As the U.S. Army celebrated its 246th birthday, the Washington Nationals found themselves in a battle with the rest of the NFC East. Injuries and inconsistencies have marred the team’s 2021 campaign, leaving them seven games behind the division-leading New York Mets.
Late-inning heroics by newly-promoted leadoff hitter Kyle Schwarber, who launched his team-leading 13th home run into the right field stands in the bottom of the seventh, paved the way to a 3-2 victory over the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates in the series opener.
While starter Jon Lester has yet to earn his first win as a member of the Nationals, the 37-year-old soldiered through a respectable outing — allowing two runs over 5 1/3 innings pitched — as Washington won for the third time in four games.
Reliever Kyle Finnegan picked up the win and closer Brad Hand earned his 12th save of the season, thanks in large part to Schwarber’s fourth homer in three games.
First baseman/face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman has long been one of the most beloved players in Washington Nationals’ history. His three-run homer in the fourth inning helped Washington battle back from an early five-run deficit to defeat the Baltimore Orioles 12-9.
As if that wasn’t enough, after scoring the 948th run of his storied career two innings later, Zimmerman surpassed Hall of Famer Tim Raines for the franchise lead. All of which was a welcome distraction from the fact that starting pitcher Jon Lester was rocked early and often – giving up a grand slam in the first inning before most fans had even taken their seats.
The Nats offense, which has been inconsistent at times this season, responded with 15 hits and 12 runs, thanks largely to Zimmerman and Josh Harrison’s first grand slam. Daniel Hudson picked up the win and Brad Hand earned the save as Washington improved to 19-23 on the year.
For more than two decades, Ben Olsen was the heart and soul of D.C. United. After spending 11 seasons in the nation’s capital as a player, Olsen became the team’s coach in 2010. When D.C. United and the 44-year-old parted ways last fall, it meant the club would need to establish a new identity.
Meet Hernán Losada. The 38-year-old Argentine was clearly not a household name before he was announced as Olsen’s successor, but his arrival signaled an absolute changing of the guard in D.C.
No longer will D.C. United sit back and go passively into the night. Losada’s brand features a high-pressing, high-energy style of play that will definitely make the black and red more fun to watch … once his current players are up to speed with the system and the front office adds a few more pieces to the roster.
In the meantime, frustrating matches like this one – where D.C. United had the bulk of possession, a 10-2 advantage on corner kicks and outshot Orlando City SC 13-6, but lost 1-0 – are bound to happen. Optimistic fans should remain hopeful that better days are ahead for one of the original titans of Major League Soccer.
While an unexpected division title and playoff berth was a welcome distraction, head coach Ron Rivera and the rest of the Washington Football Team brain trust knows there’s plenty more work to be done before the franchise can be considered a regular contender.
That’s why something as simple as 16 youngsters donning burgundy and gold while taking the practice field for the first time is so noteworthy for coaches and fans alike. Everyone from the team’s 2021 first-round draft pick, Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis, to an undrafted free agent like running back Jaret Patterson represents hope of better days.
One of these players could become a future franchise cornerstone or a Pro Bowler. Perhaps there is a hidden gem or a future team captain in the mix. Optimism reigns supreme in most NFL cities this time of year, but really, after two decades of mediocrity, maybe we should cut WFT fans a little slack and let them dream a little dream.
Washington Nationals starter and first-ballot Hall of Famer Max Scherzer did everything within his power to secure a victory over his former club, the Arizona Diamondbacks — striking out 10 while allowing no runs, two hits and two walks over seven innings.
In fact, his outing was so impressive that the 36-year-old actually surpassed the legendary Cy Young for the 22nd-most strikeouts (2,807) of all-time. And yet, Scherzer’s heroic effort was nearly wasted because of Washington’s inability to produce anything resembling a coherent offense.
While Scherzer is easily one of the most intense and competitive athletes in professional sports, he’s probably willing to live with a no-decision on this day. That’s because left fielder Kyle Schwarber picked a fine time for his first home run as a member of the Nationals, launching a towering solo shot to the ballpark’s second deck in the bottom of the ninth inning to end the game 1-0 in the most dramatic of fashion.
The Washington Football Team was in a position to win the pitiful NFC East and a trip to the playoffs thanks largely to one of the best defensive lines in football and inspired play from future Comeback Player of the Year Alex Smith.
Since 2018, Washington is 11-5 when Smith starts and 6-27 when he does not. While his numbers during his time in our nation’s capital have never been flashy, Smith continually does just enough to put his team in a position to win. Following this trend, Washington went 5-1 during Smith’s starts and 2-8 when Dwayne Haskins/Kyle Allen led the offense during the 2020 season.
With Smith sidelined due to injury as they hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a wild card weekend, Washington was forced to turn to a fourth starting quarterback this season.
Enter Taylor Heinicke.
The XFL backup who signed with the franchise 32 days earlier, turned in the most enjoyable performance by a Washington Football Team quarterback during the 2020 season as he fought valiantly before a national audience in a 31-23 loss.
On the night, Heinicke completed 26 of 44 attempts for 306 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. The Old Dominion product also rushed six times for 46 yards, including a breathtaking, highlight of the night eight-yard score that legitimately made football fans everywhere stop and say, “How is this kid truly going toe-to-toe with the greatest quarterback in NFL history?”
While head coach Ron Rivera and friends will naturally be disappointed in the loss, this particular defeat feels different than most. Rather than heading into yet another bleak offseason, this entertaining ending to a unique season might just signal better days ahead for the burgundy and gold.
For the first time since 2015, the Washington Football Team is headed to the postseason, thanks to a 20-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles (who were eliminated from the playoffs one week earlier and were more than happy to get this meaningless game over as quickly as possible).
While the contest was anything but pretty, head coach Ron Rivera and his players should absolutely refuse to apologize for the way this game — and this season — played out. When Washington was 2-7 and seemingly destined for another season as one of the league’s laughingstocks, the nameless football team rallied together and turned it around.
Led by quite possibly the best defensive line in pro football, Washington rallied to win five of their final seven games while holding opponents to 20 points or less in each outing. And with Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen keeping opposing offenses on the heels, Washington’s offense was able to cobble together enough output each week to get the job done.
During recent weeks, quarterback Alex Smith, running back Antonio Gibson and receiver Terry McLaurin all battled various injuries and ailments, which made it even more difficult for offensive coordinator Scott Turner to scheme up ways to put points on the board. During Week 17, the Football Team actually scored on its opening drive for the first time all season, which is both impressive and depressing at the same time.
After safety Kamren Curl intercepted rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts on the Eagles’ second drive of the game, Washington added a field goal to take a commanding 10-0 lead. Sadly, the surprising first half output was too good to last, and Hurts scored a rushing touchdown on each of Philly’s next two drives as the Eagles took a 14-10 lead. But inspired play by Washington’s defense, as well as tactical decisions by the Eagles coaching staff (like benching the one guy who put points on the board), insured that Philadelphia’s offense remained dormant the rest of the evening.
Amazingly, Washington will now host Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a playoff game next Saturday night. That’s a sentence absolutely no one would have believed a year ago when Rivera was announced as the new head coach of a 3-13 embarassment …