On a night the Eagles fumbled away the extraordinary turnover luck they’d enjoyed during an undefeated run, Philadelphia still had a chance to get the ball back, trailing Washington 26-21 with more than 90 seconds remaining for Jalen Hurts and the offense.
However, Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham was flagged for hitting Taylor Heinicke late after the QB gave himself up, smartly kneeling after his reads weren’t immediately open.
After the game, Graham said he thought Heinicke was trying to get up and keep the play alive.
“I was just trying to touch him down, because it just looked like he was going to get up,” the veteran defensive end said via the official transcript. “You just never know. But that’s on me. I own that one. That’s on me.”
The 15-yard penalty allowed the Commanders to milk the clock inside 10 seconds and forced Philly to attempt a last-second pitch play, which Washington turned into a free six points with zeros on the clock in the 32-21 win.
Referee Alex Kemp noted to pool reporter Zach Berman after the game that Graham clearly hit Heinicke late.
“That was my call. I had ruled the quarterback had clearly given himself up,” Kemp said. “Therefore, he is down and a defenseless player. The contact by Philadelphia No. 55 was not only late but also to the head and neck area.”
Whether or not you believe Kemp should have swallowed his whistle in that big moment on a hit that wasn’t that egregious is another matter. By the letter of the rule, Graham’s hit certainly came after Heinicke kneeled himself down.
“We can’t put the game in the refs’ hands,” Graham said. “In that position, I just have to know if he goes down, it’s okay. For me, I was just hustling to the play trying to make sure he was down and just trying to get off the field.”
A 13-year veteran, Graham should have known better. Whether he had a brain fart and didn’t realize Heinicke had indeed given himself up, was racing teammate Hassan Reddick to get credited for the sack or simply pulled a White Goodman on a night he nary sniffed the QB (one total pressure), it was an error that ended the Eagles’ chances of a comeback bid to keep the undefeated season alive.
However, coach Nick Sirianni noted that the call isn’t what cost Philly a 9-0 record.
“That’s not what lost us the football game,” he said. “The three turnovers lost us the game. The time of possession loses you the game. We lost it together: offense, defense, special teams, we lost it together. That’s what lost us the game.”
No, if the penalty were the reason Philly lost, it would be much easier to swallow. Instead, the defense got run over, and the offense bumbled its chances. The boneheaded play by Graham, however, did wipe away our chance as viewers to see one more pressure-packed drive with the game on the line. That was a bummer.
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