Despite 1-4 start, Commanders remain confident entering ‘must-win’ game vs. Bears

Commanders remain confident entering 'must-win' game vs. Bears originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

ASHBURN, Va. — Jonathan Allen didn’t mince his words.

“It’s definitely a must-win,” Allen said of the Washington Commanders’ upcoming Thursday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears.

“We’re 1-4. I don’t know too many teams that have started out 1-5 and still had a good season,” he added.

That might be blunt, but it’s the truth.

The Commanders have dropped four straight games following a Week 1 victory. The rest of the NFC East, meanwhile, has done nothing but win. The Eagles are the NFL’s last undefeated team at 5-0. The Giants are a surprising 4-1 under first-year coach Brian Daboll and GM Joe Schoen. The Cowboys are also 4-1, with all four victories coming with backup Cooper Rush under center.

Head coach Ron Rivera was asked on Monday why he felt the rest of the division was outpacing his club. His response, which pointed to the lack of continuity Washington has had at quarterback compared to the other three teams, raised eyebrows and drew headlines. Rivera apologized to the team before practice on Tuesday and explained the point he was trying to make; both he and quarterback Carson Wentz downplayed the coach’s comments as well.

Monday’s controversy shouldn’t get in the way of reality, though. If the Commanders are to turn their 2022 season around, it must start in the Windy City on Thursday. Washington’s players remain confident the wins are coming, even though it’s been a month since the club was last victorious.

“The way you keep the morale up — it works out perfect, right?” offensive tackle Charles Leno said. “We have a Thursday game. We’ve got to get this bad taste out of our mouth, go to Chicago and try to get a ‘W’ on Thursday Night Football. There’s a lot of things that line up for us to play well. … We can change the season around right now.”

Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Rivera took a similar optimistic approach.

“Going forward, I feel good about what we have,” the head coach said. “It’s just now a matter of putting it together and we’ve got to do it one game at a time. And we got to focus in on Chicago and going out and playing better. It starts with me. We got to make sure that we are doing the things that we give these guys the best opportunity to show up on game day and play well.”

Following Washington’s loss this past Sunday, the mood was, expectedly, quite somber. After all, they were just two yards away from knocking off the Titans, the AFC’s top seed from a year ago. It was certainly a winnable game, a contest many inside the locker room probably feel they should have won.

Even postgame, though, players were quick to point out there’s still three-quarters of the season left. Yes, Washington has started off slow, but the organization has plenty of opportunities ahead to turn the year around.

“It’s still very early,” running back J.D. McKissic said Sunday. “If it was in Week 10, 11, 12, we’re putting ourselves in a bad position. Right now, we’ve got a chance. The locker room is great.”

Wentz offered a parallel, positive outlook as McKissic did.

“I know there’s a lot of ball left. We’ve kind of dug ourselves a little bit of a hole, but we know where we’re at,” Wentz said. “We know what we’re capable of and we can’t try and fix it all right away. Our job is to try and go on to know this week and we got a short week to do that so, we’re focused on that.”

One thing the Commanders have tried to do this week is focusing on the positives from each of their losses. Against Tennessee, Wentz looked arguably as sharp as he’s been all season. Behind an offensive line down three Week 1 starters, the quarterback threw for 359 yards and two touchdowns. 

Of course, the positives don’t tell the full story. Washington’s impressive final drive ended with a heartbreaking Wentz goal-line interception to clinch the club’s fourth straight defeat. Penalties remain an issue. The defense, albeit better in Week 5, still has a knack for giving up multiple explosive plays every week.

“We’re right there from being very explosive [on offense],” Leno said. “There’s just too many times we’re going two steps forward and five steps back. We can’t have that in our offense if we want to put points on the board.”

“This is a team sport for a reason,” star receiver Terry McLaurin said. “We all can do a better job as a collective unit.”

For the Commanders’ offense to turn the corner, the self-inflicted errors must decrease. And, just as importantly, the group must be more consistent moving forward.

Wentz remains confident that both of those things will happen.

“I feel very confident in the chemistry and the relationships that have been built and the bond that we have on the field,” he said. “I think we’ve shown and proven some really good things. I feel very good and confident in on that front. I think for us it’s just about consistency. … Those are things that I can do better. I can clean up and I know we all will. I feel good about where we’re at. We just gotta be consistent and hopefully deliver for four quarters, not just a couple.”

As a whole, the Commanders know they can’t make up for the past month’s poor play in one game. Winning on Thursday in Chicago is a must in order to prevent Washington’s 2022 campaign from truly becoming a lost season.

“You’ve got to stop the losing streak at some point,” McLaurin said. “This is our opportunity to do that.”

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