The sight has sadly become a familiar one at FedEx Field in November. Another quarterback’s season lost to a gruesome injury. Another game decided by a staggering shift as players, still shaken by the incident, continue onward.
On Sunday, the Washington Football Team turned a close, if bizarre, game into a lopsided affair after Burrow’s exit to defeat the Bengals, 20-9. The win was Washington’s first at home against Cincinnati since 1985 and improved the team’s record to 3-7 on the season — just a half-game out of first place in the NFC East.
The victory was ugly, and especially eerie after Burrow’s left knee was mangled by a high-low hit from Washington linemen Montez Sweat and Jonathan Allen early in the third quarter, when the Bengals, then leading 9-7, were pushed back deep in their own territory after Tress Way dropped a punt on their 2-yard line.
Just as Burrow unleashed a pass to receiver Tyler Boyd on a third-and-2, Allen appeared to be pushed into Burrow’s left knee by a Bengals linemen and Sweat whipped around the left edge of the line to tackle him.
Players stopped in a trance, most seeming to know immediately the severity of the injury. And when they all dapped up Burrow and wished him well, the clock started on an entirely different game.
Washington quickly embarked on the first of three consecutive scoring drives to reclaim and pad its lead. A pair of big runs from rookie running back Antonio Gibson sandwiched around a 14-yard catch by Terry McLaurin set up a 3-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Steven Sims to give Washington the lead. The touchdown pass was the second this season for Smith, who started his second game since his own gruesome injury on this field in November two years ago.
In recent weeks, Washington’s first halves have been riddled with mistakes and “missed opportunities,” as Coach Ron Rivera has said. Solid drives were stalled by negative plays. Big defensive stops were trumped by missed tackles, or miscommunication in coverage. And the minor errors quickly added up, forcing them to use the second half to make up for lost time. Against the Giants and the Lions, Washington came close to overcoming their own faults, but couldn’t eke out wins.
Against the Bengals on Sunday, Washington’s early mistakes were still problematic. Its first possession was stalled by a negative play — a sack — that extended its scoring drought on its first possessions to 11 games. And its coverage on defense was so poor that the Bengals got off 42 plays, earned 23 first downs, racked up 247 yards and had possession for 19:11 in the first half. Washington, meanwhile, could only muster 125 yards offense, 42 of which came from one play, a deep pass to McLaurin.
Yet it benefited from a forced fumble of Burrow by rookie defensive end Chase Young, which shut down one Cincinnati scoring attempt, in addition to the costly misses of Cincinnati’s kicker, Randy Bullock. He had two field goal attempts — one for 34 yards and another 58 — hit the upright, and an extra-point attempt sailed wide right.
Bullock did, however, nail a 53-yard field goal to cap a nine-play scoring drive and give the Bengals the lead, 9-7, in the second quarter.
That lead held up for the remainder of the half, but the game quickly turned about four minutes into the second half, when Burrow went down. Washington’s touchdown was followed by field goals by Dustin Hopkins, from 32 and 50 yards out, to secure the win.
Hopkins had a chance to expand Washington’s lead further, but he missed a 38-yard kick in the fourth quarter — his fourth miss in five games, and his sixth on the season.
Just before, Burrow tweeted his own update.
“Thanks for all the love,” he said. “Can’t get rid of me that easy. See ya next year.”