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Washington rides bizarre, sloppy win to top Eagles, fend off Giants for NFC East title

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In the end, this was how the NFC East had to be won.

In a sloppy game featuring stagnant offenses and questionable coaching decisions, the Washington Football Team stumbled into the playoffs with a 20-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night. The game concluded the NFL’s regular season and put a merciful end to play in the NFC East, which crowned a 7-9 champion with Washington’s win.

In winning the division, Washington eliminated the New York Giants, who remained alive for a playoff spot after improving to 6-10 with a win over the Dallas Cowboys earlier Sunday. The Giants swept Washington and held the tiebreaker, but finished the season a game behind their division rivals and out of the playoffs.

Washington Football Team's Chase Young (99) tries to get past Philadelphia Eagles' Boston Scott (35) after recovering a loose snap during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Washington's defense was one of the few competent units on the field on Sunday. Chase Young (99) tries to get past Philadelphia's Boston Scott after recovering a loose snap. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola) (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Washington will host 11-5 Bucs

Washington clinched the No. 4 seed in the NFC and will host a playoff game on Saturday against the No. 5-seeded Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who finished four games ahead of Washington at 11-5.

Sloppy game a fitting end to NFC East play

Washington threatened to run away with the game from the top, opening up a 10-0 first-quarter lead. The Eagles responded with 14 unanswered points on a pair of touchdown runs by quarterback Jalen Hurts.

From that point on, the game was largely a comedy of mistakes, mishaps and bizarre decisions. Despite scoring Philadelphia’s only offensive points, Hurts didn’t finish the game, benched by Doug Pederson in the fourth quarter for journeyman Nate Sudfeld.

Hurts completed 7 of 20 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. Sudfeld completed 5 of 12 passes for 32 yards and an interception. Carson Wentz watched from the sideline in street clothes as he was a healthy scratch.

Philadelphia’s ineptitude allowed Washington to overcome its own multitude of mistakes, which included two Alex Smith interceptions and a pair of fumbles they were able to jump on before the Eagles did.

What was Doug Pederson thinking?

Smith’s second interception threatened to turn the game in Philadelphia’s favor. With Washington leading 17-14 in the third quarter, Marcus Epps ripped away a pass intended for running back J.D. McKissic to set the Eagles up with first down at Washington’s 15-yard line.

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The Eagles ended up getting nothing out of the turnover. Washington stopped the Eagles on third down at the 4-yard line, setting up a seemingly no-brainer field goal to tie the game at 17.

Instead, Pederson rolled the dice, and Hurts’ fourth-down pass into the end zone fell incomplete.

On the next possession, Pederson benched Hurts for Sudfeld, a fourth-year pro who has thrown 25 career passes and hasn’t taken a snap since 2018. The change went as expected.

Sudfeld was not the answer over Hurts

Sudfeld’s second pass was an ill-advised downfield floater on third-and-5 that safety Jeremy Reaves intercepted. On Philadelphia’s next possession, he failed to corral a low snap that resulted in a fumble and another Eagles turnover.

Sudfeld was not a viable option to run the Eagles’ offense. Despite his struggles in the passing game, Hurts was capable of making plays with his feet and gave the Eagles a better chance to win.

While one can point to Pederson’s mantra of aggressively playing to the analytics chart for the questionable decision to bypass a field goal, the quarterback change had many miffed and asking if Pederson was actually trying to win the game.

Count NBC’s Cris Collinswoth and Al Michaels among them.

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“Al, I couldn't have done it,” Collinsworth said in the game’s final minute. “I couldn't have done what Philadelphia did. I just simply could not have done it.

“You've got men out there who are fighting their guts out trying to win the game, and I'm not saying, not blaming anybody. I personally could not have done what they did.”

“I agree under the circumstances, absolutely,” Michaels responded. “If you're getting blown out, yeah. We mentioned yesterday, Doug said he wanted to get Sudfeld in the game. Under this circumstance? Come on.”

The Eagles fell to 4-11-1 with the loss and will pick No. 6 in April’s NFL draft.

Big opportunity for Washington’s young defense

For Washington, the win secures its first playoff berth since the 2015 season. Even amid the inept circumstances of the NFC East, it marks a noteworthy accomplishment in a season that has seen Washington try to turn the page on its recent and historic past.

This marks the first season of the franchise going by “Washington Football Team.” It’s the first season of the Ron Rivera era, which may actually point to a power shift away from embattled team owner Daniel Snyder.

And it marks the first season in a long time where there’s a foundation on the football field to build on. Despite the team’s offensive woes and lack of an answer at quarterback, Washington’s defense has emerged as a legitimate force after years of draft capital invested in the front seven.

Chase Young and Montez Sweat look like stars and will have a spotlight Saturday night with a chance to upend Tom Brady.

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