A franchise without a name struggles to make a name for itself, as the Washington Football Team ends week three with a 34-20 loss to the Cleveland Browns this past Sunday. Washington’s defeat marks the second week in a row of undelivered promises from the team, whose increasingly disheartened fans have suffered numerous embarrassments and disappointing results.
New injuries have only exacerbated Washington’s already existing weaknesses. Week two’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals had demonstrated the holes in Washington’s defense, which fell apart against mobile Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. In particular, the 30-15 loss highlighted the fragility of Washington’s inexperienced secondary, which was already weak compared to the defensive line but proved unable to cover good wide receivers and remain a cohesive unit.
Much to the dismay of the Washington franchise and its fanbase, Week Three’s matchup against Cleveland only made matters worse. Hurt in the first half of Sunday’s game, starting defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis was placed on injured reserve and has since been declared out for the season with torn biceps, a significant loss for Washington’s defense. Chase Young, Washington’s stud rookie defensive end who was taken second overall in April’s draft, left the game in the second half because of a groin injury. Young is vital to Washington’s success; within only two weeks, he consistently blew up the stat line in terms of sacks and forced fumbles and drew double teams that created opportunities for the rest of Washington’s pass rushers.
The severity of Young’s injury is still unknown, posing a great risk to the already murky future of the Washington Football Team. The potential loss of other defensive players is bad news for Washington’s already injury-ridden defense, especially the franchise talent of Young, whom Washington cannot afford to lose for any game — especially not this week’s upcoming one against the Baltimore Ravens and reigning MVP Lamar Jackson.
Overall, Washington once again failed to get the job done against the Browns, seeing a collapse of the defense by the end of the game, especially for the struggling secondary. For the first time of the season, the defense failed to force any turnovers, which the struggling offense needed desperately. For quarterback Dwayne Haskins, Sunday’s game represented a disappointing step back. Haskins threw a personal high of three interceptions, all of which led to Browns touchdowns. Haskins had been somewhat inconsistent in previous games, but until Sunday had not thrown any interceptions. Washington Coach Ron Rivera was initially supportive of Haskins after the rough game, but has since changed tones, putting him on notice and stating that the rest of the team “deserves better.” It is unclear what the final straw that benches Haskins, last year’s first round pick, will be, but it is clear Washington needs consistent quarterback play if it wishes to cement its dominance in the weak NFC East.
Sunday’s game was not all bad news for Washington, though: The team finally got off to the start players, coaches and fans have been long awaiting. Outscored 24-0 in the first quarter through the previous two weeks, Washington scored first, a first for this season, off a well-executed pass from Haskins to wide receiver Dontrelle Inman in the first quarter. Rookie Antonio Gibson made his mark, too, rushing for 49 yards and one touchdown. The defense also provided some glimmers of hope for Washington throughout the game, with Montez Sweat and Jack Del Rio standing up to the challenge in the third quarter, forcing two three-and-outs that led to two touchdowns for Washington and a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter.
With cornerback Kendall Fuller back in action for the first time this season, Washington’s secondary was stronger than before, demonstrating strong potential for much of the game. In some regards, this week’s defensive team for Washington seemed to be a step up from last week’s loss, as the unit had more success in containing their opponent’s passing attack. Although it allowed one more passing touchdown, Washington’s defense allowed fewer passing yards than they did in week two, though Cleveland, winning by a significant margin in the second half, stopped passing relatively early on in the game and instead ran the ball to control the clock.
Washington enters week four of the 2020 football season as a work in progress as it prepares to face the Ravens at home this weekend. The NFC East is still up for grabs, and the fate of Young’s injury will prove decisive to the team’s capacity for success. And Haskins, who no longer has a blank check of support from Rivera, will need to step up his game and actually deliver if he wishes to keep his starting job. All eyes will be on Washington to see if they can meet the challenge posed by Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ offense. If they can muster a shocking upset win over their nearby rival, things just might be heading in the right direction for them.
Arianne Levine is a sophomore in the College. Washington Football: District Disappointments? appears online every other week.