- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 17, 2021

LANDOVER — As a tribute to Sean Taylor, Chase Young decided to tape his face mask just like the late safety once did.

But standing at a lectern Sunday, fresh off a 31-13 defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Washington defensive end was in little mood to talk about that, Taylor’s jersey retirement or anything else for that matter, really.

Young was in the process of digesting another loss. A winnable game, at that.

“This is the time where we’ve got to be men,” Young said. “We’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror, and you know, gut check. Gut-check time.”

Washington, after all, now sits at 2-4 in 2021. That’s more than a quarter of the season — a season in which the Burgundy and Gold aimed to prove they could belong with the NFL’s elite.

Instead, coach Ron Rivera spent portions of his post-game press conference talking about how his team failed to handle adversity. That was a new one for the coach who has openly questioned players’ “maturity” and whether they would be able to respond to the success of last year’s playoff berth.

Against the Chiefs, Washington crumbled in the second half. Its kicker, Dustin Hopkins, sailed a 42-yard attempt wide, wide left. Its defense, which gave up 21 points in the final two quarters, committed back-to-back offsides penalties that helped Kansas City retake the lead. And as a whole, Washington couldn’t keep pace with quarterback Patrick Mahomes (397 passing yards) — whose two touchdowns came after halftime.

“It was a little bit of a snowball effect,” Rivera said. “One bad thing led to another.”

Emotions were already running high before Sunday’s loss — and not just for the team’s coaches and players.

Days earlier, Washington’s fans reacted in anger over the team’s sudden announcement that it would retire Taylor’s No. 21 jersey during alumni weekend on just a few days’ notice.  The outburst was so severe that the team issued multiple apologies, one through a team spokesperson and the other through team president Jason Wright.

Those apologies came amid renewed calls for the NFL to release a full report from the investigation into Washington’s workplace after former Las Vegas coach Jon Gruden’s leaked emails came to light. Gruden resigned over the matter, but the team insisted Taylor’s retirement celebration had been in the works for months.

The ceremony, if intended to fill the stadium, came up short. Paid attendance was listed at 51,322 — slightly above the season average, but below the team’s home opener on Sept. 12.

Another loss is will only add to the difficulty the franchise has had in getting fans back into the building.

Kansas City was a 2-3 team that appeared to be vulnerable heading into FedEx Field.

Over the first five games, Mahomes had hardly performed at his usual MVP level — matching last year’s interceptions total with six. Defenses had found success by utilizing two-high safety looks and relying on zone coverage to slow down Mahomes.

Washington tried the same blueprint early on. And for a half, Mahomes again looked flummoxed. Washington’s defense forced three turnovers — picking off the quarterback twice (each time in the red zone) and also forced a fumble on wide receiver Mecole Hardman.  

After the fumble, poked out by linebacker Cole Holcomb, Washington’s offense actually seized a 13-10 lead with an eight-play, 67-yard drive.

Quarterback Taylor Heinicke pounced on a busted coverage in the Chiefs’ secondary — hitting a wide-open Ricky-Seals Jones for the 39-yard strike. The score was Washington’s lone touchdown of the day.

But against a team like the Chiefs, one touchdown isn’t enough. And in the second half, Mahomes returned to form. The pressure that there from the defensive line before halftime? Disappeared. The sound coverage from the secondary? Gone.

During that span, Mahomes completed 19 of 24 passes for 175 yards. He routinely torched Washington by keeping plays alive with his legs and finding the open receiver.

“It’s tough, but that’s football,” cornerback Kendall Fuller said. “Quarterbacks make plays. They get out of the pocket. And as (defensive backs) … you’ve got to stay with your guy and be able to make the play.”

Self-inflicted mistakes didn’t help. Hopkins’ missed kick in the third quarter would have given Washington a 16-10 lead. Then on the following go-ahead Chiefs drive, edge rusher Montez Sweat jumped offsides on third-and-10 — wiping out a play that ended in an incompletion.

With Kansas City not forced to kick, Mahomes found wide receiver Tyreek Hill on a 13-yard gain that moved the Chiefs to the 7-yard line.

Not that it mattered. Just before the snap, Young jumped offsides — which would have been an automatic Chiefs first down, if not declined.

Heinicke and the offense couldn’t provide a spark. The 28-year-old quarterback mustered just 182 yards, only 50 of which were in the second half.

“There’s a lot of guys (ticked) off, rightfully so,” Heinicke said. “Hopefully we can just use that fuel for this week and get ready for Green Bay.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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