Hail or Fail: Blowout loss in Ron Rivera’s final game secures No. 2 pick

A look at the good (Hail!) and bad (Fail!) from the Washington Commanders’ 38-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

New Orleans’s win over Atlanta earlier in the day meant the Commanders could secure the No. 2 pick in April’s draft with a loss to the Cowboys. For about a quarter, Washington looked like a team that was more interested in spoiling Dallas’s division title hopes than getting on with its offseason, but then the Comanders reminded everyone why they had entered the game with their longest losing streak since 2013. After an eighth consecutive loss left him 26-40-1 in four years in Washington, lame duck Coach Ron Rivera was asked whether the organization should draft a quarterback with the second pick.

“I think the organization has to do what they believe is best for the organization,” Rivera, speaking like a man who knew he would soon have no reason to care how the Commanders spent their draft capital, said. “I really, truly believe that’s what’s going to happen. They’ll make the best decision going forward.”

The Commanders fired Rivera on Monday morning.

With nothing to lose, Washington went for it on fourth down twice on its opening possession and called multiple trick plays in the first half, including a wide receiver pass to quarterback Sam Howell. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s creative play-calling produced only 180 yards of offense, the Commanders’ second-lowest output of the Rivera era, ahead of only a 108-yard showing in a rainy 2020 loss to the Rams. Washington’s 32nd-ranked defense allowed touchdowns on four consecutive possessions in the second and third quarters, which turned a Commanders lead into a Dallas rout. Washington allowed at least 400 yards for the ninth time this season, the most in franchise history.

Four takeaways from the Commanders’ loss to the Cowboys

Trailing by 28 points with 1:06 remaining, Howell and the Commanders’ offense took the field for the last time with one thing on their minds: getting McLaurin his franchise record fourth consecutive season of at least 1,000 receiving yards. McLaurin, who entered the game needing 54 yards to reach the mark, was stuck on 41. Tight end John Bates made a key block on Howell’s ensuing screen pass to McLaurin, which, coupled with some determined running after the catch, resulted in a 15-yard gain.

“Literally everybody on the sideline was like, ‘We’re going to get this for you,’” McLaurin said afterward. “’We’re going to block our a– off for you, and it kind of made me a little emotional. It’s a testament to the guys we have in this locker room and I think it’s a testament how they hopefully feel about me and the leader that I’ve tried to be for them.”

Fail: Emmanuel Forbes Jr.

A major factor in Rivera’s lack of success in Washington was the organization’s failure to hit on first-round draft picks under his watch. Forbes, who was benched for his poor performance earlier this season, capped a disappointing rookie year with another dreadful game. The cornerback looked lost trying to cover wide receiver Jalen Tolbert on the Cowboys’ first touchdown and whiffed on an attempted tackle on tight end Jake Ferguson later in the first half. Forbes’s worst moment came late in the fourth quarter, when he was hurdled by backup tight end Peyton Hendershot on a 24-yard gain. Drafted for his instincts and ball-hawking skills, Forbes finished his first season with one interception.

Hail: Josh Pryor and Jace Whittaker

A pair of practice squad players teamed up for Washington’s best play of the game. After Pryor, a defensive lineman who went undrafted out of Bowie State in 2022, blocked Cowboys kicker Brandon Aubrey’s 32-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter, cornerback Jace Whittaker, who was signed to the practice squad on Tuesday, scooped up the loose ball and raced 51 yards to the Dallas 20-yard line. Washington’s first field goal block since October 2021 led to the Commanders’ first score, a game-tying touchdown pass from Howell to running back Brian Robinson Jr. on fourth and goal.

Fail: League-leading stats

Howell threw two more interceptions Sunday, bringing his total in his first and perhaps only year as Washington’s starter to 21. Howell is the first Washington player to lead the league in picks since Norm Snead threw 27 interceptions in 1963, and the first quarterback to throw at least 20 interceptions since Jameis Winston threw 30 in 2019. Howell also led the league in sacks taken (65) after the Cowboys got to him four times in the finale. That’s the fourth-most sacks in a single season in NFL history.

For two months, Sam Howell showed what he isn’t: The QB of the future

Hail: NFC East solidarity

In a beautiful moment of unity, an “Eagles suck!” chant broke out among the Commanders and Cowboys fans at FedEx Field when out of town scores were displayed on the scoreboard during the third quarter. The defending NFC champion Eagles were losing 24-0 to the Giants and headed for their fifth loss in their last six games. Philadelphia’s late-season swoon after a 10-1 start allowed Dallas to claim the division title, extending the NFC East’s streak without a repeat champion to 19 years.

Fail: Getting blown out at home

Washington’s fifth loss by at least 20 points dropped its point differential to minus-189, the third-worst mark in franchise history. Four of those blowout losses came at FedEx Field, where the Commanders were outscored by 144 points in eight games. Since 2000, only the 2008 Detroit Lions, who gave up 176 more points than they scored at home during an 0-16 season, posted a worse mark, according to TruMedia.

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