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Commanders honor Sean Taylor, extend winning streak

There is something poetic, in a melancholy sort of way, about Washington Commanders running back Brian Robinson Jr. leading his team to a hard-fought 19-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on the day the franchise honored the late Sean Taylor — the playmaking All-Pro safety who was murdered in an attempted robbery in 2007.

Just three months after Robinson was shot twice in an attempted carjacking, the 23-year-old rookie eclipsed 100 yards rushing in a game for the first time as a pro and added a 14-yard catch-and-run touchdown on a rainy and miserable afternoon when offense was difficult to come by. 

Burgundy and gold clad fans arrived at the stadium with their thoughts on a physically-imposing player who was taken from us all far too soon. A few hours later, those same supporters headed home with ample cause for celebration, in large part to another hard-hitting youngster who is incredibly fortunate to be here today.

Against the Falcons, Washington also benefitted from a swarming defense playing aggressive and confident football. By smartly leaning into a dynamic ground game and a rejuvenated defense, the Commanders have won six out of seven games for the first time since 2012 and are firmly in playoff contention — a drastic turnaround after their dismal 1-4 start. This is an identity that has proven successful countless times over the years in the National Football League.

Led by Robinson, Washington amassed a season-high 176 rushing yards, which means less is asked of quarterback Taylor Heinicke and the passing game. On the other side of the ball, dynamic tackles Jon Allen and Daron Payne generate enough consistent pressure up front, that it frees up the rest of the defense to just go out and make plays. Related: With the outcome very much in the balance and the Falcons just four yards away from a victory, cornerback Kendall Fuller saved the day by intercepting a deflected pass in the end zone with roughly one minute remaining in regulation.


Taylor Heinicke’s blind faith in Terry McLaurin proves the difference

Washington Commanders receivers caught just one of quarterback Taylor Heinicke’s first seven attempts. The same can be said of Green Bay defenders. And honestly, Packers defenders could have, and likely should have, picked off two or three more wayward passes during a less-than-stellar first half for the burgundy and gold’s backup-turned-starter.

Mercifully for the hometown fans (who might have been outnumbered by cheeseheads at FedEx Field on Sunday), Heinicke settled down after a horrid start and played his way into a rhythm — spearheading a rally after Washington fell behind 14-3 less than two minutes into the second quarter.

For as bad as he played in the first half, Heinicke clearly must have been inspired after seeing Super Bowl winning quarterbacks Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien — each with a Lombardi Trophy in hand — during the team’s halftime show. The Old Dominion product completed 13 of 16 attempts in the second half, including two huge passes to receiver Terry McLaurin, that turned the tides in Washington’s favor. The first was a 37-yard bomb down the right sideline in the early stages of the third quarter that gave the Commanders their first lead of the afternoon.

The second was a 12-yarder to his favorite target on third-and-9 with 2:13 remaining in the contest that Heinicke threw … with his eyes closed.

While the offense, led by their scrappy undersized quarterback will get the bulk of the headlines, the defense absolutely deserves to be recognized for their efforts. Back-to-back NHL MVP Aaron Rodgers looked downright miserable on the day as he settled for check down after check down. Green Bay’s top receiver on the day was running back Aaron Jones who had nine catches for 53 yards and two touchdown catches.

The Packers ground game, conversely, was nonexistent, as the team finished with just 12 carries for 38 yards. And, for the first time in Rodgers’ prolific career, his team failed to convert a single third down in a game. Other than that though, things are going swingingly for the future Hall of Famer.


Commanders win in primetime, but lose Wentz in the process

Spotlighting the one-win Washington Commanders and the two-win Chicago Bears on Thursday Night Football! What could go wrong?!?

Two disjointed offenses who struggle to put points on the board with any semblance of consistency faced off on national television in primetime, and the results were not pretty.

The Commanders eked out an ugly 12-7 at Soldier Field, thanks largely to their defensive efforts and a key special teams play in the late stages of the fourth quarter. Chicago had the ball five yards away from their end zone three separate times and came away with zero points on those drives.

The Commanders, meanwhile, weren’t much better offensively. Quarterback Carson Wentz completed just 12 of 22 passes for an anemic 99 yards. Making matters worse, the 29-year-old suffered a fractured ring finger on his throwing hand during the second quarter (shown above) and is expected to be out four to six weeks.

Taylor Heinicke assumes the role of starting quarterback once again for Washington. The Old Dominion product started 15 games last season after Ryan Fitzpatrick was injured in the season opener.

Food for thought: If Wentz plays at least 70 percent of Washington’s snaps this season, the Commanders owe Indianapolis a 2023 second-round pick. If he does not meet that threshold, the Colts get a third-round pick. Depending on how the team fares with Heinicke behind center, that trade compensation could become hugely relevant down the stretch.

At the time of his injury, Wentz ranks top 10 in passing yards (1,489) and touchdown passes (10). Conversely, Wentz is tied for the third-most interceptions (six) and no quarterback has been sacked (23) more this season. Whether or not he has a chance to improve those numbers will likely have to do with how the offense performs in his absence.


Commanders emerge victorious via Full Carson Wentz Experience

It is not an exaggeration to say that, if not for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Carson Wentz would not be a member of the Washington Commanders. A humiliating season-ending loss to the three-win Jaguars kept Wentz and the Indianapolis Colts out of the playoffs, infuriating owner Jim Irsay to the point where he felt a change was needed at quarterback.

“No disrespect to Jacksonville, but I mean, they’re the worst team in the league. You play well and hard for the first quarter or so, and they’re looking to go to their locker room and clean it out. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” Irsay said. “You say, ‘My God, there’s something wrong here.’ It needs to be corrected. I think that we feel like we did.”

“Your guy’s gotta pick you up and carry you through Jacksonville. He has to do it. Not an option. Has to. No excuses, no explanations,” Irsay added.

It’s rare to see an NFL owner make such pointed remarks about a player, but to quote Ron Rivera and/or The Dude:

“Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

Seeing an opportunity to upgrade at the game’s most important position, Washington traded a 2022 third-round pick and a 2023 third-rounder that can convert to a second-rounder based on incentives to acquire the North Dakota State product. And, as fate would have it, the Commanders welcomed Jacksonville to town for Wentz’s debut game in Washington.

Commanders fans were treated to the Full Carson Wentz Experience in the season opener, as the 29-year-old completed 27 of 41 passes for 313 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions and a QB rating of 101.0. The two interceptions came on back-to-back throws in the fourth quarter, the kind of soul-crushing mistakes that almost always spell doom.

But Wentz responded with touchdown throws of 49 and 25 yards to mount a 28-22 come-from-behind victory for the burgundy and gold. He threw for four touchdowns in a contest for the first time since 2017, but also nearly singlehandedly allowed the Jaguars to earn their first road victory in 18 games. Such is life when you’re playing for your third franchise in three seasons, it seems.

Wentz was not the only Commanders player who turned in a memory performance. Rookie receiver Jahan Dotson caught three passes for 40 yards and two touchdowns, wideout Curtis Samuel contributed 72 total yards and a touchdown and running back Antonio Gibson chipped in 130 yards in total offense as well.

Defensively, safety Darrick Forrest was everywhere — compiling four tackles, two passes defended, one forced fumble and an interception. Defensive lineman Daron Payne picked up a sack, batted down two pass attempts as he spent the majority of the afternoon in the Jaguars’ backfield.


Commanders participate in meaningless exhibition game

It must be the preseason because fans are already starting to fall for a third-string quarterback.

With apologies to rookie quarterback Sam Howell, who performed admirably in his preseason debut for the Washington Commanders, this is an annual rite of passage. The season cannot legally begin until the local fanbase is completely smitten with an unheralded player from the bottom half of the roster — with bonus points awarded if that player is a developmental quarterback.

The ghosts of Taylor Jacobs, Marcus Mason, Jesse Lumsden, Colt Brennan (and countless other preseason fan favorites) nodded in approval as Commanders fans couldn’t contain their excitement over a meaningless exhibition game held during the dog days of summer.

On the day, Howell completed nine of 16 passes for 143 passing yards with two rushing touchdowns. The North Carolina standout’s first scoring drive was a seven-play, 74-yard adventure and then he followed it up with an epic 13-play drive capped by a two-point conversation that briefly gave Washington a 21-20 lead late in the fourth quarter. Sure, the Carolina Panthers marched right down the field and kicked the winning field goal on the ensuing drive, but again, this time of year is all about optimism.

So feel free to focus on the exploits of Howell or rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr., who rushed for a touchdown and, more importantly, didn’t fumble (the same cannot be said about Antonio Gibson, who has to be hearing footsteps after fumbling the ball away more times than any other back in the league). Quarterback Carson Wentz, who started the game and will be behind center once the games actually matter, had a serviceable afternoon. He wasn’t great. He wasn’t terrible. Best of all, he wasn’t inaccurate. Regardless of any numbers on the scoreboard, let’s just go ahead and call that a win. 


Commanders training camp in full swing

As someone who has covered every NFL season in our nation’s capital since 2005, I pride myself on managing expectations. Too many training camp heroes have come and gone over the years — Taylor Jacobs, Marcus Mason, Colt Brennan and so many others who shined most when it mattered least — for me to rush to conclusions when players are in shorts and no pads.

So rather than gushing over players who, at best, will be inactive on Sundays, my focus during training camp is on areas that actually matter: like the offensive line, where two new guards become starters after Erick Flowers and Brandon Scherff moved on. Or tight end, where Logan Thomas is still recovering from knee injuries that will likely prevent him from being ready for Week 1 of the upcoming season. Or defensive line, which should absolutely be the strength of this team, but vastly underperformed a season ago.

And, of course, there are a few new faces at the game’s most important position — Carson Wentz comes to town via Indianapolis by way of Philadelphia, and Sam Howell, a rookie out of North Carolina. The hope locally is Wentz can provide stability for a franchise that hasn’t had a top-tier quarterback in … well … let’s not even go there. But that seems like a big ask for a guy with accuracy issues who finds himself on his third team in three seasons.

Regardless of how successful the Wentz era ultimately is, hope springs eternal for most fanbases during the dog days of summer. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite images from the opening week of the 2022 Washington Commanders training camp.


Commanders once again plagued with dust-ups, distractions

Despite Ron Rivera’s best efforts, the Washington Commanders are simply unable to keep their heads down and let the work on the field speak for itself.

Hope springs eternal during the offseason. That holds true in our nation’s capital, as well as countless other cities with mediocre professional sports franchises. With a new name and several new faces, it’d be nice if fans of the burgundy and gold were able to focus on how quarterback Carson Wentz is settling in and/or which rookie is off to a fast start.

Alas, this fanbase can’t have nice things, so all attention is locked in on the handful of players who aren’t on the field for minicamp, including receiver Terry McLaurin (contract concerns), defensive lineman Daron Payne (in attendance, but skipping team drills over his contract) as well as tight end Logan Thomas and defensive end Chase Young (both are recovering from ACL injuries).

And then there’s defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who was fined $100,000 just days before the start of minicamp for insensitive remarks regarding the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building and protests following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. His ill-advised comments were so tone deaf, it almost made folks long for the quieter days … when ownership was being called to testify on Capitol Hill for improprieties, etc.

So once again, rather than dedicating attention to receiver Curtis Samuel or linebacker Jamin Davis as both try to bounce back from disappointing inaugural campaigns in Washington, all eyes are on the latest off-the-field distraction.

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