Needing a touchdown and two-point conversion to send the game to overtime with a minute left, the Commanders found themselves on the Giants’ doorstep when a scramble from quarterback Taylor Heinicke gave them 3rd-and-goal at the 1-yard line.
Commanders running back Brian Robinson seemingly scored that necessary touchdown on the next play, until it was called back due to an illegal formation penalty on wide receiver Terry McLaurin. The Pro Bowl pass-catcher was not lined up close enough to the line of scrimmage, wiping the score off the books.
However, a subsequent replay appeared to show McLaurin asking the line judge if he was lined up correctly and twice adjusting his position. The player confirmed that to be the case after the game.
Heinicke was incensed after the game, reportedly saying “He gives the thumbs-up to Terry, what the f*** is that?” Referee John Hussey told a pool reporter that McLaurin had to be lined up in front of the belt line of the center, which he was not, and said an official typically doesn’t have to tell a player whether or not they’re positioned legally.
Somehow, that might not have been the worst of it.
One incomplete pass later, the Commanders had 4th-and-goal from the 6-yard line. Heinicke danced in the pocket for a few seconds, then targeted wide receiver Curtis Samuel in the end zone for a potential game-tying touchdown.
The pass fell incomplete after some, well, let’s just call it aggressive defense by Giants cornerback Darnay Holmes for now. Upon further review, though, it became clear that Holmes was much more than just aggressive while covering Samuel. He was basically pretending to be his opponent’s backpack.
Many on social media were quick to call the play a missed pass interference penalty by the referees. Unfortunately for the Commanders, there wasn’t much they could do from there beyond watch the Giants kneel out the clock and move into a commanding position in a close playoff race.
Commanders head coach Ron Rivera wasn’t too happy about the situation after the game. Perhaps wisely, he declined to provide reporters his in-depth thoughts on the game’s officiating:
“Don’t ask me about the refereeing because I can’t answer the question.”
Of course, the Commanders lost for more reasons than just the officials, something Heinicke noted. The team struggled to protect him for most of the game, most notably on a Kayvon Thibodeaux fumble return touchdown. But it’s hard not to think the team should have had two different chances at a game-tying two-point conversion, and that’s never a fun way to lose.