EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — For teams eliminated from playoff contention, the final game of the season is often compared to a preseason game — it doesn’t mean anything, the starters usually rest and crowds are sparse.
Sunday’s finale, a 22-7 Washington victory against the New York Giants, was every bit as bleak as advertised. Gray skies and cold temperatures painted the scene as the Football Team marched to its seventh victory, and dropped the Giants to 4-12.
The Washington sideline had something that wasn’t present on the other side, though: hope.
New York’s fans booed their team early and often, as coach Joe Judge finds himself on the hot seat after two uninspiring seasons and one memorable postgame rant last week.
Judge even took a loss in the victory formation — he called for a quarterback sneak on third-and-9 early in the game, ensuring the team wouldn’t convert, but buying his punter an extra yard of space to work with.
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New York scored a fourth-quarter touchdown to avoid the shutout, but was never seriously in contention, even though Washington’s offense, behind Taylor Heinicke, was mostly content to run the ball for a while then punt.
Washington was able to get two players to individual milestones: Terry McLaurin crossed 1,000 yards receiving, and Antonio Gibson crossed 1,000 yards rushing.
It was the first time the Football Team has had a 1,000-yard rusher and receiver since Alfred Morris and DeSean Jackson in 2014.
In a game where the result didn’t matter, Heinicke said it was important to help acknowledge McLaurin, who was targeted early and often.
“It’s a big accomplishment,” Heinicke said. “It’s his third year, and he’s got two of them already. It’s huge.
“He’s gone through what, 7, 8, 9 quarterbacks? [He’s caught passes from 7 quarterbacks, and played with 8.] So it’s a testament to him, how hard he works, and how good of a player he is. It was kind of a big emphasis this week.”
McLaurin contributed with more than just pass catching.
In the first half, Giants cornerback Xavier McKinney intercepted an errant pass that was intended for McLaurin, but the receiver plowed into him at full speed, jarring the ball loose and resulting in an incompletion.
“I had to take it back to my gunner days,” McLaurin laughed, referring to his former role on the punt unit. “He didn’t see me, so it was a perfect time to make a good hit.”
McLaurin and Gibson both spent the week — against their wishes — hearing about how close they were to the milestones.
Gibson said he didn’t want to know when he got 1,000, so he would continue running hard to the finish, but accidentally caught a glimpse of his stats heading into halftime and knew where he stood.
The running back credited his offensive line with a strong game, and noted that at the end of his second season, he thinks he’s closer to playing with the right balance of patience and aggression.
“Last year I was kind of, like, too patient, and wasn’t hitting the right hole,” he said. “This year I was hitting the right hole but I wasn’t patient. So it’s kind of putting it all together.”
The end of the season brings two other items of note.
The first is draft position — Washington will select No. 11 in this year’s draft.
The Football Team needs a quarterback, and in a year with no stars, there are likely to be options available at No. 11, like Liberty’s Malik Willis, but the team might also trade the pick as part of a package for a veteran option, like Derek Carr or Aaron Rodgers.
Washington also now knows its opponents for next year.
At home, Washington will play the Falcons, Browns, Packers, Jaguars, Vikings, Titans, Cowboys, Giants and Eagles.
On the road, Washington will face the 49ers, Bears, Lions, Texans, Colts, Cowboys, Giants and Eagles.
This year, Washington finished with the NFL’s toughest strength of schedule, which is unlikely to be the case next year.
Washington will do exit interviews tomorrow at its facility, then attention turns to the unveiling of a new team name on Feb. 2.
Rivera said after the game he wasn’t planning on making any changes on his coaching staff, but added a caveat.
“I don’t anticipate doing anything, other than the things we need to do to go forward,” he said.