The Washington Football Team retook first place in the NFC East on Sunday with their 23-15 win over the San Francisco 49ers. It was a matchup that was completely dominated by Washington and its defense for the first three quarters, but San Francisco's offense did make things interesting by scoring a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to eight. Dwayne Haskins replaced Alex Smith under center in the second half after the veteran suffered a calf injury and Haskins was able to secure the victory, but it was rookie pass rusher Chase Young who was the MVP of this matchup. He recorded four total tackles, one sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a touchdown just in the first half!
As for the 49ers, they struggled to find consistency on the offensive side of the ball. Nick Mullens completed 25 of 45 passes for 256 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but also turned the ball over twice. Raheem Mostert led the rushing attack with 65 yards on 14 carries, and rookie wideout Brandon Aiyuk caught 10 passes for a total of 119 yards. With this loss, it likely knocks San Francisco out of the postseason race, while Washington has once again found new life.
Why Washington won
Washington scored two touchdowns on Sunday, and neither came from the offense. It's hard to overstate how good this Washington defensive line is. They accounted for three sacks, four passes defensed, nine quarterback hits and a touchdown. When the offense couldn't get anything going in the first half, Daron Payne forced a fumble and Young returned it all the way for six points. They consistently put pressure on Mullens, which in turn shortened the amount of time the defensive backs had to stay locked on their assignments. What's probably most important, however, is that this defensive line scores points. The two turnovers they forced turned into 10 points -- and the three turnovers the defense forced as a whole turned into 17 points.
Why the 49ers lost
The 49ers offense recorded just one good drive in the first three quarters of action. I understand that sounds like a joke or a mistake, but it's not. The 49ers' seven-play, 57-yard drive that resulted in a Jeff Wilson touchdown at the end of the first quarter was the only drive in the first half that went over seven plays. At the end of the third quarter, Mullens and Co. were putting their longest drive of the game together with an 11-play, 68-yard possession. Unfortunately, it was ended by a pick six. Their 344 yards of total offense is below their average of 366.2, and they had more giveaways than touchdowns scored. This loss is virtually the death knell for San Francisco's playoff chances.
With 2:40 remaining in the fourth quarter, it appeared the 49ers had a legitimate chance to win this game. They were down eight points, had possession at their own 48-yard line and a set of downs to work with, but Washington forced them off the field immediately with a four-and-out. On 4th and 12, Jon Bostic and Ronald Darby stonewalled Kendrick Bourne from crossing the imaginary yellow line, and that was virtually the game. It was just one of several big plays Bostic made on Sunday afternoon, and he finished with a game-high 10 total tackles and one pass defensed. The defensive line is what stands out about this unit, but the linebackers deserve praise as well.
Play of the game
Young is an absolute monster. In the first half, he recorded four total tackles, one sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and Washington's only touchdown. It's not often you see a defensive lineman completely take over a game, but it appears Young is of the same breed of guys like Aaron Donald and the Watt brothers.
Washington travels back to D.C., where they will host the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers will travel to Dallas next Sunday, where they will take on another NFC East team in the Cowboys.
Relive all the action in the live blog below!