Analyzing Washington’s final drive that clinched Week 10 upset

LANDOVER, MARYLAND - NOVEMBER 14: Taylor Heinicke #4 of the Washington Football Team celebrates a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedExField on November 14, 2021 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MARYLAND - NOVEMBER 14: Taylor Heinicke #4 of the Washington Football Team celebrates a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedExField on November 14, 2021 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

There are some reports floating around the internet that the longest drive in NFL history belongs to the franchise currently known as the Washington Football Team. It supposedly occurred in 1935, when the team was still located in Boston, and came against the Chicago Bears. The drive consumed 14:03 minutes of game time.

This is almost certainly apocryphal. For one thing, most accounts of the drive claim that Sammy Baugh ran or threw for most of the yards. Baugh didn’t enter the league until 1937, two years later. For another, none of the accounts I have read of Boston’s game against the Bears in ’35 (won easily by Chicago) makes mention of this dominant quarter of football. Boston had two scoring drives that day. The first was just 40 yards, and the second featured a 45-yard pass play. Those stats hardly coincide with a 14-minute drive.

So maybe the Washington Football Team franchise does not have the NFL record. No matter. The 19-play, 80-yard drive that ate up most of the 4th quarter and closed out Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay should remain a lasting treasure.

Let’s take a closer look at just how the Washington Football Team was able to pull it off.


19 plays and not a single penalty. No false starts. No holding calls.

And perhaps even more impressively, there were almost no negative yardage plays. On a 1st & 10 from Tampa’s 20-yard line, Antonio Gibson was stopped for a loss of one yard. A few plays later, he was stopped for no gain on a 2nd & goal from the four. The other 17 plays all resulted in positive yardage.

Prior to that final drive, the Washington Football Team had run 55 plays and had either been sacked or tackled behind the line on 15 of them. By my math, that’s an astonishing 27% of Washington’s plays that went backwards. But in that final drive – 19 plays, and one total yard of loss on a single play.


The Washington Football Team ran the ball 13 times for 35 yards and passed six times for 45 yards. Four different players carried the ball (including the two scrambles by Taylor Heinicke.) Five different players caught passes.

And Washington used the entire field. They mostly ran left, behind Ereck Flowers and Charles Leno Jr., along with help from John Bates, and occasionally with even more help from extra lineman Wes Schweitzer. The final four runs from inside the 10 were all to the left. But four runs on the drive were either to the right or up the middle, including one crucial 3rd & 1 conversion by Antonio Gibson.

The six passes were evenly spread, with three going right (early in the drive) and then three more going either left or left/middle.


Washington faced five 3rd downs on the drive and converted on four of them. They scored the final touchdown on a 4th down after their one failed conversion. This from a team that has struggled in this area all season.


It doesn’t’ really matter how you get your first downs, but on this drive, it kind of did. On every successful 3rd down conversion, the Washington Football Team got exactly one more yard than they needed. They did the same on a 2nd down conversion early in the drive. In fact, the only 1st down that they secured by more than one yard was on a 16-yard pass to Terry McLaurin – the only play on the drive that went more than 10 yards.

This had the effect of maximally prolonging the drive and taking more time off the clock.


There were no incomplete passes on the drive, and only one play went out of bounds inside the final five minutes, when the game clock is stopped. That means that Washington kept the clock moving at a relentless pace. That, in turn, forced Tampa to burn all of its timeouts, which figured into the endgame strategy.


Ron Rivera et. al. made two excellent calls at the end of the game. I initially thought Washington should kick the chip shot field goal to go up by seven with under 30 seconds to go. But I quickly changed my mind when I realized that even if they failed to score on 4th down, Tampa would be left with the ball on their own one yard line, with under 30 seconds, no timeouts, and four points down.

The only downside would be that if Tampa was able to score a touchdown, Washington would lose, rather than go to overtime. But had Rivera kicked, Tampa would have started their final drive on the 25-yard line, or with a good return, perhaps in even better position. Either way, the odds heavily favored Washington, but considering that a touchdown would end the game, Rivera made a smart gamble. A gamble which paid off.

Then, the decision to kneel down on the two-point try was really brilliant. At that point, down by 10, the only prayer Tampa has is to miraculously return a failed conversion attempt for two points, and then score a late touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game. I had forgotten that the NFL changed the extra point rule a few years back to award two points to a team that blocks an extra point and returns it for a score. It would have taken a couple of miracles for Tampa, but Rivera removed the possibility entirely.


Ultimately, this game comes down to players executing at crucial moments. I have not been very kind to Taylor Heinicke in the past so let me say as clearly as I can – Heinicke was stone cold money in that final drive. He made every play and he looked like he belonged out there. He avoided sacks, he scrambled when necessary, he made quality throws at key moments. He deserved to get the win.

And he was helped out by his teammates. Adam Humphries made a sensational stretched out catch to convert one 3rd down. Terry McLaurin made another clutch grab despite getting clobbered by two Tampa defenders to convert another. How many times have we seen the line break down, or a poor throw, or a dropped ball in similar situations? Everything was rock solid in that final drive on Sunday.

You can point to almost every player on offense making a big contribution in the fourth quarter. I want to end by pointing out a rather obscure one. On 3rd & goal from the four-yard line, Antonio Gibson ran left for three yards, down to the one. Tampa did a good job of keeping him out of the end zone.

John Bates was lined up on the left end. He fired out and drove his defender back to the goal line. The other offensive linemen essentially fought to a standstill. Gibson found his three yards behind Bates. True, he did not get in, but had he not reached the one, I think it is likely that Rivera would have settled for the field goal.

Bates, pressed into service after Ricky Seals-Jones went down with an injury, blocked very well all day, and on that one, his blocking helped seal a victory. On the next play, the entire left side of the line collapsed the defense, and Gibson walked in for the kill shot.

You can find lots of moments like the Bates block on any long drive. Nice to see it coming from a rookie. So I don’t care if the 1935 Boston team doesn’t really have this record. I’ll live off of that Tampa Bay fourth quarter for a while.

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