The Athletic (paywall)
Howell went over the middle for tight end Logan Thomas, who brought in Howell’s pass just as Denver safety Kareem Jackson head-hunted Thomas with a vicious shot, for which he was ejected.
But, Thomas held on for the touchdown. It was a monster play, for multiple reasons.
One, obviously, the touchdown made it 21-9. But, two, by Thomas holding onto the ball and taking Jackson’s cheap shot for the score, the accompanying unnecessary roughness penalty on Jackson moved the point after try from its normal 2-yard line to the 1 — which is always a green light for modern offenses to go for two rather than kicking an extra point. And, Washington went for two, handing the ball to Brian Robinson, who converted to bring the Commanders within 21-11. And, three, Jackson’s ejection further compromised the already-thin Broncos’ secondary.
Washington took advantage, starting on the last drive before the half, with Howell hitting tight end John Bates down the sideline for 35 yards, beating All-Pro safety Justin Simmons, who was Denver’s lone healthy and available safety by game’s end. And Joey Slye banged in a 49-yard field goal at the gun to end the half. All of a sudden, Washington was only down 21-14 at intermission.
And because of that, Bieniemy no longer had to chase the score; after dialing up 33 (!!) first-half dropbacks to just seven runs, he was able to be much more balanced in the second, with 14 runs and just 12 dropbacks, including Howell’s 30-yard TD strike to Terry McLaurin.
“It was a combination of everything,” Howell told reporters afterward. “We were rolling on offense, and doing some good things on the ground and in the air. We opened the screen game in the second half, and that was big for us. I think the screen game was one of the main things that won us this game. Those backs did a good job, O-line did a good job in space. But getting to those screens, because those guys were kind of teeing off, getting to those screens was huge for us.”
Bullock’s Film Room (subscription)
Breaking down the performance of QB Sam Howell in the Commanders win over the Broncos.
Sam Howell and the Washington Commanders pulled off another comeback victory after turning a 21-3 deficit into a 35-33 win over the Denver Broncos. For his part, Howell completed 27/39 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns. I thought it was a solid overall performance that, much like last week against the Cardinals, had some things he’ll need to correct and improve on, but largely showed he has plenty of talent.
The speed of processing is still a work in progress from Howell. As we’ve seen, there are times when it’s a bit slow and it leads to him taking hits or sacks and then there are times like this when he’s quick and decisive and the ball comes out on time. Progress in this regard isn’t linear, it won’t be a case of every play will get a little bit better. There will be some plays where he is extremely comfortable with the concept called and work through it quickly and there will be others where he’s not as familiar with the concept or the defense shows him a look he hasn’t seen before and he has to take a bit longer to process that. So it will be up and down for a while, which it was in this game.
One of Howell’s best traits is his ability to stay poised and not let negative plays get to him and impact future plays. Like we saw earlier, he was able to bounce back from [one] sack with a nice play on the next drive.
Overall I thought it was a good outing from Howell. Much like last week, there were some ups and downs and he took some sacks that were avoidable had he sped up his mental process a little bit. But those plays are going to happen with a young quarterback and the positive plays have been very encouraging. It’s still too early yet to say Howell can definitely be the Commanders long term quarterback, but the talent is there.
Sam Howell was at the top of his game once again.
Sam Howell’s ball security
One of the biggest criticisms surrounding Sam Howell in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals was the number of turnovers conceded. The quarterback was probably nervous and a little too eager to impress in front of a sold-out crowd at FedEx Field, but seeing growth in this area was absolutely essential to stand any chance of beating the Denver Broncos.
As it turned out, Howell protected the football with supreme conviction. The Washington Commanders asked a lot from their man under center - throwing the football 30 times in the first half - but the one-time North Carolina stud was efficient and effective in equal measure to inspire a monumental comeback for the ages.
Howell completed 69.23 percent of his passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions. This was another huge step in the right direction for a player that looks to have the world at his feet currently.
Taking care of the football - especially when the Commanders go on their travels - will be integral to Howell’s success this season. Judging by his latest performance, he’s taken on board coaching and putting it to good use when it matters most.
4. Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson fueled the comeback.
Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson were not used much in the first half, combining for just 39 yards on eight touches. Then the second half came around, and the duo became the focal point for the unit’s comeback attempts.
We’ll start with Robinson, who finally started to find some running lanes against a Broncos defense that held Josh Jacobs to one of the worst rushing performances in his career in Week 1. The power runs, like his two-yard score that gave Washington the lead, were there, but he also had several explosive plays like his 27-yard pickup in the third quarter that pushed Washington to the Broncos’ 46-yard line. Then, in the fourth quarter, he broke loose for a 15-yard touchdown that made the score 35-24.
Gibson wasn’t used much in the running game with just two carries for nine yards, but his three receptions for 44 yards helped highlight his background as a receiver. The best example of that came in the fourth quarter, when he grabbed a screen pass from Howell and weaved through the Broncos’ defense for a 36-yard gain. That play moved Washington to the Broncos’ 14-yard line, and two plays later, the offense finished the 75-yard drive with a score.
Robinson and Gibson ended the game combining for 182 yards on 25 touches. Performances like that show how the Commanders are slowly starting to figure out how to use the two in ways that highlight their talents.
“‘AG’ (RB Antonio Gibson) did some good things as well,” Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell said. “He did a good job out of the backfield with some catches. He had the big run at the end where he kind of cut back on the outside zone.”
Gibson fumbled early in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals and didn’t see the ball much after that, managing just nine yards on three carries. However, Gibson proved himself against the Broncos, especially in the passing game. Gibson caught three passes for 44 yards in the win, including a 36-yard catch-and-run on Washington’s go-ahead drive early in the fourth quarter.
Look at the vision here from Antonio Gibson.— Scott Abraham (@Scott7news) September 17, 2023
“It’s been a long time coming for me,” Young said. “I just feel blessed, man.”
If he keeps producing, Washington’s defense will add yet another threat along its front. In two games, the Commanders’ line has combined for nine sacks — five linemen recorded a sack Sunday and seven have at least a half sack this season.
Young was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2020 when he posted 7.5 sacks, forced four fumbles and recovered three, including one for a touchdown.
But since that point it has been a struggle. Young managed only 1.5 sacks in his first nine games the following season before tearing the ACL and rupturing the patellar tendon in his right knee. Last season, he did not return until the final three games. He had been medically cleared several weeks earlier but needed to regain trust in the knee.
Young failed to record a sack in three games, though the focus was more on getting back to normal than it was on changing games.
However, this summer Young ditched the brace he wore on his right knee and looked sharp off the line. He and others said multiple times he had regained the explosiveness that helped make him the No. 2 overall pick in 2020.
“His explosiveness was back. He wasn’t thinking about anything. He was just playing,” defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina said of Young’s play in training camp. “It was smooth. You know, he was the Chase of old.”
Washington Post (paywall)
Fail: Hail Mary defense
Sean Payton should dial up Hail Marys against Washington more often. In 2021, when Payton was still coaching in New Orleans, Saints quarterback Jameis Winston connected with Marquez Callaway on a 49-yard prayer against Washington as time expired in the first half at FedEx Field. Afterward, safety Landon Collins said the defense “wasn’t prepared for that.” On Sunday, with three seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the Broncos trailing by eight, Russell Wilson uncorked a high-arcing pass from midfield that deflected off at least two hands before wide receiver Brandon Johnson snatched it out of the air in the end zone.
“We were in position,” Rivera, who called timeout before the play, said afterward. “Unfortunately the ball bounced the wrong way. We’d have loved to have seen it go the other direction, and kudos to one of their guys for being alert enough, and we just gotta understand that we gotta get in our box-positions a little bit better.”
Washington Post (paywall)
“The crazy part is we were kind of waiting for something good to happen,” [Ron Rivera] said.
And the crazier part is that something good actually did.
On Sunday, it was linebacker Jamin Davis forcing a fumble from Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson. Cody Barton recovered it for the Commanders, and it led to Washington’s first touchdown during a 35-33 comeback victory. Moving forward, it could ignite a season of resilience to signify an entire franchise attempting to make a dramatic comeback.
It’s too soon to announce the Commanders’ arrival as a contender. It has been a dozen years since they started 2-0, but that’s more sad than buzzworthy. The good vibes are undeniable, though, and these feelings transcend whether they make the playoffs this season. The energy now tilts toward expectation, not apprehension. You cannot be certain what the Josh Harris group will build, but you’re not automatically guarding against incompetence — or worse. It seems safe to wait for something good to happen.
Washington Post (paywall)
The Washington Commanders were punch-drunk, about to be knocked out, when linebacker Jamin Davis spotted what he called a “loose loaf of bread.” All week, he had studied film of Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson and noticed how, if receivers weren’t open right away, he liked to tuck the ball and run. Late in the second quarter, on second and 15 just over midfield, Davis stepped up to defend play action, paused and recognized what was happening. Wilson started to scramble left; Davis shadowed him.
Early in his career, Davis played slow. His brain couldn’t unlock his body, the elite athleticism Washington coveted when it drafted him in the first round in 2021. But on Sunday afternoon in Denver, when the Commanders were down big, Davis showed closing speed rare for a 6-foot-4, 234-pound linebacker. And he was extra motivated because earlier he had been flagged for what he considered an unfair roughing-the-passer penalty.
“I was a little [mad],” he said.
Near the sideline, Wilson saw Davis and tried to transfer the ball from his right hand to his left. Davis noticed the looseness and punched down at the ball with his right hand.
Defense with a potentially game changing play. Credit Chase Young with the pressure and Jamin Davis with the big hit and forced fumble. pic.twitter.com/OkUvIGuCBe— The Junkies (@JunksRadio) September 17, 2023
If Davis hadn’t forced a fumble right then, it’s unlikely Washington would have pulled off its comeback, which resulted in a 35-33 victory. The Commanders’ offense had gone three-and-out on two straight drives. Special teams had just given up a huge punt return. The defense had allowed three touchdowns in three possessions. But instead of Denver effectively putting the game away, Davis forced Wilson to put the ball on the ground, linebacker Cody Barton scooped it up, and everything changed. The offense erased a 21-3 deficit, the defense won another turnover battle (2-0), and the team completed the second-largest road comeback in franchise history.
“A spark?” safety Darrick Forrest said, chuckling at the word’s inability to capture the significance of the forced fumble. “That was a game changer.”
Pro Football Focus
Offensive spotlight: Commanders running back Brian Robinson finished with 19 carries for 93 yards and two touchdowns, forcing seven missed tackles on the ground and weaving his way through the outstretched arms of Broncos defenders all afternoon. Robinson added two receptions for 42 yards.
Broncos wide receiver Brandon Johnson had two receptions for 66 yards, and both went for touchdowns, including a miracle heave at the buzzer that got Denver within striking distance — down 35-33. Ultimately, a two-point conversion attempt to Courtland Sutton was incomplete, with a defensive pass interference not called but arguably earned.
Defensive spotlight: Commanders off-ball linebacker Jamin Davis forced a fumble on a scrambling Russell Wilson that really seemed to turn the tides in this game. It was a savvy play where he poked at the ball while also making the tackle and bringing Wilson to the ground. From that point on, the two teams moved in opposite directions.
Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell racked up four defensive stops and eight total tackles, and while the Broncos’ defense did have four sacks on the afternoon, that had far more to do with Commanders quarterback Sam Howell holding onto the ball for too long as opposed to Denver winning pass-rush reps quickly.
Rookie spotlight: Commanders first-round rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes Jr. had an interception of Russell Wilson in the third quarter while otherwise blanketing opposing wide receivers, allowing just one reception for five yards and often lining up opposite wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who was very quiet until the tail end of the game.
Broncos rookie wide receiver Marvin Mims showed why the team traded up for him in this past year’s draft. He flashed his speed and downfield catch ability with two receptions for 113 yards, with one going for a 60-yard touchdown over the middle where he was just too much for the safety over the top to handle.
Washington will bring in multiple long snappers to Ashburn for a workout on Tuesday. Here’s what Rivera had to say.
“The biggest thing, more than anything else, was a little disappointed in the very first snap,” Rivera said. “It’s crazy because you go back and look at the rest of his snaps, and they were pretty good, but this is something we have to do because it can’t happen every week because it could cost you a game. It really could have.”
Rivera then discussed bringing in some contingency options.
“Part of it is you don’t want it to affect anybody else,” he said. “If we look at it that, hey, we need to have an insurance policy, if we need to do something, we’re going to do it because it’s what’s best for this football team. That’s what we’re looking at. We’ve talked about some options. One of the options is we’re going to have a little information gathering tomorrow. We’re going to bring in a few players, give them an opportunity to show us what they’re capable of, and we’ll take a look and go from there.”
McQuaide, 35, spent 10 years with the Rams before spending the past two seasons with the Cowboys. Addington, 26, has spent time with three different franchises, appearing in three games.
It sounds like Rivera is giving Cheeseman another chance to keep his job but is going to have a list of players ready in case of another bad snap in the coming weeks.
Nick Wright, in criticizing Russell Wilson and head coach Sean Payton, remarked, “Sean Payton is not going down with the Russell Wilson ship. Sean Payton has not been good thus far. You blew an 18-point lead at home to Sam Howell.”
Wright continued, “They played the Raiders and Washington at home and lost!” He raised his voice for emphasis, expressing that the Raiders and Commanders are not good teams.
The hosts took their turns criticizing the Broncos. Greg Jennings echoed that Wilson was not getting the job done. He referenced that in the second half Sunday against Washington (excluding the Hail Mary), Wilson completed only 11 of 23 passes for 104 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a 42.7 passer rating.
Jennings, rather than crediting Montez Sweat or Chase Young for their pass rush to sack Wilson, forcing a late field goal, chose to simply blame Wilson for the sack.
Then, did they praise Washington? Not at all. Wright then transitioned to asking, “When does Russ get benched? They are going to lose three in a row. They play Kansas City, Green Bay and Kansas City.”
Chris Broussard did go as far as saying Denver is “clearly being outplayed drastically in the second half. That’s coaches making adjustments, the opposing coaches making adjustments, and Sean Payton not adjusting to it.” So THIS is when the show will credit Ron Rivera, Jack Del Rio, or Eric Bieniemy, right?
Nope, again, it was all Denver-focused, that Wilson needs to play better while Payton needs to coach better.
Jennings closed by stating Payton “is literally taking a hammer and just cracking it up beside the head of Russell Wilson saying, ‘I’m going to wake you up, one way or another’… the adjustment that needs to be made is the play of your quarterback.”
If history is any guide, Washington — and it’s fans — could be in for a roller coaster of a season
The Commanders needed a fourth-quarter comeback at home to defeat one of the worst teams in the league by 4 in Week 1. And they were dismantled by the first-half Broncos. The second-half Broncos are trash and Washington picked them apart. Now with the Bills coming to town in Week 3, will we finally see the “real” Washington? I’m not so sure. If the Commanders get blown out, everyone will say it’s more of the same crap in the nation’s capital. If Washington wins, everyone will think it’s a fluke unless it’s a thorough demolishment. So the Commies really have nothing to lose against a team thought to be one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl.
Well, except for one game.
Despite two wins, the outlook for the Commanders in the NFC East is third, at best, which is fine. Philadelphia is truly one of two teams good enough to play in the Super Bowl from the NFC this season, and Dallas’ defense is one of the best in the league and would join the 49ers and Eagles as possible Super Bowl contenders if it didn’t have a huge recent history of choking in the playoffs.
Will this Washington team set the world on fire?
Nope, not even close.
Is this a Washington team on the rise?
Yes, which is a bracing-for-impact-style answer.
There’s been plenty of times the franchise has “turned a corner” only to have fallen back into purgatory, namely with Griffin as the team’s future more than a decade ago. And without Dan Snyder involved in the organization, maybe this euphoria isn’t unwarranted.
And that’s the crazy part.
Podcasts & videos
Episode 658 - One of the greatest comeback wins in Washington history. In-depth analysis of Sam Howell, the #Commanders' defense, Brian Robinson & more from a thrilling win at Denver.— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) September 18, 2023
I also talk #Orioles clinching, #Nats, #Terps vs. #UVA, #Hokies & more.https://t.co/VDoaqbYauU
A new video with @NickiJhabvala, replacing the earlier one (audio issues/out). Talking Commanders win over Denver. The Howell impact; run game, Payne, Young and more. @ESPNRichmond https://t.co/hXFC5hkjaC— John Keim (@john_keim) September 18, 2023
Chase Young recorded 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hits and a tackle for loss— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) September 18, 2023
More stats from #WASvsDEN ⤵️
NFC East links
The Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles are right with the Washington Commanders in the NFC East standings.
Despite defeating the Denver Broncos 35-33 on Sunday, the Commanders find themselves in a three-way tie atop the NFC East after two weeks. And realistically, Washington hasn’t been the most impressive team in the division to this point.
That title would belong to the Dallas Cowboys, who followed up a 40-0 thrashing of the New York Giants in Week 1 by defeating the New York Jets 30-10 in Week 2. Do-it-all defender Micah Parsons looks like he could be a legitimate NFL MVP candidate, as he already has racked up seven combined tackles, six quarterback hits, four tackles for a loss, three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery through just two games.
The Commanders and Cowboys won’t meet until Thanksgiving, and coach Mike McCarthy’s team appears to have a shot to build on their scalding-hot start to the season. Dallas will likely be comfortable favorites against the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots the next two weeks, before facing a tough test against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5.
It remains to be seen just how real the Commanders are, but like the Philadelphia Eagles and Cowboys, coach Ron Rivera’s squad is also 2-0. Granted, the Cardinals and Denver Broncos are two pretty favorable opponents to draw to open the season. But new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and quarterback Sam Howell combined to bring the Commanders back from a 21-3 deficit in Week 2, ultimately defeating the Broncos 35-33.
Pro Football Focus
Rookie spotlight: Giants third-round rookie wide receiver Jalin Hyatt made two huge downfield receptions, including a 58-yarder on the first play of the second half to give New York life. Later, Hyatt high-pointed the football perfectly on a 31-yard grab. The Giants spread the ball around to various weapons, but when they needed an explosive play, Hyatt came up big.
Defensive spotlight: Micah Parsons is going to be fighting hard to win Defensive Player of the Year in 2023, and this game only helped his resume. He was a constant threat as a pass rusher, either winning his individual matchup, taking advantage of stunts with his incredible speed or closing quickly on Zach Wilson when the quarterback tried to escape into space. He also stripped the ball away from Dalvin Cook on a run play and was ruled down by contact to save a touchdown on the play.
Giants or Commanders? Stephen A. and Shannon debate the better comeback win
NFL league links
Pro Football Focus
A statistical review of NFL Week 2: Dallas Cowboys passing offense shines, Jets struggle with Zach Wilson under center
The First Read: Six burning questions off Week 2; plus, risers/sliders & Week 3’s most intriguing game
SUNDAY’S BIGGEST SURPRISE
Sam Howell shows flashes of being The Guy. The Commanders have been searching for a quarterback for a few years now. Howell is starting to look like the guy who finally can ease all that pain. He found himself down, 21-3, in Denver and played well enough — throwing for 299 yards and two touchdowns — to help Washington pull out a 35-33 win. There weren’t a ton of people who would’ve picked Howell to be an early surprise. Right now, he’s blossoming under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and leading a team that is 2-0.
Do the Dallas Cowboys have the best defense in the league or have they just beaten up on lesser offenses?
ANONYMOUS NFC SCOUT: “It’s too early to say who’s the best because injuries will factor into this at some point. That’s going to impact quality of play and depth — and then you’ll really see how teams adapt schemes and personnel. They obviously have really good talent, but there are other teams that have individual units that are better. They’ve got the home-run hitter in Micah Parsons, but there are other defenses that will consistently hit doubles week in and week out. You still don’t know how they’ll weather playing a loaded offense. I even think the addition of (cornerback) Stephon Gilmore is a little overrated. He brings experience and he’s seen almost everything at this point, but he’s also older and can’t run like he used to. They’ve got to be careful with his matchups in man coverage because teams will smell blood in the water if they have speed to his side. Teams haven’t been afraid to challenge him in recent years because even No. 2 [receivers] with afterburners can separate.”
Washington Post (paywall)
The NFL has filed a grievance against the NFL Players Association, accusing the union of improperly advising running backs to consider faking or embellishing injuries as a contract-negotiating tactic with their teams.
The grievance was filed last week and will be resolved by an arbitrator. It accuses the NFLPA of violating provisions of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and union. It does not accuse any running backs of improper conduct, a person familiar with the situation said Monday.
The NFL’s grievance seeks “an order for the union to cease and desist from such improper conduct as well as other remedies that the arbitrator may deem appropriate,” the league told team owners who serve on its management council’s executive committee, which is in charge of labor negotiations with the union, in a memo.
“Beginning this past summer and continuing throughout Training Camp, NFL Players Association leadership, including President JC Tretter, have become increasingly vocal in advising NFL Players dissatisfied with their current contracts to consider feigning or exaggerating injuries to withhold service as a way to increase their leverage in contract negotiations,” the NFL wrote in the memo, a copy of which The Washington Post obtained.
Cleveland lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-22 on “Monday Night Football.” But in the Browns’ locker room afterward, the loss of the game felt secondary compared to the loss of Nick Chubb.
The All-Pro running back suffered what coach Kevin Stefanski called a “significant” injury to his left knee in the second quarter and had to be carted off the field. Asked after the game if he anticipates Chubb missing the rest of the season, Stefanski told reporters: “I do.”
The injured left knee is the same one Chubb had reconstructed after tearing his MCL, PCL and LCL while at Georgia in 2015.
“At that moment, it was tough,” said Watson, Chubb’s longtime friend. “Once we saw the [stadium] replay, [I had] a lot of flashbacks to the [injury] he had in college.”
Before leaving the game, Chubb had already totaled 64 rushing yards on 10 carries. He had rushed for more than 1,000 yards in four straight seasons, including a career-high 1,525 yards last year.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Chubb is one of just five players in NFL history with at least eight rushing touchdowns in each of his first five seasons, alongside Adrian Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Emmitt Smith and former Browns great Jim Brown.
“He totes the rock, every play he gets the ball,” Cleveland defensive end Za’Darius Smith said of Chubb. “That piece is [now] missing.”
It’s only been two games so far this season, but this has been mastery at its finest. In each of the Cardinals first two games of the year, they’ve taken a lead into halftime. In fact, they had a lead heading into the 4th quarter of both those games. They were up 16-10 against the Commanders heading into the 4th, and yesterday they were up 28-7 midway through the 3rd against the Giants. That right there is the perfect defense Gannon and the Cardinals need against any claims that they’re actively tanking. It’s not like they’re going out there and getting shit pumped from start to finish.
But that’s when Johnny Ganns hits everybody with the ol’ razzle dazzle. Nobody makes a halftime adjustment as well as this man does. He brings those fellas back into the locker room after halftime, and then fires them up with one of his patented rah rah speeches.
With just one simple halftime speech, he’s able to destroy any and all momentum his team had building in the first half. It’s done. It’s over. They could be up by 50 points and they’d still come out and get destroyed in the 2nd half. The Cardinals have been outscored 27-0 in the 4th quarter through 2 games so far this year. I’d expect that number to be damn near 200-3 by the end of the season. Because that’s the kind of fire that Jonathan Gannon can provide to a tank.
That’s what this man was put on this Earth to do. Play some damn good ball in the 1st half, weird everybody out by talking like a robot with low batteries in the locker room during halftime, come out and get pummeled in the 4th quarter to go 1-16 this year. That 1st overall pick is as good as theirs. We’re all witness to a free masterclass in tanking.