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Darcy Kuemper proves the difference in shootout win over Flames

After stumbling out the gates in their season opener, the Washington Capitals looked to rebound three days later against the Calgary Flames. But for the second-straight game, the home team got off to a poor start and found themselves on the verge of another blowout loss.

If not for goalie Darcy Kuemper, the competitive portion of the evening would have once again come and gone before the Capitals ever got started — with Calgary outshooting the Caps 15-1 to start the game while building a 2-0 lead. Kuemper, who missed the Pittsburgh game for the birth of his son, stopped 38 of 40 shots on the night. He also saved a penalty shot during regulation and all three attempts during the shootout. Again, he was stellar while earning his first win as a father.

Center Evgeny Kuznetsov, utilizing his methodically slow method known as the “Kuzy Crawl,” scored the only goal of the shootout to complete the comeback. Washington also received a strong showing from 25-year-old forward Matthew Phillips, who scored his first NHL goal and picked up an assist against his former club. And, on a night of so many “firsts,” Capitals’ coach Spencer Carbery also secured his first win as an NHL head coach.

Sadly, the franchise’s home sellout streak came to an end at 588 consecutive games. While the Capitals remain the best ticket in town, after missing the postseason for the first time in nine years and with ticket prices continuing to rise, Capital One Arena is no longer guaranteed to be sold out every time the home team takes to the ice. A sad, but not completely surprising, scenario for a team much closer to the end of than the beginning of an era.


Capitals rock the red carpet, get rolled by Pittsburgh

Hours before the puck dropped on the 2023-24 season, members of the Washington Capitals hit the red carpet in style — arriving to the venue in luxury vehicles donning designer suits, they smiled for the cameras and signed countless autographs for a sea of red-clad fans. It was a picture perfect way to signify the start of the new campaign.

The same could not be said about the game that followed. With their chief rival in town, the Capitals were thoroughly schooled by the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-0, in front of a sellout crowd.

After last season ended in disappointment, with the Caps missing the playoffs for the first time since 2014, cautious optimism filled the hearts and minds of the fanbase eager to see what a healthy core of returning veterans could do under new coach Spencer Carbery. Sadly, Washington was out-hustled, outworked and outclassed by Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin and friends.

“We shot ourselves in the foot with our execution and puck management,” said center Nicklas Backstrom, or the team’s lackluster showing.

For better or worse, it’s wise not to fixate on any one particular performance over the course of an 82-game regular season. Players are trained to never get too high or too low, and fans would be wise to embrace a similar mentality. That said, this was a less-than-ideal way to turn the page

“It’s the worst scripted start we possibly could’ve had in terms of just being disappointed. Home ice, trying to generate some momentum from a season standpoint. That certainly did not happen,” Carbery said.


Lowly Bears humiliate Commanders in primetime affair

Coming into Thursday Night Football, the Chicago Bears were just 3-18 since last season began and the first team in NFL history to allow 25 or more points in 14 straight games. In fact, nearly a calendar year had come and gone since Chicago’s last victory. Compounding matter for Chicago, three of their preferred four secondary members were injured and the Bears were forced to protect quarterback Justin Fields with their third-string left tackle. And yet, none of it mattered.

The Bears roared out of the gates, jumping out to a 24-point lead before halftime to earn their first win in 347 days. Receiver D.J. Moore had four receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown … in the first quarter alone, and finished the night with eight catches for 230 yards and three touchdowns. The man was so unstoppable that rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes was benched during the second half, but he was far from the only Washington defender who struggled in this game or during the season at large. The Commanders defense has now allowed an average of 352 yards and 30 points per game this season, which is unacceptable for a unit with such a substantial investment — both monitarily and in draft capital.

Things weren’t any better on the other side of the house either. The game got out of hand so quickly that offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy abandoned the running game entirely — quarterback Sam Howell was Washington’s leading rusher with four carries for 19 yards — turning his unit into an entirely one dimensonial and predictable. Washington dropped back to pass an astounding 55 consecutive times against the Bears, who registered five sacks and 11 quarterback hits.

“Tonight the Commanders played with no intensity or fire,” said Magic Johnson, on social media after the humbling loss. “We didn’t compete in the first half and got down 27-3 heading into halftime. It was too big of a hole to climb out of, and that is why we ended up losing 40-20.”

Washington has lost their last two home games by a combined 54 points, which is an excellent way to squander any good will and/or optimism the fanbase had when the new ownership group took over this past offseason.


Commanders show improvements, but can’t close out Eagles in overtime

By all accounts, the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles appear to be two of the top five teams in the league this season. Both franchises have aspirations of playing for championships with stacked rosters on both sides of the ball.

The Washington Commanders, of course, are nowhere near the NFL’s top five. They remain a work-in-progress with far more questions than answers but are at least trending in a positive direction. Top-tier opposition, like Buffalo and Philadelphia, provides a welcome measuring stick to see where the burgundy and gold stack up about a quarter of the way through the season.

During Week 3, the offense was woefully prepared for the onslaught of havoc the Bills wreaked in the backfield. Sam Howell was pressured on 69 percent of his drop backs and sacked nine times. The offense responded by turning the ball over five times and went just one for nine on third downs, neither of which is conducive to winning football games. 

One week later, the Commanders fared much better against the Eagles. Rather than abandoning the ground game early on, Washington adopted a much more balanced approach. And on passing downs, Eric Bieniemy smartly opted to get the ball out of his young quarterback’s hands much quicker — making Sam Howell less of a sitting target against a talented Eagles’ defensive front. Staying committed to the running game, as well as three-step drops and some occasional rollouts made it harder for Philadelphia to get their hands on the North Carolina product.

Howell is still on pace to be sacked 102 times this season, which would shatter the previous record of 76, but the offense found itself in a groove early and led 17-7 with less than two minutes to go before halftime. The Commanders’ problems in Week 4, came on the other side of the ball. 

Eagles receiver A.J. Brown finished the day with nine catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns, most of which came at the expense of Commanders rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes. For the most part, the rest of Philadelphia’s explosive weapons were held largely in check. But while it might be easy to chalk up the loss to a rookie’s struggles, that stance misses the larger picture.

Washington’s defense, which coming into the season was clearly viewed as the strength of the franchise, has given up 30 points or more in three straight contests, with opposing teams combining for 120 points through four games. That’s not nearly good enough.


Commanders’ offense goes missing in blowout loss to Bills

For just the sixth time in the Super Bowl era, a defense intercepted four passes and had at least nine sacks as the Buffalo Bills soundly defeated the Washington Commanders, 37-3.

And just like that, the honeymoon period for quarterback Sam Howell and friends is over. On the field and off it, the vibes have been largely positive as the local fanbase enjoys the beginning of the post-Daniel Snyder era. A new ownership group, led by Josh Harris, Magic Johnson and others, has distracted folks from some otherwise troubling trends so far this season.

For starters, Howell has been sacked 19 times through three games. Not only is that the most sacks allowed this season (six more than the next closest team) — it’s the most any offense has allowed three games into a season since 2005.

The Buffalo stampede was constant, as the Bills pressured Howell on 27 of 39 drop backs (69 percent). The first-year starter responded by completing 19 of 29 passes for 170 yards with zero touchdowns and four interceptions.

When Howell wasn’t turning the ball over, the offense still couldn’t get out of its own way. Running back Antonio Gibson only had five touches on the day but still managed to fumble for the second time in three games, the majority of the offensive line continues to look overwhelmed, and Washington converted just one of nine third-down attempts on the day.

Buffalo’s nine sacks were the most since the franchise registered 10 — against Washington — back in 2011. John Beck was the quarterback that day in Toronto, in one of the worst games during my 19 seasons on the sidelines. And yet, somehow, this showing was far worse. Howell has been pressured a league-high 15.4 percent of his drop backs, which isn’t going to change unless he starts to get rid of the ball quicker and/or the offensive line collectively steps up its game.


Commanders hold off Broncos to complete largest road comeback since 1990

One of the more troubling trends during Ron Rivera’s time in Washington has been his team’s penchant for slow starts. Last season, the Commanders dropped four of their first five games to start the season. In 2021, Washington lost six of the eight opening games on the schedule. And in Rivera’s first season, the burgundy and gold lost six of seven.

Two games into the 2023 season, the Commanders once again appear content to make life more difficult on themselves. During their season opener, Arizona entered the fourth quarter with a 16-10 lead before the defense stepped up to seize the game for Washington. One week later, the Commanders looked completely jet lagged as Denver raced out to a far-too-easy 21-3 first half lead.

Fortunately for Rivera and friends, the entire Broncos roster appeared disinterested in playing past halftime — enabling Washington to rally from 18 points down to defeat Denver 35-33 at Empower Field at Mile High. The defense once again woke up after halftime and finished the day with seven sacks and two turnovers. On offense, Eric Bieniemy’s group was finally able to move the ball — scoring touchdowns on drives of 57, 75 and 64 yards — to turn momentum completely in favor of the visitors.

With the win, Washington improved to 2-0. But any objective observer should see the team’s lackadaisical approach to the first half is a recipe for disaster. Arizona and Denver are both giving off vibes of teams that will be in the bottom half of the league standings. Better opponents remain on the schedule and will have little trouble capitalizing on such a substantial head start.


With Daniel Snyder gone, Commanders outlast Cardinals

To outside observers, the Washington Commanders hosting the Arizona Cardinals was one of the least attractive matchups of Week 1. And sure, there are more compelling ways to kick off your NFL action than with two franchises with zero expectations this season, but that thought process missed the bigger picture.

For the first time in more than two decades, Daniel Snyder is no longer involved with the local professional football team. The toxic little dictator who ran a once-proud franchise into the ground is finally gone, giving the fanbase legitimate cause for optimism for the first time in ages. This explains why Washington, which hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005, had a bevy of celebrities and iconic former players in attendance Sunday.

Kevin Durant. Joel Embiid. Alex Ovechkin. Lindsay Vonn. Wale. Magic Johnson.

Champ Bailey. John Riggins. Sonny Jurgensen. Billy Kilmer. Joe Theismann. Dexter Manley. Charles Mann. Clinton Portis. Santana Moss. London Fletcher. Robert Griffin III.

Those big names, as well as 65,000 of their closest friends, packed into a sold-out FedEx Field to witness the dawn of a new day for the Commanders. And what they got was … well … a work in progress.

Quarterback Sam Howell and the Commanders’ offense had an uneven showing, turning the ball over three times and allowing six sacks. The fifth rounder and the offensive line were both highlighted as potential areas of concern by objective outsiders coming into the season, and both lived up to the billing. To that end, Washington actually trailed 16-10 at halftime, even though Arizona is widely considered the team most likely to tank this season away in hopes of a better draft pick.

The defense, led by defensive end Montez Sweat’s two forced fumbles and 1.5 sacks, created two fourth-quarter turnovers paving the way to a much-needed 20-16 victory. That said, while it’s nice to officially kick off the new era with a win, the Commanders clearly still have plenty of areas to improve upon moving forward. Better teams will come to town and be better prepared to capitalize on the types of mistakes that are easily overlooked against a mediocre opponent like the Cardinals.

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