Commanders wear out issue-riddled Packers, win 23-21 at home
Rushing attack paves the way for Washington win
The Green Bay Packers (3-4), visited the 3-4 Washington Commanders on Oct. 23. The Packers are currently on a losing streak after a close London game against the New York Giants and a tough loss at home against the New York Jets.
The Packers are a team that sits among the elite in the NFL — they have won at least 13 games per season each of the last three years under head coach Matt LaFleur. In recent years, they have been led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who won the award for Most Valuable Player in the NFL for the past two seasons. His throwing of the ball to star wide receiver Davante Adams, a strong run game led by running back Aaron Jones and a sturdy defense carried this team to much success in the regular season, but they were never able to translate it into postseason success.
In the 2019 postseason, the Packers fell to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, where they were outclassed in Santa Clara. They lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the following season in the NFC Championship Game.
They lost to the 49ers again in the Divisional Round last season, exiting the playoffs early due to a few key mistakes on special teams. After that, some core pieces of the team left. Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett took a head coaching gig for the Denver Broncos, Adams forced his way out to the Las Vegas Raiders and the luxuries that the Packers once had disappeared.
Coming into this game, the Commanders were dealing with some issues of their own. Their starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, was placed on injured reserve late Saturday night, as he is rehabbing from a surgery he had done this past weekend on his right ring finger. He sustained an injury to that finger during the Commanders’ game with the Bears on Oct. 13.
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke started the game for the Commanders, being backed up by rookie Sam Howell. The Commanders were also missing multiple key players from both sides of the ball, including rookie wide receiver Jahan Dotson, tight end Logan Thomas, cornerback William Jackson III and defensive end Chase Young, who is designated for a return from an injury suffered last season soon.
This was not a pretty game of football. At the start of the game, the Packers got the ball first and got a quick first down before punting it away after a 3-and-out on the new set of downs. Green Bay punter Pat O’Donnell punted 55 yards to Washington’s 3-yard line, the offense taking over with Heinicke in his own end zone. LaFleur challenged a pass to Commanders wide receiver Curtis Samuel that was fumbled out of bounds, and the call was overturned to be an incomplete pass.
Washington punter Tress Way kicked the ball away to Washington’s 42-yard line after a holding penalty. The Packers then drove down the field, scoring a quick touchdown on a Rodgers pass to Jones. The possession back to Washington, they quickly went 3-and-out, but a muffed punt by Packers punt returner Amari Rodgers had the Commanders deep in Green Bay territory. After six plays and another 14 yards, Washington was held to a field goal. A quick possession from the Packers, and Washington had the ball back on their own 36. The clock stopped, this was the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter started off with a couple of short plays from Heinicke and running back Brian Robinson Jr. Then, on third-and-5, Heinicke dropped back and threw to running back JD McKissic, but Packers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell intercepted the pass and returned it to the end zone for a Packers touchdown. The score was 14-3 with the Packers leading, 13:29 left in the half. The Commanders answered back quickly, taking the kickoff and driving down the field, scoring a touchdown from a Heinicke pass to running back Antonio Gibson.
The Packers were knocked deep with the kickoff, and took two penalties and a loss of yards from Jones to punt on a fourth-and-25. The Commanders, with a short field after that punt, drove down but were stopped and held to a field goal attempt, which Commanders kicker Joey Slye missed, and the Packers took over. Both teams were unable to get anything going within the last three minutes of this half, which had six penalties, three possessions and no points scored. The Packers ended the half with a run from running back AJ Dillon.
During halftime, the Commanders celebrated the 90th Anniversary of their organization, bringing together players from the three Super Bowl teams the organization had. A small ceremony was held and the heritage of the organization was lauded. However, during the first half and throughout this segment of the game, multiple groups of fans around the stadium were chanting “sell the team,” something many fans and big names around the NFL have been calling for Commanders owner Daniel Snyder to do for a long time now.
This discontent stems from two main points of contention amongst fans, the first being the teams continued shortcomings and failures on the field in past years: the team having not ended the season with a winning record since 2016. The second reason comes from a set of allegations as to an unsafe workplace, as well as allegations against Snyder of sexual assault in 2009.
The third quarter kicked off, with Washington receiving. They drove straight down the field, and Heinicke struck wide receiver Terry McLaurin with a 38-yard pass for a touchdown. With 11:49 left in the third quarter as the Commanders took their first lead of the day, 17-14. After a short possession from Green Bay, the Commanders got the ball back. After a challenge for a fumble was overturned to be an incomplete pass, the Commanders continued driving and scored a field goal. They led 20-14 with eight seconds left in the third quarter. After the kickoff, the Packers let the clock run, ending the third quarter.
The fourth quarter began as the Packers drove down the field, Rodgers completing passes to Dillon, Jones and Amari Rodgers for some field position, but an illegal formation penalty and a fumble out of bounds for Romeo Doubs on fourth down allowed the Commanders to take over. During that last drive, Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard was ruled questionable to return with a shoulder injury. The Commanders drove down the field and kicked a field goal, putting them up 23-14 with 6:40 left to play. The Packers quickly rushed down the field after receiving the kickoff and Rodgers connected with Jones for a touchdown. Washington still led 23-21 with 3:26 left on the clock, with both teams holding all three of their timeouts.
Washington received and ran the clock. The Packers used all three of their timeouts in hopes their offense would have enough time to win the game. Washington was forced to punt after Heinicke took a sack. The Packers got it and Rodgers made a 28 yard pass to wide receiver Sammy Watkins, but Watkins stayed in bounds. The clock ran and the Packers were forced to rush to the line and clock the ball on their own 46-yard line. With five seconds left on the clock, the Packers had two choices: they either try a 77-yard field goal (the NFL record is held by Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, who booted a 66-yarder to win against the Lions last season), or go for a Hail Mary or some other trick play as time expires to get the yards for a touchdown. The final play that Green Bay ran was crazy, the crowd that consisted of a likely majority of Packers fans exploding at every completed pass.
Here’s how it happened: Rodgers took the snap, and passed it short, up the middle to tight end Robert Tonyan for 21 yards. Tonyan then tossed a lateral to Amari Rodgers, fumbled, and the ball was recovered by offensive tackle Zach Tom, who then tossed the ball to wide receiver Samori Toure who ran for about 11 yards, then tossed a lateral back to Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers then was hit and fumbled out of bounds as the time expired. There was an illegal blindside block called on the play, but Washington declined the penalty, and the game ended.
The Commanders improved to 3-4 with this win, as the Packers fell to the same record. Washington’s win can be placed on multiple things, most prevalently their use of run plays over passing plays and their time of possession difference. The Packers’ defense was on the field for a lot longer than their offense was, with about a 14 minute difference between the two. The Commanders ran the ball 38 times in this game, as opposed to the Packers’ 12 attempts. Additionally, the Commanders’ defense did not allow the Packers to convert a third down the entire game, ending most of their drives prematurely. (More stats from the game can be found here.)
Commanders head coach Ron Rivera held a press conference Monday morning where he fielded questions about the previous day’s game. He said specifically that he was impressed by the special teams unit making plays, namely the muffed punt recovery early on, and that the split of carries between Gibson, Robinson and McKissic was what he had envisioned for this team’s run offense.
“I think this team still has potential to grow, the only way they can learn is through experience,” Rivera said about the team’s growth this season.
With a growing team like this, being able to win a mostly sound game of football against a well-revered team is more than most can ask for. The Commanders came into this game with a plan and executed on it. The plan was simple: run the football and tire out the Packers’ defense.
The Commanders (4-4) defeated the Indianapolis Colts (3-4-1) on Oct. 30 with a score of 17-16 after a touchdown run from Heinicke with 22 seconds left to play. The Packers (3-5) fell to the Buffalo Bills (6-1) on Sunday Night Football the same day by a score of 27-17.