The Washington Football Team lost their season opener to the Los Angeles Chargers, 20-16. There were both good and bad moments on Sunday, but a loss is a loss and Washington will now have to navigate the waters without starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will reportedly miss 6-8 weeks with a hip injury.
Justin Herbert was great on Sunday, as his offense converted on 14 of 19 third downs. Additionally, thanks to his rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater, the pressure he experienced was minimal. Slater even found himself atop CBS Sports' rookie power rankings! Washington's offense had a couple of moments, but the Chargers won the time of possession battle and Antonio Gibson's costly fumble coupled with Washington's defense being unable to get off the field late in the fourth quarter sealed a victory for Los Angeles.
It's just one game, and there's no reason to overreact to a close loss. Still, we can identify a few players who saw their stocks rise, and others who had theirs dip. Below we will examine four players who impressed in Week 1, and four who struggled.
I'm not sure what else we can say about McLaurin. He has established himself as one of the most talented receivers in the NFL -- and has done so without having one quarterback who can play well enough to retain his status as starter, or stay healthy.
"If you want to be a top guy you got to go out there and make play. Doesn't matter if it's the fourth-string QB," McLaurin said on Tuesday, via JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington.
McLaurin didn't light up the box score in Week 1, and didn't even catch a pass in the first half. Still, he finished having caught all four of his targets for 62 yards and also made this ridiculous catch.
I had high hopes for Fitzpatrick but I still think Taylor Heinicke taking over will be a good thing for McLaurin. Like Fitz, he's a quarterback who clearly wants to make the big play downfield, and McLaurin has shown the ability to do just that. Of the offensive players who played at least three snaps for Washington on Sunday, McLaurin had the highest PFF grade with a 78.6. Things are going to get better for him -- as soon as this Thursday night against the New York Giants.
Like McLaurin, Thomas didn't have a monster game in Week 1, but his confidence is evident. Another reason his stock is up is because of Curtis Samuel's unfortunate injury, which solidifies Thomas as one of Washington's top targets moving forward. The former quarterback caught all three of his targets for 30 yards in Week 1, including Washington's only touchdown:
Thomas caught five passes for 74 yards in his only other start with Heinicke, and one would imagine his success is going to continue as the regular season progresses. ESPN's Matthew Berry pointed out that Thomas has now scored in four of his past seven regular-season games. Everyone tabbed Thomas as a tight end who would have another career year in 2021, and I agree.
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Sure, Gibson had a consequential fumble against the Chargers, but Week 1 was a big deal for him. No, it wasn't because of his 90 yards on the ground, it was because of his five targets in the passing game. Washington ran a two-back system in 2020, and while Gibson was a former receiver, he was not Washington's receiving back. J.D. McKissic wore that hat for Washington, but he was targeted just once in the passing game. This is something fantasy owners had been praying for -- for Gibson to be the true, unquestioned No. 1 back. Fantasy aside, this is something that should bode well for Washington as a whole, as Gibson has legitimate star potential.
During a recent interview with Tyler Dunne of "Go Long," Gibson said that he's heard the praise and the hype surrounding him, but he didn't even get to accomplish what he wanted to in his first NFL season.
"It wasn't that special to me," Gibson said. "I'm just touching the water. This year's going to be something special.
"This year is going to be something special."
I think he's right. It's happening!
I thought McCain was one of the most underrated additions Washington made this offseason, because he brings versatility, experience and depth to the secondary. We have played just one game and he really made his mark. Despite sharing reps with Landon Collins and Kamren Curl, McCain led all safeties with 69 snaps and finished with a 75.3 PFF grade -- which ranked fourth on defense behind three defensive linemen. It was impossible to watch the film and not notice McCain flying around on the field. He's a great addition for Washington who has already made an impact.
St-Juste got taken to church on Sunday and experienced baptism by fire. Now, I like this prospect in many ways, but he struggled against the likes of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Jared Cook -- as many rookies probably would.
The Chargers' first drive of the second half is going to be the moment in film study where St-Juste asks if he can go to the bathroom. On third-and-10, Washington fell into zone coverage and it looked like St-Juste wasn't quick enough to hand off a streaking receiver to the safety while Cook ran a deep out route underneath him which went for a gain of 23 yards. That was a tricky play, but Herbert clearly saw something and they started to work St-Juste on the left side of the field.
Two plays later, Herbert got Williams in single coverage against St-Juste. Williams sold a nice double-move and Herbert delivered a great ball, but the wideout dropped what would have been a touchdown. Another two plays later, the Chargers lined Allen and Cook out on the left while St-Juste and linebacker Cole Holcomb mirrored them in clear man coverage. You could see Herbert practically salivating on the field, as Allen ran an out route out of motion which converted a third-and-6. St-Juste also gave up the game-winning touchdown to Williams in the end zone, although the coverage was not terrible.
St-Juste finished with the worst PFF grade (30.6 ) of any Washington defender who played at least 10 snaps. It was undoubtedly a tough assignment, but Washington saw him as a player who would come in and be an immediate-impact guy. St-Juste's goose isn't cooked by any means, but Sunday wasn't a great showing.
Fitzpatrick's stock isn't dropping just because he got hurt, it's more than that.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Fitzpatrick is expected to miss 6-8 weeks after suffering a hip subluxation in the second quarter. The team officially placed him on injured reserve Tuesday. In comes Heinicke, who sparked Washington's offense, going 11 for 15 for 122 yards and a touchdown.
Washington held a "quarterback battle" this offseason, but it was always Fitzpatrick's job. Now, the door has opened for Heinicke to steal said job. With this roster and what we have already seen from the former Old Dominion star, would it surprise anyone if Heinicke performed well? What happens when Fitzpatrick comes back? I seriously doubt Rivera would bench Heinicke for "The Beard" if he's playing well.
It's unfortunate, because while he's started for nine teams, Fitzpatrick has never started a postseason game. That was supposed to change this year for one of the league's most beloved players.
Bostic is a veteran leader who is a good run-stopper. That said, he's not too helpful in pass coverage. A tweet from Next Gen Stats got some attention on social media this past Sunday that didn't look too good for Bostic.
The Chargers were facing a third-and-16 from their own 12-yard line with 5:29 left in the game while up four points. Herbert then converted on a 17-yard pass to Allen for the first down. On that play, the Chargers' chances of winning increased by 16 percent, from 66 percent to 82 percent. Next Gen Stats also had a visual representation of what happened on that play, and it wasn't flattering for Washington's defense.
On 3rd & 16 from their own 12-yard line with 5:29 left in the game (up by 4), Justin Herbert and the Chargers offense converts on a 17-yard pass to Keenan Allen.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 12, 2021
The #Chargers chances of winning increased by 16%, from 66% to 82%, as result of the play.#LACvsWAS | #BoltUp pic.twitter.com/if88CIPA01
As you can see, Washington is clearly in zone coverage. For whatever reason, Bostic was more worried about Cook's underneath route than Allen streaking right by him. The star wideout got to the first down mark, Herbert hit him and that was that. Some will try to blame McCain (20) for falling too deep, but I would imagine that's his job as the free safety. Just looking at this graphic, it appears that's where Bostic was supposed to be.
Additionally, Bostic recorded a poor 46.1 PFF grade, which was the lowest of anyone on Washington's defense who recorded at least 48 snaps. Washington's defense actually struggled in Week 1. They allowed 334 passing yards, which is the most since Week 16 of the 2019 season.
While Gibson's stock rose, McKissic's fell. The former Detroit Lion was targeted a whopping 110 times in the passing game last year, and caught 80 balls for 589 yards and two touchdowns. Some tabbed him as a fantasy football sleeper in PPR leagues, but after just one target in Week 1, those pushing that narrative are likely abandoning ship. McKissic was actually a solid player with 7.4 yards per reception last season, but with Gibson being a former receiver, you have to agree with the decision offensive coordinator Scott Turner made.