Commanders Corner: Hang on for dear life

You thought the Washington Commanders’ regular season opener was going to be … easy? Even against a 3-14 Jacksonville team dealing with a new coaching regime, the Burgundy and Gold almost went belly-up, with back-to-back interceptions thrown by Carson Wentz allowing the Jaguars to take a 22-14 lead in the fourth quarter — and this after the Jags left points on the table at least three times. But while Wentz taketh away, he also giveth. And the quarterback gave Washington a pair of fourth quarter touchdown passes to score a 28-22 victory. You are warned from here on out: do not eat within 30 minutes of boarding the Burgundy and Gold roller coaster.

Carson’s Contributions: Plenty of good and bad to take in from the new quarterback’s play. For starters, there’s the 313 yards and four touchdowns (highest opening day total for a Washington QB since Billy Kilmer in 1975). But then there are the two second half interceptions. On the bright side, this year’s offseason solution at QB lasted through the opener.

Antonio by Air, Gibson by Ground: The running back led the team with 58 yards rushing and 72 yards receiving. Just as importantly, he did not fumble a single one of his 21 touches. And the seven catches — I thought that was J.D. McKissic’s department? The veteran did add three grabs for 20 yards to go with three rushes for eight.

Pass Catch Fever: Wentz definitely won’t be suffering for a shortage of targets. Rookie Jahan Dotson made three catches for 40 yards and two touchdowns (including the go-ahead score), while Terry McLaurin tallied two receptions for 58 yards and a TD (a 49-yard strike that pulled this team back to within two in the fourth quarter). And then Curtis Samuel goes out and notches eight catches for 55 yards plus four carries for 17 yards. That’s 12 touches in a single game after recording just 10 in all of the 2021 season. But that’s not all — the tight end group saw Logan Thomas post three catches for 45 yards (in his first game back from a torn ACL!) while converted quarterback/rookie Armani Rogers recorded a 23-yard reception.

Third and Rising: On the money down, the Burgundy and Gold moved the chains seven of 10 times while the defense got off of the field on 9-of-12 third downs, meaning Washington “won” third down on 16-of-22 chances. Wentz completed 11-of-12 passes with his top targets being Curtis Samuel and Logan Thomas (two targets, two catches, two conversions). Yardage breakdown: 1-for-2 on short yardage (1 to 3 yards needed), 2-for-2 on medium (4 to 6 yards needed), and 4-for-6 on long yardage (7-plus yards needed).

D earns a B: The defense as mentioned before got off the field on 9-of-12 chances, with nearly half of Jacksonville’s third downs requiring 7 or more yards. William Jackson III paced the team with nine tackles while Darrick Forrest added five stops and the game-clinching interception. Both of the team’s sacks occurred on third down (Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne). Still, they gave the Jaguars way too many opportunities that a better team wouldn’t misfire on, and now the unit has to deal with the loss of rookie lineman Phidarian Mathis with a knee injury. Next man up …

Special Teams: Tress Way averaged 49 yards on three punts while Joey Slye sent all five of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks (and converted both extra points). Dax Milne averaged 22 yards per kickoff return and 11 yards per punt return. Coverage allowed one two-yard punt return and that’s it.

Flying Flags: Eight penalties (two declined) for 63 yards. Kendall Fuller was the only repeat offender (a pass interference plus an illegal contact-on consecutive plays), while there were two accepted penalties for illegal contact and pass interference. The most costly infraction? Darrick Forrest’s unnecessary roughness in the third quarter moved the Jaguars from the Washington 44 to the 29, setting up a field goal.

Digesting the Division: Philadelphia (1-0) is in first place of the NFC East, taking the conference tiebreaker (I know, I know it’s only Week One), while Washington (1-0) takes second place over the New York Giants (1-0) because of point differential. All alone in last place is a Dallas (0-1) team that managed only a field goal against Tampa Bay and will be minus quarterback Dak Prescott and his injured thumb for six to eight weeks.

Boys in the Booth: This year I’ll be looking into who calls the Commanders’ games on TV. For week one we were given the Fox No. 6 team of Chris Myers and Tiki Barber. Not ideal, but when the two teams were a combined 10-24 the season before, you can’t really blame the network.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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