Washington Commanders rally past Jacksonville Jaguars in season opener – The Washington Post

Washington Commanders rally past Jacksonville Jaguars in season opener - The Washington Post

It started with the cups. In the Commanders’ official cargo truck outside FedEx Field on Sunday were white coffee mugs with the team’s new gold “W” logo printed inside the outline of Washington — the state of Washington. They were removed when word spread on social media.

Then there was a leaky pipe that left a puddle on the concourse level at FedEx Field — and required four trash cans and yellow tape to contain. Then another leak, this one on the second level, dripped regularly on the heads of two worshipers wearing ponchos. It wasn’t raining at the time.

The signs were there: Before the Commanders era could even officially begin, visions of the past resurfaced with their crumbling stadium and marketing mishaps. But this team, led by new quarterback Carson Wentz and spurred on by wide receivers Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson, unveiled a new look that went well beyond its name and uniforms as it rallied past the Jacksonville Jaguars for 28-22 victory

Washington, for the first time in a long time, actually looked good – mostly. It combined an efficient offense that could stretch plays and finish drives with a defense that showed up when it mattered most. But the Commanders also showed they are far from a finished product, as evidenced by a near-catastrophic second half in which Wentz threw two interceptions to give up the lead before throwing two touchdown passes in the final 10 minutes to take it back.

All in all, Wentz’s regular season debut looked a lot like his training camp and preseason: pinpoint throws, perfectly placed deep passes and plenty of good reads but also some baffling interceptions, an avoidable sack and throws that sailed well over his receivers. He finished 27 for 41 for 313 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in the win – which was something of a statement against the team that had a hand in its trade from Indianapolis this offseason.

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“It felt great,” he said of the win. “Started fast, rough stretch there in the middle, but to come together and do it when it mattered at the end, that was great. A wonderful way to start.”

Perhaps the most significant year-over-year change for Washington is the way it started: fast. Last season, Washington threw its opening drive in its first four games – allowing its opponents to score touchdowns on each of them. Not since 1991 — eight years before Daniel Snyder bought the team — has Washington scored touchdowns on its first two drives of the season.

On Sunday, the Commanders not only scored twice in the first half to take a 14-3 halftime lead, they did it with flair, scratching and spinning defenders, diving for catches and breaking through for a pair of sacks and notching two passes. in the end zone. They also converted 4 of 5 third-down attempts and held Jacksonville to a 2-for-7 showing, plus an 0-for-3 mark on red-zone trips.

FedEx Field shook as Wentz went to work, dropping a perfectly placed ball to the outside shoulder of running back Antonio Gibson 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 Samuels two plays later.

Samuel celebrated with the chicken dance and a loud declaration: “I’m back.”

“Oh, I definitely said that,” he laughed after the game. “I meant it.”

Samuel, who missed most of last season with groin and hamstring injuries, looked more like the player he was with the Carolina Panthers, showing his speed and quick cuts 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 juked Darious Williams so badly that the cornerback went down, face-first. Samuel smiled after the play but admitted postgame that he had yet to see a replay. After he did, his reaction was similar to watching others from afar: “Oh, God.”

“It’s been so long since I’ve been able to make guys fall like that,” he added. “… My main thing in 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 get on with it.”

In the offseason, Washington once again began to strengthen its incoming troops. Getting Samuel back to full health was a priority. So was getting a player like Dotson, a first-round pick who shows flashes of being a reliable playmaker.

By lining up Dotson and Samuel with Terry McLaurin, Washington offered glimpses of what its offense can be.

“There is no such thing as too many weapons,” said Samuel. “We have guys that can play all over the field.”

All three found the end zone on Sunday, including Dotson twice. On Washington’s second series — a 14-play, 71-yard drive that bled into the second quarter — Wentz threw a dart to Dotson in the middle of the end zone for a seven-yard score. Dotson executed a route the team practiced this past week, tripping the defender just enough to get separation for his catch near the goal post.

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But consistency has never been Washington’s strength, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise when the Commanders came unstuck in the second half, allowing the Jaguars to score 19 straight points for a 22-14 lead. Just like those Washington state mugs, reminders of old have hung around long enough to build fear.

“I think in this league, nothing is going to be easy, and I think we all knew that coming into this game,” McLaurin said. “… When we needed to make the big plays to win the game, we did it.”

Despite Wentz’s miscues and the Commanders’ defensive mistakes — missed tackles, breakdowns in coverage — Washington was clutch in the end.

Wentz, who was brought in for his deep passing ability, hit tight end Logan Thomas for a 27-yard catch and run on third and eight with just under 10 minutes remaining. On the next play, he connected with McLaurin on a scramble route for a 49-yard touchdown that brought a quiet crowd back to life.

The two-point conversion failed after Wentz was under heavy pressure almost immediately, keeping Jacksonville ahead 22-20. But Washington’s defense got off the field quickly when defensive tackle Daron Payne sacked the Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence on third down with just over seven minutes left.

The Commanders’ final drive was a 13-play, 90-yard drive that included another key catch by Thomas — 14 yards on third-and-10 — and another touchdown by Dotson. Coach Ron Rivera said it was an option play in which Wentz made the right read. After a two-point reception by JD McKissic, Washington had a 28-22 edge with 1:46 to go.

“It was actually a counter of a play that we ran before we threw a pick on our sideline,” Dotson said of his second touchdown. “We knew the guy was sitting — he was crouching low — and we knew if we did a double move on him, I could beat him over the top. Carson just gave me a chance and trusted 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 forced a fumble and broke up two passes in the end zone earlier, but his best play was his last: an interception of a deep rush by Lawrence on third and 11 with 1:19 remaining.

His pick was the finale of a wild ride for the Commanders, one featuring as many highlight-reel plays as gut-wrenching mistakes. Rivera said he has a plan to handle slideshow games with Wentz at quarterback: “Take antacids,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll ride with him.”

Maybe Washington fans will too. When Forrest threw up his hands in celebration after his interception, the crowd roared – perhaps with visions of a brighter future in mind.

“It gets past the mindset of ‘Here we go again,'” Rivera said. “When things got tough, they didn’t do it. They kept talking about making plays. They kept talking about getting opportunities. And it showed.”

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