Washington's third straight win vaults them into playoff contention

LANDOVER, Md. -- The formula for how the Washington Football Team could win was evident in training camp. But for the first eight games it wasn’t the blueprint they followed.

When that changed, Washington embarked on a winning streak that has it back not only in the thick of the playoff race, but within shouting distance of first-place Dallas in the NFC East.

After its 17-15 win over Seattle Monday night, Washington (5-6) has won three consecutive games and is two games behind the Dallas Cowboys. Washington also holds the seventh and final playoff spot with six games remaining. Last year, Washington won five of its final seven games to win the division after opening the season 2-7.

Washington’s run game and defense has spurred the turnaround with both on display Monday. Seattle had allowed only 3.42 yards per carry in the last five games entering Monday. No team during that time had rushed for more than 119 yards. Washington averaged 3.6 yards but finished with 153.

"I still think I hate losing more than I like winning," Washington defensive tackle Jon Allen said. "When you win, that's what we’re supposed to do. You don't reward a fish for swimming. ... Now we have to look at [ourselves] with a critical eye. We can't get complacent."

One more stat: Washington controlled the ball for 41 minutes, 19 seconds.

Antonio Gibson, whose injured shin has been feeling much better lately, rushed for a season-high 111 yards. That topped his season-high of 95 yards last week at Carolina.

In that game, Washington rushed for 190 yards. It’s a function of good blocking up front, including tight end John Bates; motion that creates confusion for the defense and hard running.

Defensively, Washington shut down Seattle, holding its fourth consecutive opponent to less than 300 yards of total offense. The Seahawks converted just 2 of 10 third downs. Receiver DK Metcalf was held to one catch for 13 yards by corners Kendall Fuller and William Jackson III.

Washington’s turnaround started with improved secondary play, with Landon Collins expanding his role and taking on some linebacker duties when not playing safety. It’s provided Washington the ability to use three safeties, which has helped disguise coverages. And the line, even without injured ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat, remains effective.

It’s what Washington anticipated when the season began. Though it was not winning at 2-6, players continued to say they liked what they saw in practices. It enabled them to stay confident and that confidence has only built during a three-game streak.

"We're not out of [the hole] completely," coach Ron Rivera said. "It's about learning and growing and it's all part of the process we had to go through to develop as a team. It wasn't going to happen overnight. We're coming together and being the team we envisioned."

Pivotal play: Fuller had a terrific night in coverage vs. Metcalf. He was physical and competed for the ball with a wideout who excels at contested catches. But Fuller’s biggest play occurred after Seattle had scored with 15 seconds left in the game and went for two to tie it. Quarterback Russell Wilson had time in the pocket and Fuller broke off his coverage of Metcalf and jumped a ball to Freddie Swain in the back of the end zone for an interception, preventing Seattle from tying the game. Earlier in the game, Gibson rushed in for Washington to convert a 2-point conversion.

QB breakdown: Taylor Heinicke played an efficient game and was able to escape tough situations in the pocket to gain yards -- with his arm or his legs. It’s what he does best. Heinicke sometimes holds the ball too long, but he knows he can get out of bad spots to make plays. Heinicke wasn’t always as accurate as he needed to be; he missed seeing a couple of open targets. But he makes plays at pivotal times; he threw for 223 yards one touchdown and an interception. He’s also become a smarter manager of the game. "The confidence in that room is at an all-time high," he said after the win.

Troubling trend: Washington’s kicking issues continue to be magnified. After it released Dustin Hopkins, Chris Blewitt had three kicks blocked in two games -- two in a loss at Denver, a game that could haunt Washington. Joey Slye made his first six field goals and five extra points until having an extra point blocked Monday. Blewitt’s kicks were too low; Slye was victimized by a Seattle overload that left a free rusher. But the worst part for Slye: He pulled a hamstring on the play and couldn’t kick. Washington likely will need to find another kicker.