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STEVE DeSHAZO: Washington is both lucky and good--and doubling down in Vegas

STEVE DeSHAZO: Washington is both lucky and good--and doubling down in Vegas

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Seahawks Washington Football

Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) celebrates after an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021 in Landover. (AP Photo/Daniel Kucin Jr.)

LANDOVER, Md.—This is the ideal week for a trip to Las Vegas. Not only is the Washington Football Team on a roll that would be the envy of any craps shooter, but Ron Rivera’s squad seems to be playing with house money.

When you’re on a three-game win streak and tentatively in the playoff field while using your fourth center and fourth place-kicker, you’re living right.

And when your main rivals keep stumbling and opening the door for you, you walk through as if into a Sin City casino.

“All they need is a chance,” said Rivera, who was uncharacteristically emotional walking off FedEX Field after Monday night’s inexplicable 17–15 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

The NFL’s first 17-game season is offering opportunities galore, as few teams seem able to sustain excellence for any significant stretch. And after losing four straight games before its bye week, Washington is as hot as any team outside of New England at the moment, with a visit to the Raiders’ new home on the Strip coming up Sunday.

“The confidence in that [locker] room is at an all-time high,” said Taylor Heinicke, who has now outplayed Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson in the past three weeks.

Most players and coaches admit they’d rather be lucky than good, and Washington has been a little of both lately. How often is it an advantage when your kicker goes down on a blocked extra point that’s returned for two points?

North Stafford High School graduate Joey Slye strained his hamstring vainly chasing the Seahawks’ Rasheem Green. So when Washington was forced to go for two after its third-quarter touchdown, it put Seattle in a hole it couldn’t escape, as Kendall Fuller intercepted Wilson’s attempt to tie the score with 15 seconds left.

Immediately after that, the Seahawks appeared to recover an onside kick, but it was negated by an illegal formation penalty.

“That’s two special-teams penalties that have helped us this year,” said Heinicke, recalling the Giants’ offside call that gave Matt Hopkins a second chance to convert a game-winning field goal. That doesn’t happen to snake-bitten teams.

Hopkins was three kickers ago. With Slye sidelined (and Brian Johnson reportedly in), that left punter Tress Way to kick off Monday. He did so admirably; who’d have guessed that Seattle would be the team that had issues with kickoffs?

“It was a rush being out there for sure,” said Way, who hadn’t place-kicked since going 1 for 6 as a freshman at Oklahoma. “... I’ve never iced after a game; I think I might ice tonight.”

Way has arguably been his team’s best player for most of the past few miserable seasons, and with his self-deprecating wit, he should be hosting a podcast. But he was just the latest Washington fill-in to honor the NFL’s “next man up” mantra.

Second-year pro Keith Ismael stepped in seamlessly after injuries sidelined three centers. Rookie Shaka Toney and second-year man Casey Toohill pressured Wilson in the absence of starting defensive ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat.

Give the front office credit for finding young, talented players who are ready and able to contribute when necessary. Acknowledge the familiarity that coordinators Scott Turner and Jack Del Rio now have with their personnel that allow them to craft effective game plans after early season struggles.

Offensively, journeyman J.D. McKissic--”our Swiss army knife,” according to receiver Terry McLaurin--scored on a run and a pass reception. On defense, Landon Collins has found a niche at what Rivera calls the “nickel safety” spot despite his objections to leaving the strong safety position he played for six years with the Giants and Washington.

“I still don’t like it,” he said after forcing a key fumble, “but I like winning.”

That’s not luck That’s preparation. And it’s helped Washington (5–6) move into the seventh and final playoff spot—one that didn’t exist two years ago—with six weeks to play. Now the trick is to stay there—no small feat in a fickle league.

“We did our job,” said defensive tackle Jonathan Allen. “You don’t reward fish for swimming. ... Now we have to look at ourselves with a critical eye. We can’t get complacent. We haven’t arrived yet.”

No, but they’re on a hot streak. And as they go to Vegas, like any hot card player, they have no intention of folding.

Steve DeShazo: 374-5443


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