02Oct

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.

25Sep

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.

18Sep

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.

11Sep

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.

12Aug

Jelly Roll at Jiffy Lube Live

Arrested more than 40 times. Never made it out of the ninth grade. In many ways, he was destined to serve as a cautionary tale — either dead or serving a lifetime sentence for choices made as a youth.

Fortunately, Jason DeFord isn’t just another sad statistic. He overcame a troubled upbringing and is now one of the biggest names in music today.

Much to the delight of the 22,000 fans who sold out Jiffy Lube Live, the man known simply as Jelly Roll arrived in town for his latest stop on his tour. The show was particularly noteworthy for the Nashville native, he said, because it marked the most tickets sold for any of the shows on his tour to date.

Backroad Baptism Tour show No. 10 of 44 kicked off with Struggle Jennings followed by Ashley McBryde before each made way for the night’s main attraction. As he took to the stage, Jelly Roll had a mile-wide smile plastered on his face and it remained throughout his entire set.

Anyone who has seen the incredibly-moving documentary on his life, fittingly called Save Me, knows DeFord has struggled with self-worth for much of his life. In his words, he’s been a drug addict, a loser and a stealer. He’s been in and out of jail his entire life. To go from such lows to where he is now, with tens of thousands of adoring fans singing passionately along to his tunes, is all too surreal for the 38-year-old.

“Who’d have thought I could help people? Fuck. I still need help,” he said during the documentary.

This is why Jelly Roll and his band members have embraced a new tour motto of EDM, which stands for “Everything’s different now.”

The self-proclaimed king of white trash kicked things off with “The Lost,” a perfect tone setter off of his latest album, Whitsitt Chapel. As he belted out “I’m better with the lost than the found,” DeFord further illustrated why he’s so beloved by so many. After everything he’s been through, the man has something to say and it clearly resonates with others who have had to deal with their own shit. 

A night like this isn’t just a concert. It’s an opportunity for some emotional healing. It’s therapeutic for those who have dealt with more than their fair share of adversity. That’s why, when Jelly Roll dropped “Save Me” on YouTube during peak pandemic, it seemingly blew up overnight.

“I just looked up and it was at a million views,” he said during the documentary.

That moment legitimately changed the life of the man who has said, “If I wasn’t in music, I would be dead or in prison.”

Considering how rapidly his life has changed since then for the rapper-turned-rocker-turned-country-music-artist, no one can fault him for how brutally honest he is on tracks like “Halfway to Hell” and “Creature.” DeFord is there, flaws and all, for the world to see.

This year has been a series of unforgettable moment for Jelly Roll, who won three CMT awards in April: Male Video of the Year, Breakthrough Male Video of the Year and CMT Digital-First Performance of the year for his smash-hit “Son of a Sinner.” 

A little later into the evening, DeFord treated the sellout amphitheater to his follow-up hit, “Need A Favor.” In June it became the first song to enter the top 10 on both the Country Airplay and Mainstream Rock Airplay charts. Additionally, it held the top spot of Billboard’s Emerging Artist Chart for a record-breaking 25 consecutive weeks.

To put an exclamation point on an already wonderful evening, Jelly Roll tore into “Simple Man” before closing things out with “Save Me,” the song that did just that for the larger-than-life personality.  

08Aug

Pink at Nationals Park

Cellphones buzzed with alerts as the national capital region was told to shelter in place due to severe thunderstorms in the area. The National Weather Service warned of a severe weather outbreak, with widespread damaging winds, possible flooding and isolated tornadoes. The federal government even released employees early to ensure the workforce avoided getting caught in the bleak conditions.

And yet, as Washington, D.C., prepared for one of the worst storms the region had seen in more than a decade, tens of thousands of dedicated souls refused to budge — not until they had a chance to sing and dance the night away with the iconic Pink.

At Nationals Park, ominous skies, swirling winds and periodic flashes of lightning could not dampen the spirits of the fashion-forward faithful adorned in their best and brightest outfits — albeit underneath ponchos, trash bags and anything else capable of protecting against the elements.

Welcome to one of the most sought-after tickets of the calendar year — Pink’s Summer Carnival Tour. Good weather sold separately.

While the date had been circled for months for many in the area, the evening did not get off to the best of starts, with alt rockers Grouplove cancelled entirely and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Pat Benatar + Neil Giraldo forced to perform an abbreviated 30-minute set due to the weather. That said, Benatar, accompanied by husband Giraldo on piano and guitar, sounded amazing and made the most of her limited time on stage. By accelerating through the opening acts, the artist formerly known as Alecia Beth Moore was able to take to the stage a little after 9 p.m. and perform her entire breathtaking show.

The main event began with a Max Headroom-style version of Pink appearing on giant video screens, which instantly energized the packed venue. Armed with a harness and bungee cord, Pink herself made an acrobatic grand introduction high above the crowd — and stage — at Nationals Park to officially “Get The Party Started.” The track proved the ideal selection to jumpstart the festivities, not that the packed baseball park needed any encouragement, as they roared their approval while the Doylestown, Pennsylvania native bounced, bungeed and flipped her way down to the actual stage.

The Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter kept the good vibes going with “Raise Your Glass,” as the stage filled with backup dancers, disco balls and even giant pink flamingos. During “Who Knew” interpretive dancers joined the fun, performing on the catwalk while Pink belted out the chorus on the main stage. Every song was its own spectacle and each built upon the last. With so much action and excitement on (and above) the stage, all you could do was buckle up and enjoy the exhilarating ride.

Over the course of two captivating hours, Pink dazzled the rain-soaked masses with an adrenaline-fueled, 23-song set spanning her impressive and illustrious career. Having released her ninth album, TRUSTFALL, earlier this year, Pink had more than enough material to pull from throughout the night. Whether performing smash hits like “What About Us,” “Try” and “Just Give Me a Reason” or newer numbers such as “TRUSTFALL” and “Never Gonna Not Dance Again,” the 43-year-old showed why more than 35 million people stream her music each and every month.

Nats Park was treated to a special moment midway through the evening, when Pink brought out her 12-year-old daughter Willow Sage Hart for “Cover Me in Sunshine,” a heartwarming mother and daughter duet.

The entire evening was a series of incredible performances that simply could not be contained by a mere stage, as evident by Pink’s willingness to soar high above the stage and floor seats, gliding to the further corners of the ballpark during the encore performance of “So What.” The impressive aerial display involved with the final number presented Pink with a well-earned victory lap around the entire venue.

01Aug

Chelsea wins Premier League Summer Series with victory over Fulham

It’s safe to say the biggest name participating in the Premier League Summer Series has the most to prove this season. That’s because just two years after winning the UEFA Champions League, Chelsea Football Club has become a punchline.

The five-time Premier League champion spent more than $700 million last season adding flashy new players such as midfielder Enzo Fernández and speedy winger Mykhaylo Mudryk to the mix. The problem was, owner Todd Boehly embraced a fantasy football mindset — attempting to acquire any and all players even remotely available.

With ownership struggling to comprehend the phrase “impulse control,” the roster became so completely bloated that there weren’t enough spaces in the locker room for all of the Chelsea players. As difficult as it is to believe, some Chelsea players actually had to change into their uniforms in the hallway.

Established veterans Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Mateo Kovacic, Christian Pulisic, N’Golo Kante, Kalidou Koulibaly, Edouard Mendy and several other name players have all moved on this summer, illustrating just how much of a revolving door Chelsea has become. Additionally, former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino was hired to restore order, which is easier said than done when the Blues have bought and sold almost two dozen players.

On the other side of this matchup was Fulham, led by manager Marco Silva, who finished in 10th place — two spots higher than Chelsea last season.

An emphatic header by defender Thiago Silva and a tap-in by Christopher Nkunku enabled Chelsea to coast to a 2-0 victory in front of a sellout crowd at FedEx Field.

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