- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 2, 2022

LANDOVER —  As soon as Rodney McLeod captured the ball underneath his hands in the end zone — picking off Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke — the Eagles safety jumped up off the ground and then raced over to leap into the stands, full of faithful Philadelphia fans wearing green and white. 

McLeod not only thwarted Washington’s possible game-winning drive, he officially ended the Burgundy and Gold’s playoff hopes. 

And on cue, an “E-A-G-L-E-S! EAGLES” chant broke out at FedEx Field. A chant that feels like a yearly tradition at this point. 

Heinicke threw a costly interception with only 30 seconds left as Washington suffered a 20-16 defeat to the Eagles in what was the Burgundy and Gold’s home finale. The Burgundy and Gold needed to win out in order to keep its slim playoff hopes alive. Instead, Washington fell to 6-10 on the season. 

The Eagles improved to 9-7, a boost for their own playoff hopes. 

The turnover marked a disappointing end to the afternoon for a Washington squad that had played much better than in recent weeks.

Coming off a beatdown in Dallas, coach Ron Rivera wanted to see how his team would respond. He hardly mentioned the playoff race — except to acknowledge that his team’s hopes were still barely alive. Instead, he publicly wondered if his players would learn from a big loss. If they didn’t, “it would be a waste of time,” he said. 

And while Rivera’s comments could be interpreted as a challenge to a defense that gave up 56 points, it was also likely a challenge to Heinicke — who completed only 38% of his passes against Dallas and struggled mightily. Rivera, too, created a mini-controversy when he said backup Kyle Allen “probably” would play in a portion of the team’s final two games. Rivera said for Allen to play, it depended on the scenario. 

Against the Eagles, Heinicke came out looking determined to not lose his job. The quarterback was precise — hitting his first 11 targets before throwing an incompletion. The completions came on a variety of throws, from slants and deep throws to play-action rollouts. 

In general, Washington’s offense was more efficient than it had been in weeks. The team went back to establishing the run early,  leaning on running back Jaret Patterson — the undrafted rookie who got the start with Antonio Gibson placed on the COVID-19 reserve list days earlier. 

Patterson scored the game’s first touchdown when he broke free outside for an 11-yard score, giving Washington a 7-0 lead.

Washington’s defense, too, was much better for much of Sunday’s game. In the first meeting between these teams two weeks ago, the Eagles ran for 238 yards. This time, Washington’s defense was ready for the run. The Eagles mustered only 3.5 yards per carry on 34 attempts — a dramatic improvement for Washington

But the Eagles found other ways to move the chains. Quarterback Jalen Hurts diced through Washington’s depleted secondary — a unit without cornerbacks William Jackson III (calf) and Darryl Roberts (COVID-19) — and was particularly effective on third down. 

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni also took an aggressive approach on fourth down that paid off. Philadelphia’s two touchdowns — both from running back Boston Scott — came on fourth and short just outside the end zone. 

Still, Washington led for most of the contest. Joey Slye helped build on Washington’s early lead, making kicks of 31, 39 and 55 yards — the latter of which was the team’s longest since Dustin Hopkins’ 56-yarder in 2018.  Washington went into halftime with a 16-7 lead. 

But ultimately, Washington settling for field goals came back to bite them. Philadelphia opened the second half with a lengthy drive that ended with a one-yard Scott touchdown and then kicker Jake Elliott drilled a 42-yarder with 11:45 left. 

Elliott later hit a 41-yarder with 2:25 left, a field goal that ended up mattering as Washington could not settle for three points on its final drive. 

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

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