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Defensive hype disappears as Washington is dominated on third downs in season-opening loss
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Defensive hype disappears as Washington is dominated on third downs in season-opening loss

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LANDOVER, Md. — Montez Sweat declared before the season that he and Chase Young wanted to set the season record for sacks by a duo.

Through one game, their tally remains zero.

The Washington Football Team lost 20-16 in its opener on Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, struggling defensively and watching starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick leave the game early with a hip injury.

Fitzpatrick, who was hit hard on his blind side, will be re-evaluated on Monday, but backup Taylor Heinicke likely will quarterback the team against the New York Giants on Thursday night.

Heinicke missed his first two throws, then went 11 for 13 after settling in, while a boisterous crowd chanted his name. The offense was undone by a missed field goal attempt, a fumble and a personal foul call that combined to derail their final three drives.

It was a game that was never out of reach, but never seemed to be in reach either.

“It’s the ugly head of not doing your job, not doing your responsibility,” coach Ron Rivera said. “If you’re responsible for something, you’ve got to do it. And you’ve got to trust that the other guys are doing their jobs.

“We looked at some of the things on the [sideline] tablets, and you can see we’ve got guys not where they’re supposed to be defensively.”

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert carved up the defense, finishing the day 14 of 19 on third-down conversions, including key ones late in the game.

“He came out, he threw the ball well — hell of a quarterback,” Young said. “We’ve just got to go back to the drawing board and get things right.”

In a strange twist, Young and Sweat weren’t on the field together for many of those key plays, as the team went with a rotation that included Casey Toohill and James Smith-Williams. Rivera cited the heat and the need to have fresh legs on the field.

As for the offense, running back Antonio Gibson finished with 90 yards as the group got rolling in the second half under Heinicke.

The first drive of the second half included an early candidate for catch of the year by Terry McLaurin, who caught the ball while sliding out of bounds after it slipped through the hands of a Chargers defender.

Seconds later, Logan Thomas leaped to bring down a touchdown pass in the end zone and give Washington a 16-13 lead.

The Chargers made it into the red zone on their next two possessions, but turned the ball over both times — once on a bizarre fumble call by the officials, and once when William Jackson III recorded an easy interception.

The Football Team couldn’t capitalize, though. The first turnover resulted in a Dustin Hopkins missed 51-yard field goal try (he converted his three first-half attempts), and the second ended one play later with a Gibson fumble, and led to a Los Angeles touchdown.

Washington drove into Los Angeles territory, but opted to punt on a fourth-and-7 from the Chargers’ 40-yard line with 6:43 remaining. Washington didn’t get the ball back.

The fourth down would have been a 58-yard field goal attempt for Hopkins, which Rivera said wasn’t considered because of the range.

The Chargers converted a third-and-16 on the decisive drive, another of the missed opportunities Rivera lamented.

“I look at the game and I see a bunch of errors that we made, and a lot of spots that we could be better in,” defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said. “Just blown assignments, rushers not doing the little things that we’ve practiced leading up to this point. Defensively, and especially the defensive line, I think we just have to play better.”

Heinicke finished with just the one touchdown pass, but he showed the spark that made him a fan favorite in the days after the playoff game last year.

He improvised a handful of times, including a completion to McLaurin that resembled a basketball chest pass more than a football throw.

Players on offense and defense expressed confidence in him, and he earned the crowd’s approval as well.

“It was really cool,” he said of them chanting his name. “But it was just so unfortunate that it came at the hands of Fitz getting injured. And it would have been a lot better if we had won the game — I’ll say that.”

L.A. Chargers 7 6 0 7 — 20

Washington 3 6 7 0 — 16

First Quarter

LAC—Ekeler 3 run (Vizcaino kick), 9:19.

WFT—FG Hopkins 30, 3:00.

Second Quarter

WFT—FG Hopkins 43, 13:40.

LAC—FG Vizcaino 33, 9:09.

LAC—FG Vizcaino 27, :48.

WFT—FG Hopkins 48, :05.

Third Quarter

WFT—L.Thomas 11 pass from Heinicke (Hopkins kick), 11:29.

Fourth Quarter

LAC—M.Williams 3 pass from Herbert (Vizcaino kick), 11:25.

A—52,753.

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing–L.A. Chargers, Ekeler 15-57, Rountree 8-27, Jackson 1-5, Nabers 1-2, Herbert 4-(minus 1). Washington, Gibson 20-90, Heinicke 3-17, Patterson 2-9, McKissic 1-8, Fitzpatrick 1-2.

Passing–L.A. Chargers, Herbert 31-47-1-337. Washington, Heinicke 11-15-0-122, Fitzpatrick 3-6-0-13.

Receiving–L.A. Chargers, Allen 9-100, Williams 8-82, Cook 5-56, Guyton 3-49, Hill 3-30, Palmer 1-17, Jackson 1-2, Anderson 1-1. Washington, McLaurin 4-62, Thomas 3-30, Gibson 3-18, Humphries 2-10, Sims 1-17, Brown 1-(minus 2).

Missed FG–Washington, Hopkins 51.

mphillips@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6546

Twitter: @michaelpRTD

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