Commanders feel disappointment of season’s end but optimistic about future

Commanders disappointed how season ended but optimistic for future originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Commanders’ 2022 season ended on Sunday evening at FedEx Field with a 26-6 thumping over the Dallas Cowboys, a dominating performance in all three phases from start to finish.

That strong effort against Dallas to conclude the year only went so far, though, considering Washington turned in its worst performance of the season a week prior, losing to Cleveland at home in a must-win game. Hours later, the Commanders were eliminated from postseason contention.

Following this Sunday’s game, the Cowboys enter a week of playoff preparation. In Ashburn, Commanders players spent Monday morning cleaning out their lockers, reflecting on another season where they came up just a little bit short.

“A roller coaster,” offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr. described the season. “We’re not in the playoffs, so more could have definitely been done. Our record could’ve been better. We had some games where we – I’m talking offensive, offensive line-wise – personally didn’t execute the way where we should have and won those games. We would be in a different spot right now.”

Entering the season, head coach Ron Rivera had high hopes for the franchise. He repeatedly emphasized taking a jump this year, his third at the helm, and made a flurry of offseason moves with the goal of doing just that. Most notably, Washington traded for Carson Wentz in an attempt to upgrade and stabilize the quarterback position.

Washington’s season started off promising, as Wentz threw four touchdowns (and two interceptions) in an epic Week 1 win over Jacksonville. The Commanders would lose their next four games, however, and optimism remained low for both the rest of the year and the long-term organizational future.

The Commanders got back in the win column in Week 6 in Chicago, but Wentz suffered a broken finger that would sideline him for multiple weeks. Backup Taylor Heinicke came in and immediately provided a spark to the Commanders’ offense, winning five of his first six starts, including a thrilling victory over the previously undefeated Eagles on the road.

“We really stuck together really all year, even when we were 1-4 in the beginning and nobody really believed in us,” safety Bobby McCain said. “We still stuck together. We came to work.”

Washington entered Week 13 against the Giants as the No. 6 seed in the NFC, but lost control of its own playoff destiny going 0-3-1 from Weeks 14-17. Both Heinicke and Wentz struggled down the stretch, as Washington’s offense continued to have issues converting in the red zone and protecting the football. Defensively, multiple starters suffered injuries down the stretch, specifically Kam Curl and Benjamin St-Juste, that tested Washington’s depth. Ultimately, the group wasn’t good enough.

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Leno’s description of a “roller coaster” to describe the Commanders’ season was spot on, largely because the group was inconsistent throughout the year — something multiple players pointed out needs to change in 2023.

“Just need a little bit of consistency to come out of the gates a little bit quicker next year,” tight end Logan Thomas said. “Sustain it through the middle of the season, and finish the season well. Obviously, we won the first game of the season, but we kind of hit a (lull) a little bit after that. Then got back into it, got going, and then hit a lull at the end of the season. [We’ve] just got to be consistent.”

“It’s going to take consistency. We’ve been on and off, never really consistent,” safety Darrick Forrest added. “It’s just about consistency, playing our game, setting the standard and not letting anybody play up under.”

Washington’s locker room wasn’t exactly somber on Monday, either. Emotions from beating Dallas the day prior, understandably, were still somewhat evident. The Commanders took pride in their final performance of the year against Dallas, beating a Cowboys team that was playing for the No. 1 seed in the NFC and division title. Rookie quarterback Sam Howell shined in his NFL debut, too, giving a desperate fanbase some hope for the future.

“You guys seen it this past game, we’re right there,” Chase Young said. “We’re right there. I think they had like 45 rushing yards, [Dallas] couldn’t run the ball. Our defense we played well, that boy Sam Howell did his thing. I know he’s going to come back next year and he’ll be our one, two [at quarterback]. … I’m excited for what’s to come.”

For the most part, the group was collectively proud of what they were able to accomplish this season and believes the 2022 campaign provided several things to build on the take that next step in 2023.

“I feel like we’re very close. We say that every week. We just [are] that close,” running back Brian Robinson Jr. said. “We showed ourselves last night against [Dallas] … we showed ourselves what we can do. We showed ourselves what type of potential we can play to [and] what we can build around. … Hopefully, guys feed off of that and come back with a chip on their shoulders.”

“We’re right there. We’re on the border. It’s time to take that next step,” Forrest said. “We’ve got to keep pushing. Next year, playoffs is the goal, Super Bowl is the goal.”

Despite the positive note to end the season, the Commanders enter an offseason full of questions.

Ownership is exploring a sale of the franchise, one that could be finalized as early as this spring. Finding a franchise quarterback remains a top priority, even if Howell did show promise against Dallas. Multiple key players, highlighted by Daron Payne and Cole Holcomb, are set to be free agents. Staff changes seem to be a possibility, too, at least to some extent.

Uncertainty remains the norm in Ashburn, though. Those that are returning in 2023 for certain remain optimistic about the future of the franchise.

“What gives me confidence is if you look around the talent in this locker room,” Thomas said. “Ron’s a great coach. He’s a great man, and he wants to win. He wants to do it the right way. So I have no worries about where we’re going, or what we’re going to do.”

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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