PHILADELPHIA — Taylor Heinecke says he’s not paying attention. Carson Wentz said he doesn’t think much of what could be his final start for Monday night if he returns to the active roster with a broken finger.
At the time, perhaps his comments felt like normal football talk – say the right thing, no matter how obvious, and hope and pray the result comes somewhere close. In hindsight, the quarterback’s prospect — and his play — was smart, and Monday’s game may have cemented Wentz’s chance to remain Washington’s starter regardless of his health.
Relying heavily on the run game and playing effectively on third down, Heinecke’s Chiefs did something no other team had this season: upset the Philadelphia Eagles. 32-21 – On their home turf, no less.
Calling it “the biggest win of my career,” Hennicki finished 17-for-29 for 211 yards, no touchdowns and an interception for a 66.9 passer rating. Philadelphia’s Jalen Harts went 17 for 26 for 175 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for a 94.2 rating.
For the first time this season, the Chiefs’ offense looked consistent and methodical, posting four scoring drives in the first half, three of which spanned 13, 12 and 16 plays. Washington (5-5) scored 13 points in the second quarter, holding the Eagles scoreless, for its own success; Philadelphia (8-1) entered the game shooting nearly 60 percent in the second quarter and was yet to be shut out.
“We’ve found that one of the best ways to hurt Jalen is to keep him off the field,” Commander coach Ron Rivera said.
The dominance of the first half did not end there. Washington outgained Philadelphia 235 yards to 101, converted 75 percent of its third downs (9 of 12) and ran 51 plays to the Eagles’ 19. It was the largest in franchise history, and it built a 20-14 lead with a 58-yard field goal (the longest of Joey Slay’s career) and prompted a frenzy from Eagles fans.
For the game, Washington ran 81 plays for 330 yards, including 152 on the ground, and converted 57 percent of third downs (12 for 21). It was something that no one expected and more.
“In a situation like this, I’ve always thought we have the type of guys that can do things in that locker room, and we’re starting to see it come together,” Rivera said. After the locker room.
Two weeks ago, his mother, Delores, died after a battle with lung cancer. In the midst of the organization’s off-field drama, Rivera emphasized to the team The importance of maintaining focus.
During the week, he told the players to hold on to non-essentials. After the game, he fought back tears as he told the players his mother would be “proud.”
“It means a lot because people can focus on what’s important,” he said. “… the hard work is starting to pay off.”
After a decisive first half, the Commanders opened the second and forced a three-and-out to embark on another long drive, one that lasted 14 plays and lasted more than eight minutes, before Slee hit a 32-yard field goal to extend Washington’s lead to 23-14.
The Chiefs have not only challenged their own play over the past two-plus seasons under Rivera – they’ve shown the control and attention to detail that has been lacking in most critical situations. With Hennick at the helm, Washington plays on the edge, especially one away from destruction or glory.
Last week against Minnesota, a deep pass over the middle was intercepted and cost the Commanders dearly. At the end of their three-game winning streak. This week, the key plays were the difference makers.
In the second quarter, center Tyler Larson sent an instant on Heincke’s head, but the quarterback retreated, recovered and threw it out of bounds – past the line of scrimmage – instead of a significant chunk of yardage or worse, it cost Washington only one down.
Then on fourth down, on Washington’s final drive, Heinecke knelt away from a tackle on third down and drew an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Eagles’ Brandon Graham when Graham stepped into him.
“That last game, we called for Terry’s slant [McLaurin]and if he’s open, give it to him, and if not, it was one of those things called take the sack,” Heinecke said. “I’m not going to throw it unless he’s wide open. When I got that knee and I saw them coming to me, I was hoping they were going to come to me and, sure enough, they did. It was a mistake on their end, but hey, we get along.
The Eagles’ mistakes exposed Heinecke’s development.
“It’s very, very much,” Rivera said. “It’s one of the things they learn to take what they’re given.”
Throughout Monday’s game, the Chiefs were mostly healthy and struggled to make up for their mistakes. They committed early to the run and stuck with it (Bryan Robinson Jr. finished with 86 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries), opening up chunk plays in the passing game. They moved the ball, ate up the clock, converted crucial third downs and mostly got out of their own way.
But the first two minutes of the game signaled the start of another first-half disaster. Armani Rodgers was flagged for holding the opening kickoff, resulting in a 33-yard loss on Antonio Gibson’s long return. Washington then went three-and-out; Hennicke was ejected after Washington’s punt return. Philadelphia needed just three plays to get the ball in the end zone on a one-yard run by Harts.
The Chiefs sandwiched 10 running plays around two big passes on their first long drive — a 26-yarder by McLaurin on third-and-two and a 14-yarder by Jahan Dotson on second-and-11. Gibson capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.
This disaster was completely different from what Washington had seen weeks before.
A few errors follow. Cornerback Benjamin Saint-Juste was called for pass interference on a deep pass by Hurts, and while the call looked questionable, it resulted in another Eagles score, this time a six-yard pass to tight end Dallas Goedert to give Philadelphia a 14-7 lead.
Washington was then flagged for a delay on a fourth-and-one play, prompting offensive coordinator Scott Turner to throw his hands into the booth and the offense to settle for a 44-yard Slye field goal.
But after an interception by safety Darrick Forrest and two more Washington scores before the half ended — one yard by Robinson and that 58-yard field goal by Sly — the Chiefs had a 20-14 halftime lead. It was the first time in two years that Washington scored at least 20 points in the opening half.
After Javon Hargrab’s third-quarter sack of Heinecke at the Philadelphia 14-yard line, the Eagles seemed to be back. The takedown forced a 32-yard field goal that extended Washington’s lead to nine. Philadelphia responded with a long 11-yard touchdown pass to Devonta Smith to make it 23-21, using 11 plays.
Change wasn’t in Washington’s plan, but given the circumstances, it wasn’t a serious mistake. It was third-and-three at the Philadelphia 43 when Heinecke threw a missile to McClarin on the left sideline, hanging in the air long enough for safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson to catch him.
Heinecke previously said he planned to give the star receiver that shot if he had a 50-50 chance with McClarin, and his decision to do so despite the poor results seems smart. If the throw had been a little farther, the Chiefs would have been steps from the goal line. Instead, he was elected, a change that ultimately had little consequence.
“He’s been great since he got here — honestly,” McLaurin said. “…He really plays every play like it’s his last. He plays without fear, man.
On the next possession, defensive end John Ridgeway forced the ball on a short pass to Goedert, which was recovered by linebacker Jamin Davis and returned for a fumble. The score was overturned on review — but the turnover stood, setting up another chance for Washington to extend its lead. Slay had the game of his career with a 55-yard field goal with 7:33 left to make it 26-21 for Washington.
But no Chiefs game, especially one with Heinecke at quarterback, is complete without theatrics. This time it came courtesy of the defense.
Harts launched a 50-yard pass to Quetz Watkins, who stumbled downfield, got back up and lost control of the ball as Saint-Just beat him. Forrest recovered the fumble to cap off what would have been a game-winning drive.
“We came into this game knowing that no one believed in us,” Forrest said. “…we are ready to fight.
In the final minutes of his team’s victory, Dotson was marked by an offensive pass interference, 21 yards to Curtis Samuel on third down. But after the play, defensive end Montez Lab thwarted another Philadelphia drive with a sack on third down.
Then Hennicke stuck to the plan: convert on third down, keep the drive.
With McClarin tightly covered on third-and-seven, Hennicke took a knee and fumbled before drawing a penalty on Graham, giving the Chiefs another set of downs and a chance to bleed the clock.
When Philadelphia finally got the ball back, Casey Tohill recovered a fumbled desperation fumble for a touchdown on the game’s final play, allowing Washington to seal the win and Henick to go to the dugout in celebration.
“We felt that if we could control the line and run the ball, we could slow things down, and that’s what we were able to do,” Rivera said before closing in on him. “I mean, the dude’s a dynamic quarterback and he’s done a lot of work — and Jalen’s not a bad guy.”