The Washington Post
Just for kicks
Coach trusted defense to stop the Chargers, but drive ran out clock
Rivera defends late punt, but the defense couldn’t get it back.
With 6:52 remaining in the Washington Football Team’s season opener against the Chargers, Ron Rivera had to make a tough decision. Washington faced fourth and seven from the Los Angeles 40-yard line, down by four points.
A fourth-down conversion would give the offense a shot at driving farther for a touchdown and taking the lead. A punt would put the game in the hands of Washington’s defense, asking the unit to force a punt or a turnover to get the ball back for another chance at a game-winning drive.
Rivera opted for the latter, but his defense wasn’t able to come through. The Chargers drove nearly the length of the field and ran out the clock to secure their 20-16 victory.
“We thought we had an opportunity to get them pinned,” Rivera said of his decision to punt, adding: “We’d like to believe we could [stop the Chargers’ offense]. Unfortunately, we didn’t, so we got to take a look at that. But if we had converted it, it might have been a different story.”
Attempting a 58-yard field goal was seemingly another option, but Rivera said the distance was too great. Kicker Dustin Hopkins made three of his four field goals during the game, but his career long is 56 yards.
“Too far,” Rivera said about a Hopkins kick. “Last thing you wanted to do was to give them the ball there on the 48-yard line.”
The defense appeared poised to get the Chargers and quarterback Justin Herbert off the field at the 5:29 mark, with the offense facing third and 16. But Herbert threw a 17-yard strike to wide receiver Keenan Allen for a first down.
“It was just unfortunate. You get an opportunity on third and real long, we didn’t take care of the business,” Rivera said.
Herbert, who was the Associated Press offensive rookie of the year last season and finished the game with 337 passing yards and a touchdown, then completed three more third-down passes of 19, 20 and nine on the drive to help drain the remaining game clock. In all, Washington (0-1) gave up 14 third-down conversions, tying the most allowed in franchise history ( Week 6 of 1994 against Philadelphia).
Washington’s defense struggled to stop Herbert not just on the final drive but throughout most of the game. The defense entered this season with high expectations, coming off a 2020 season in which it ranked second in the NFL in yards allowed. Sunday’s game began with many fans chanting “Defense!” but Herbert and the Chargers quieted the crowd with a 10-play, 70-yard drive for a touchdown.
Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said the defense blew assignments and rushers didn’t do the little things that they worked on in practice all week.
“He played a good game, but we made a lot of mistakes,” Allen said. “I look at the game, and I see a bunch of errors that we made, a lot of spots that we can do better in.”
The Chargers, who finished with 424 yards, continued to move the ball easily on Washington in the second half, but Washington forced two turnovers: a Montez Sweat strip sack of Herbert that went through the end zone for a touchback and an interception by William Jackson III.
But Washington’s defense couldn’t get off the field on the final drive. Safety Kamren Curl
said the defense’s struggles were a result of not playing to its standard — something the unit has to fix before it battles the New York Giants in four days on “Thursday Night Football.”
“It was us more than it was [Herbert],” Curl said. “We got to lock back in; we got a quick turnaround. We got to have a short, short memory.”