The signs were there: before the era of Commanders could even officially kick off, visions of the past resurfaced via their creaky stadium and marketing mishaps. But that team, led by new quarterback Carson Wentz and boosted by wide receivers Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson, unveiled a new look that went far beyond its name and uniforms as it rallied to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 28-22 victory.
Washington, for the first time in a long time, looked good, mostly. He combined an effective attack that could extend plays and finish practices with a defense that showed up when it mattered most. But the Commanders also showed they were far from a finished product, as evidenced by an almost disastrous second half in which Wentz threw two interceptions to give up the lead before throwing two touchdown passes in the Last 10 minutes to get it back.
Overall, Wentz’s regular-season debut with Commanders was a lot like his training camp and preseason: accurate throws, perfectly placed deep passes and plenty of good reads, but also baffling interceptions. , an avoidable sack and throws that sailed well on his receivers. He went 27 for 41 for 313 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in the win — which was kind of a statement against the team that played a role in its trade from Indianapolis this offseason.
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“It was awesome,” he said of the win. “It started fast, it stretches in the middle, but to come together and do it when it counts in the end was cool. Cool way to start.
Perhaps the biggest year-over-year change for Washington is how it started: quickly. Last season, Washington kicked off its opener in its first four games — while allowing opponents to score touchdowns on each of their own. Not since 1991 — eight years before Daniel Snyder bought the team — had Washington scored touchdowns in his first two practices of the season.
On Sunday, Commanders not only scored twice in the first half to take a 14-3 halftime lead, they did so with flair, juking and deflecting defenders, diving for grapples and drilling for a pair of sacks and deflecting two passes. in the end zone. They also converted 4 of 5 third attempts and held Jacksonville to a 2-for-7 performance, plus an 0-for-3 mark on red-zone travel.
FedEx Field rocked as Wentz got to work, dropping a perfectly placed ball onto running back Antonio Gibson’s outside shoulder on a seam route out of the backfield. The 26-yard catch put the Commanders at the Jacksonville 4-yard line, setting up a three-yard touchdown catch by Samuel two plays later.
Samuel celebrated with the chicken head dance and a loud declaration, “I’m back.”
“Oh, I definitely said that,” he laughed after the game. “That’s what I was trying to say.”
Samuel, who missed most of last season with groin and hamstring injuries, looked more like the player he had been with the Carolina Panthers, showcasing his speed and cuts fast without limits. He finished with eight catches for 55 yards and added four carries for 17 more.
Perhaps his signature moment was a first-half catch for 12 yards in which he manhandled Darious Williams so badly that the cornerback went down, face first. Samuel smiled after the game but admitted after the game that he had yet to see a replay. Once he did, his reaction was similar to the others watching from afar: “Oh, my God.”
“It’s been so long since I’ve been able to knock dudes like this down,” he added. “… My main concern at the start of the season was my health. I feel like I’ve changed and everything I got is going for me – my diet and everything. I just have to keep it.
During the offseason, Washington again set out to strengthen its receiving corps. Getting Samuel back to full health was a priority. Likewise, landed a player like Dotson, a first-round pick who shows flashes of being a reliable playmaker.
Lining up Dotson and Samuel with Terry McLaurin, Washington offered a glimpse of what his offense can be.
“There aren’t too many guns,” Samuel said. “We have guys who can make plays anywhere on the pitch.”
All three found the end zone on Sunday, including Dotson twice. On Washington’s second series — a 14-game, 71-yard drive that bled in the second quarter — Wentz threw a dart at Dotson in the middle of the end zone for seven yards. Dotson executed a route the team practiced last week, tripping the defender just enough to get a split for his catch near the goal post.
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But consistency has never been Washington’s forte, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when the Commanders came unstuck in the second half, allowing the Jaguars to score 19 straight points for a 22-14 lead. Much like those Washington State mugs, reminders of oldies lingered long enough to create terror.
“I think in this league nothing is going to be easy, and I think we all knew that going into this game,” McLaurin said. “…When we needed to make big plays to win the game, we did it.”
Despite mistakes by Wentz and defensive errors by commanders — missed tackles, breakdowns in coverage — Washington was tight in the end.
Wentz, who was brought in for his deep passing ability, hit tight end Logan Thomas for a 27-yard catch and ran third-and-eight with just under 10 minutes left. On the next play, he connected with McLaurin on a tee drive for a 49-yard touchdown that brought a quiet crowd to life.
The two-point conversion fell through after Wentz was under heavy pressure almost immediately, keeping Jacksonville ahead 22-20. But Washington’s defense quickly left the field when defensive tackle Daron Payne sacked the Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence on third down with just over seven minutes left.
The Commanders final round was a 13-play, 90-yard drive that included another key catch from Thomas — 14 yards on third-and-10 — and another touchdown by Dotson. Coach Ron Rivera said it was an options game in which Wentz made the right read. After a two-run reception by JD McKissic, Washington had a 28-22 advantage with 1:46 to go.
“It was actually a counter of a play that we ran before that we threw a pick on, on our sideline,” Dotson said of his second touchdown. “We knew the guy was sitting – he was crouching low – and we knew if we double-whacked him I could beat him over the top. Carson was just giving me a chance and trusting his receivers.
The Jaguars had plenty of time, but second-year safety Darrick Forrest made sure they wouldn’t go far. Starting in place of injured safety Kam Curl, Forrest had forced a fumble and interrupted two passes in the end zone earlier, but his best play was his last: an interception of a deep heave by a pressed Lawrence at third and 11 with 1:19 remaining.
His pick was the finale of a mad dash for Commanders, one that featured as many high-point games as heart-wrenching mistakes. Rivera said he had a plan to handle the roller coaster games with Wentz at quarterback: “Take some antacids,” he said with a laugh. “We will ride with him.
Maybe Washington fans will be too. When Forrest raised his hands in celebration of his interception, the crowd roared – perhaps with visions of a better future in mind.
“It goes beyond the ‘here we go again’ mentality,” Rivera said. “When things got tough, they didn’t. They kept talking about making games. They kept talking about opportunities. And it happened. »
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