Chase Young of the Washington Football Team won beat the San Francisco 49’ers 23-15. (Courtesy Photo)

By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
mgray@afro.com

In Washington there is solace in being the best of the worst.

After a four-game win streak the NFL Team now controls their fate in the race for the NFC East Division championship.  For the second time in six days spanning 5,092 miles Washington relied on the dominance of their defense to beat the depleted San Francisco 49’ers 23-15 giving them sole possession of first place in the NFC East. If Washington wins their final three games they would finish 9-7 in what would rank as one of the great  feats in team history.

Head coach Ron Rivera continued to preach about a culture change and suddenly it appears to have taken hold.  For the last two weeks Washington’s dominance in the second half offset their offensive shortcomings that began once Antonio Gibson injured his toe against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which kept him out of last week’s game that was relocated to Arizona because of COVID-19 restrictions in northern California.  They won despite not scoring an offensive touchdown, without their best running back, and losing their starting quarterback for the entire second half.

”We’re trying to talk about where we’re headed, not where we’ve been,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. ”That’s one of the big things in the message I’m hoping to get across. As we go forward as a football team, we’re going to be a different team.”

This game followed a totally different script than the previous four victories in this push towards a postseason finish line.  Washington led 13-7 at halftime and played with a lead for the first time all season after the intermission. Rookies Chase Young and Kamren Curl scored defensive touchdowns which gave them the chance to play from ahead and it stayed that way until the end of the game.

Young, who is having a NFL Rookie of the Year and All-Pro season, is proving to be the team’s best number-one draft pick since the rookie season of Robert Griffin III.  He recovered a fumble with just over a minute left in the first half and raced 44 yards for what proved to be the game changing score.   Curl delivered what proved to be the knockout blow on the final play of the third quarter. He intercepted a pass from   Mullens and made a 76-yard house call which gave Washington a 23-7 advantage. Curl was the team’s seventh-round pick this year.

If the Washington Football Team is to win the NFC East Sunday’s home finale against the Seattle Seahawks will be the toughest challenge of the three remaining games on their schedule. Despite facing MVP candidate Russell Wilson, Washington has to re-establish it’s run game because Dwayne Haskins is the next man up in the revolving door under center.  Haskins appears to be on track for a second chance to define his place as the future starter if he can navigate them to a playoff berth with Alex Smith trying to recover from an injury to his surgically repaired leg. He won’t have to make big plays, but Haskins will have to manage the game and protect the football and ride a defense that experts are now calling the best in their division. 

The offense doesn’t need to be spectacular, but efficient, and Haskins  has to be accurate when big plays are open in the passing game. However, with active defensive linemen – Young and Montez Sweat, who’ve both scored touchdowns over the last three weeks – there’s a reasonable expectation that Washington can contain Seattle, Carolina, and Philadelphia offenses and win those games.