the veteran defensive end.
Center Wes Schweitzer also played poorly. He had several low snaps and was responsible for a sack and multiple pressures. Yes, Schweitzer is not a natural center, but that’s not much of an excuse. Meanwhile, left tackle Charles Leno also struggled in pass protection. He gave up a team-high of four pressures and a sack.
2. QB Carson Wentz
As bad as the pass protection was, tough, Washington QB Carson Wentz could not really do much even if he did get the football.
He had a poor performance in the game, completing 16-of-28 passes for 143 yards and throwing three interceptions. All of his interceptions were the result of poor throws or decisions. Wentz just seemed uncomfortable, even when he had time in the pocket. Wentz’s performance was lacking in accuracy, athleticism, and decision-making. He held the ball too long and looked intimidated by the game. He just played absolutely terribly and should not start for Washington again.
His teammates, including Taylor Heinicke and Chase Young, attempted to encourage him, but it did not improve his performance. The team’s decision to start Wentz, who had not started since Week 6, plainly did not pay off. Although he managed a one-yard touchdown rush just before halftime, he only had an average of 5.1 yards per attempt and made numerous mistakes.
1. Coach Ron Rivera
Heinicke was benched in favor of Wentz by head coach Ron Rivera. When it became evident that the offense was stagnating with Wentz on Sunday, Rivera still decided to continue with him. Needless to say, it was a difficult day for Rivera. To illustrate, in a bizarre post-game moment, it also looked as if Rivera was unaware that a loss could result in Washington being eliminated from playoff contention.
Ron Rivera had no idea that they could be eliminated from playoff contention tonight with a Packers win.pic.twitter.com/5eLov5Emxm
— Scott Abraham (@Scott7news) January 1, 2023
His decision to start Wentz just backfired. Of course, it is uncertain if Heinicke would have led the team to a win if he had played. However, it is certain that the Commanders would have been more competitive. While the defense kept the team in the game during the first half, everything fell apart in the second half. Additionally, a three-point deficit with Wentz felt much larger.
The reality is that Rivera wanted to see more from Wentz before making a decision on him in the offseason. Still, he had multiple opportunities to turn back to Heinicke and just chose not to. It is unlikely that Rivera will admit that starting Wentz was a mistake, but it clearly was.
Wentz is done in Washington, that’s for sure. As for coach Rivera, well, let’s see.