How the Commanders pulled the upset to end the Eagles’ undefeated season

PHILADELPHIA — And then there were none.

The Philadelphia Eagles‘ run as the NFL’s final remaining undefeated team came to an end Monday night, as a Washington Commanders team that entered the night as double-digit underdogs came away with a shocking 32-21 victory at Lincoln Financial Field.

How did the Commanders (5-5) do it? What was the combination of strong Washington play, Philadelphia mistakes and questionable officiating that kept the Eagles (8-1) from any further pursuit of the 1972 Miami Dolphins‘ undefeated mark? And moreover, what does the result mean going forward for both teams?

A look at the highlights and lowlights from a surprising night in Philly:

Controlling the clock

Washington held possession for 40:24: Washington has waffled at times on its offensive identity, but that wasn’t the case Monday night as the Commanders ran the ball 49 times — their most in a game since 2002 — for 152 yards. It wasn’t explosive, but it was highly effective. It helps that running back Brian Robinson Jr., who missed the first four games after being shot in August, has gained a rhythm to make a nice pairing with Antonio Gibson.

“We can run the ball; we have to make certain we stay with it,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “The biggest thing we have to do is understand where we are, who we are and what we can be.”– John Keim

Why Eagles couldn’t stop it: The absence of rookie defensive tackle Jordan Davis looms large. The Texans rumbled for 168 yards in Week 9 against Philly with Davis out. It was obvious Washington would try and follow suit, and yet Philly had no answers. With Davis sidelined until at least Week 13 against the Tennessee Titans, defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon needs to figure out how to plug the leak to prevent his unit from going into a tailspin.

“[We’re going to continue to be tested against the run] until we stop it,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “I’m ready. Bring it on. That’s the attitude you’ve got to have.” — Tim McManus


How the Eagles struggled: Philly entered with a plus-15 turnover differential — by far the best in the league. This marks the first game this season in which the Eagles lost the turnover battle. One wasn’t their fault — the refs missed a blatant facemask on tight end Dallas Goedert that contributed to his lost fumble — but the other three were, including an interception from quarterback Jalen Hurts that he threw into double coverage on a deep pass to A.J. Brown. The Eagles knew there would be some regression to the mean when it came to the takeaway/giveaway game, but that doesn’t excuse this level of sloppy play against an inferior opponent.

“It’s very important to control the things that you can — controlling your ball security, knowing where the operation of the play and where it’s supposed to go, just execution,” Hurts said. “Those are all things that we can control and we have to do a better job of that.” — McManus

Who made the difference for Washington: Washington forced four takeaways.

  • an interception by safety Darrick Forrest, who also recovered a fumble

  • a fumble recovery by linebacker Jamin Davis that led to a field goal

  • a last-second scoop and score by end Casey Toohill to end the game

Forrest’s interception led to a touchdown drive and 17-14 lead. He said coaches told him all week that Hurts “throws a lot of 50-50 balls. I knew I would have to make a play on the ball; my coach told me when he gives you your shot, make that play. That’s what I did.” — Keim

What is it that Heinicke did so well? Aside from turning the ball over twice, he was excellent at managing the game and making clutch throws on multiple third downs. It helped that of Washington’s 21 third downs, 12 were for four yards or less so the offense could keep Philadelphia off-balance. Heinicke also wisely found receiver Terry McLaurin often — eight times for 128 yards. Heinicke also sprinted back 19 yards to recover a shotgun snap that sailed over his head and was able to throw it incomplete. That enabled Washington to continue a touchdown drive. Later, he took a knee as he scrambled on third-and-7 with 1:45 remaining and was subsequently drilled by Brandon Graham for a 15-yard penalty. “It’s the biggest win of my career,” Heinicke said.

“He plays with no fear,” McLaurin said. “Everything’s not pretty but he continues to give us chances to make plays. He’ll extend plays with his legs and get the tough yards. You feel confident with a guy back there like that. A lot of people measure his height, his arm, all those things. But you can’t measure what’s inside his chest.” — Keim

What the Eagles had trouble stopping: Besides the run, it was McLaurin. Cornerback Darius Slay took responsibility for McLaurin’s biggest gainer of the night — a 41-yarder — but otherwise felt it was a pretty even matchup. Slay followed McLaurin when he lined up outside but did not cover Washington’s top receiver when he moved into the slot, which is where he did a lot of his damage. The Eagles were operating without starting slot corner Avonte Maddox, who was placed on injured reserve Monday with a hamstring injury. Slay joked that he’ll have to convince the coaches to teach him more slot skills so he can move inside more in the future. — McManus

Questionable calls against Eagles

On a third-and-1 early in the fourth quarter, with the Eagles trailing by two, Hurts completed a pass to Goedert for a would-be first down. Commanders linebacker Jamin Davis grabbed and pulled Goedert’s facemask as he attempted to tackle him, and a simultaneous hit by defensive tackle John Ridgeway knocked the ball loose. Washington recovered, and tacked on a 55-yard Joey Slye field goal to up the lead to six. It was a blown call, plain and simple, and it proved costly. “We didn’t see a face mask on the field,” referee Alex Kemp said afterward.

The penalty that helped seal the game was a personal foul on defensive end Brandon Graham for hitting Heinicke, who had given himself up by taking a knee in the official’s view and therefore was ruled to be a defenseless player. The contact was also to the head and neck area, Kemp said. “I just want to make up for it by what I do next week,” Graham said. “I’m definitely going to take that one and make sure that next time I don’t let the team down in a situation like that.” — McManus

Where does this leave both teams and what’s next?

Commanders: Washington is now 5-5 and has won four of its last five games heading into Sunday’s game at Houston (1-7-1). The Commanders now have to build on this win by beating a bad team on the road. Their last two losses were by four points to Tennessee and by three to Minnesota. They needed a big win over a good team.

“For us to get a win like that, we have a lot of confidence,” Heinicke said. As Gibson said, “It shows what we’re capable of, it’s just another win we’ve got to keep building.” But Washington remains a .500 team and two games behind Dallas for third place in the NFC East. Rivera said, “We have to follow it up. We can’t just say we arrived; we have not arrived.” — Keim

Eagles: The Eagles are now tied with the Minnesota Vikings for the best record in football at 8-1, holding the head-to-head tiebreaker having beaten Minnesota earlier this year. Entering Week 10, Philadelphia had the easiest closing schedule in football. The talk in the locker room afterward was about being hungry to answer to this first bit of adversity, with Hurts saying “I’ve got a good feeling how we’ll respond.” Not that the loss was welcomed, but receiver A.J. Brown noted afterward that “now all this 17-0 s— is over with.” It’s a chance for them to reset before facing the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. — McManus

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