Can the Commanders’ uncanny luck carry them to the playoffs?

LANDOVER, MARYLAND - NOVEMBER 27: Taylor Heinicke #4 of the Washington Commanders throws a pass against the Atlanta Falcons at FedExField on November 27, 2022 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MARYLAND - NOVEMBER 27: Taylor Heinicke #4 of the Washington Commanders throws a pass against the Atlanta Falcons at FedExField on November 27, 2022 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /
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Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

How the Commanders have benefitted from luck

The Commanders have won their last six games with an average margin of victory of 6.3, slightly skewed by the Texans game and the meaningless touchdown at the end of the Eagle game.

For the season, Washington has a -3 point differential, only one of three teams currently in playoff position with a negative point differential (Giants, Buccaneers). Coach Rivera acknowledges that the team has been winning but realizes it needs to start doing more for the streak to continue.

Since Heinicke took over at quarterback, the team has gone 5-1, during which time he has averaged a minuscule 194 yards per game, a 60.82% completion percentage, and a 1.4:1 TD to INT ratio.

Among quarterbacks with 6+ starts, Heinicke boasts the best record despite having the fifth-lowest completion percentage, sixth-lowest passer rating, sixth-worst interception percentage, and fourth-lowest on-target percentage. If that doesn’t optimize luck, I don’t know what does.

Yes, the defense has continued to step up and the running game has been a revelation. I mean just look at the numbers below:

However, the Commanders have caught lucky breaks throughout the season. Let’s take a look at some examples.

In Week 6, with the Commanders down 7-6 against the Bears and the offense looking completely inept, Christian Holmes was able to come up with a muffed punt recovery with 8 minutes remaining. Two plays later, Brian Robinson ran it in for a touchdown and a 12-7 lead.

But the magic didn’t stop there. On 3rd and goal, Darrick Forrest stopped Dante Pettis in the end zone on a play that Bears quarterback Justin Fields and coach Matt Eberflus believed should have been pass interference. No penalty called.

On the next play, Fields found Darnell Mooney for what could have been the game-winning touchdown, but Benjamin St-Juste came up with a stop just inches short of the end zone.

And just like that, the Commanders pulled out the win.

In Week 7 against the Green Bay Packers, we had the infamous “eyes closed” pass by Heinicke.

Earlier in the game, Heinicke fumbled and the Packers returned it for a touchdown, but Washington was bailed out by a penalty. That score would have put the Packers up 21-10 … and the Commanders’ offense isn’t built to play from behind.

And just like that, despite a pick-six and a missed field goal, the Commanders pulled out a two-point win.

In Week 8, after taking a 7-3 lead, the Commanders’ offense stalled gaining only 71 yards over its next six drives, with four punts, a turnover on downs, and an interception.

However, the Commanders’ defense forced two fumbles with the Colts inside Washington’s 30-yard line. The team also stopped Jonathan Taylor at the one-yard-line forcing a field goal instead of a touchdown. That’s at minimum a 12-point point differential.

After Heincke threw an interception with 12:23 left in the game, the Colts were able to score two plays later to go up 16-7, with an 88.7% chance of winning. However, Heinicke led two scoring drives in a row, both of which had successful 4th-down conversions to pull out a 17-16 win.

Washington also benefitted from a Colts injury on its last drive. With 1:16 left in the game, Colts DE Tyquan Lewis was injured, which saved the Commanders a timeout, cost the Colts a timeout, and allowed the offense time to regroup on the game-winning drive.

In Week 10, Washington ended the Eagles’ perfect season while again benefitting from some luck and missed calls.

With a little over five minutes left before halftime, Tyler Larsen snapped the ball over Heinicke’s head, which could have been a fumble recovery or a 20+ yard loss, essentially ending any chance of scoring on that drive.

Nope, not on Heinicke’s watch. He got to the football and got out of the pocket, heaving the ball just past the line of scrimmage. Crisis averted and nine plays later, Washington took a 17-14 lead that they would not relinquish.

Later in the game, Washington benefitted from a missed facemask call where the defense came up with a fumble recovery. Four plays later, Washington extended its lead to 26-21.

Finally, on Washington’s last drive, Heinicke gave himself up on a 3rd-and-7 play and was able to draw an unnecessary roughness penalty that all but ended the game.

In Week 12, Heincke threw an interception with 14 seconds left in the first half, with the game tied at 10. The Falcons had a chance to take the lead, but kicker Younghoe Koo’s 58-yard field goal attempt fell short.

Then, with the Falcons rallying late, Kendall Fuller came down with an interception in the end zone after Daron Payne batted the ball up.

Washington left the door open for the Falcons, having to punt the ball with 44 seconds left after being unable to run out the clock. However, Falcons LB Ade Ogundeji ran into Tress Way, giving the Commanders a first down, and essentially ending the game.

With that win, Ron Rivera secured his 100th career victory as a head coach. The road ahead may not be easy, with four of the Commanders’ final five games against teams with winning records.

But just know, if the opportunities continue to come, the Commanders will definitely be prepared. Rivera said it best, “You work hard, you play hard, and good things will happen.”

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