A day after a 27-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington coach Ron Rivera understands what the defeat meant for his team’s playoff chances: They’re slim. And in order to remain in the hunt, the Burgundy and Gold will likely have to win out with only three games remaining.
Even then, that might not be enough.
Washington (6-8) now faces an uphill climb to make the playoffs as there are three other teams ahead of the franchise for the final wildcard spot in the NFC. The team is only a game back of the seventh-seeded Minnesota Vikings, but the Burgundy and Gold also trail the Eagles and the New Orleans Saints — all of whom sit at 7-7.
There’s a possibility that even if Washington wins out, it would still miss the postseason if, say, Minnesota or New Orleans also went undefeated in that stretch. There are other scenarios that would keep a 9-8 Washington team outside the postseason, as well.
The loss to Philadelphia was that meaningful.
“Will we be disappointed (if we don’t make the playoffs)? Tremendously disappointed,” Rivera said Wednesday. “Seriously. And I do mean that.”
Despite the implications, Rivera said he was proud of the way his team competed in Philadelphia considering all the factors at play. Washington, after all, had been decimated by the virus over the last week — leaving the team without its top two quarterbacks, seven assistant coaches and almost a quarter of its roster. Rivera said he could see the effort, telling reporters players were even trying too hard at times to make plays.
But make no mistake, Washington’s errors over the course of Tuesday’s game were costly. Philadelphia had 519 yards of offense, including a season-high 238 on the ground. The Eagles took advantage of a depleted Washington secondary and flat out bullied the defensive line. “We got our (butts) kicked,” defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said.
The defeat leaves Washington having to prepare for a short turnaround when it takes on the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on “Sunday Night Football.” Rivera acknowledged it helps that the teams met less than two weeks ago, adding there would be “correction plays” added to the gameplan since the Cowboys won the first meeting.
Still, Washington could be shorthanded again — and the team is very much waiting on medical updates to see who will be available for Dallas. The team announced that linebacker Cole Holcomb, its leading tackler, was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list, meaning there’s a good chance he’ll miss Sunday’s game.
Right tackle Cornelius Lucas and practice squad defensive end William Bradley-King, meanwhile, were activated off the reserve list Wednesday, but Holcomb’s inclusion means that Washington still has a dozen players left on it. Rivera said they had a few others who were “trending” in the right direction, including one of their quarterbacks. Without Taylor Heinicke or Kyle Allen, the team was left to start Garrett Gilbert — signed last Friday — against the Eagles.
There are also injuries that occurred in Tuesday’s loss. The most significant was that running back Antonio Gibson again hurt his big toe — an injury that sidelined him for two games last year. Gibson was able to finish the contest, but Rivera said Wednesday that the running back’s injury was “very similar” to the turf toe that hobbled him in 2020.
If Gibson can’t play, Washington would be extremely thin at the running back. The team already placed J.D. McKissic (neck) on injured reserve prior to Tuesday’s game. Without the team’s top two rushers, Washington would be left with Jaret Patterson, Jonathan Williams and possibly Wendell Smallwood (if Smallwood can clear COVID-19 protocols).
On defense, cornerback William Jackson III (ankle), safety Landon Collins (foot) and defensive end Daniel Wise (knee) all got hurt in Philadelphia. Rivera said the updates from the team’s medical staff on Jackson and Collins, in particular, “sounded encouraging,” though added the two needed MRIs to officially diagnose the damage. The NFL Network reported that Jackson may have an Achilles sprain.
Jackson’s injury left Washington shallow in the secondary. No. 1 corner Kendall Fuller and safety Kam Curl also missed Tuesday’s game because they were on the COVID-19 reserve list.
In any case, Washington’s playoff odds now stand at 9%, according to FiveThirtyEight’s predictive model. The team entered the evening with a 22% shot.
“I really do believe all you need is a chance,” Rivera said. “A big part of it too, though, is being healthy at the right time, getting players back at the right opportunity, not having a big distraction, being able to stay focused as you trend towards something. We’ll find out.”