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Football Team observations: I watched an NFL game in an empty stadium. It was weird.

Football Team observations: I watched an NFL game in an empty stadium. It was weird.

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LANDOVER, Md.

It’s a play I’ve seen attempted often in peewee football. Can’t say I’ve ever seen it at the NFL level.

As the Philadelphia Eagles punted the ball in the second quarter on Sunday, the Eagles standing on the sideline yelled at Washington returner Steven Sims as he prepared to catch it.

Sims bobbled the ball. The sideline went wild.

So it went at most stadiums across the league on Sunday, as the NFL played in front of empty stadiums and players discovered they needed to provide their own energy.

In Washington, a handful of lucky media members were permitted to watch, after affirming their commitment to safe living in these dangerous times.

From my perch in the corner of FedEx Field, it was the same game it’s always been — the world’s best athletes, flying around and hitting each other at unthinkable speeds.

It was what happened after the play, though, that was jarring: nothing.

Football is a communal experience, and after a big sack, Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan turned to the empty seats to do his signature “heartbreak kid” flex. Instead of the roar of the crowd, there was the faint hum of white noise.

(Viewers at home were treated to a soundtrack crowd created by NFL Films, in a mostly successful attempt to normalize the experience.)

It didn’t impact the quality of play or the excitement of the game, but it made things less fun, not sharing the moment with thousands of others who appreciate the game.

After Washington’s win, the team charged into the locker room, fired up. The only noises in the stadium were some celebratory music and the clapping of a single security guard.

I’m glad they’re playing and I’m very glad they’re doing it safely. But this will take some getting used to.

Other Sunday observations

Some credit to the sound operator at FedEx Field. When Philly came running onto the field, the sound of crickets chirping was played. Also, big Dwayne Haskins plays are now accompanied by “Lion King” music —

  • Haskins goes by the nickname Simba.
  • Haskins just didn’t look comfortable until a halftime drive that went up-tempo. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner will need to balance two things the rest of the year: He wants to teach Haskins the fundamentals of the offense and the way to make reads, but also must recognize that Haskins plays his best football when he’s reacting instead of thinking.
  • A bizarre stat: Haskins had 178 yards — the same number Alex Smith had in three of his 2018 victories in Washington.
  • The running back load was more or less evenly split among J.D. McKissic, Antonio Gibson and Peyton Barber. That’s bad news for fantasy owners but probably a reasonable expectation until one of them breaks out in a bigger way.
  • The breakout player offensively for me was Logan Thomas, who was a security blanket for Haskins, and emerged as a go-to player for an offense that needs one. Thomas wasn’t on the field for the first play, so he’ll have to wait for his first NFL start, though.
  • Pending further review, the area of concern offensively is the left side of the line. Geron Christian and Wes Martin weren’t good enough, and at one point let Haskins get blindsided in a way that shouldn’t ever happen to an NFL quarterback. Coach Ron Rivera said he felt that Martin and Christian “epitomized guys that started slow, but all of a sudden realized, ‘Shoot, I belong here.’”
  • Chase Young is the real deal. The only reason Young didn’t have eight sacks is because his teammates shared in the fun.
  • One massive difference between 17-0 and the rest of the game? Washington quit making dumb penalties. The little things are massive at the NFL level, and once they quit beating themselves, the Football Team was in a much better spot.

mphillips@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6546

Twitter: @michaelpRTD

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