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Commanders looking for consistency after roller coaster start to season


There was no other way for Carson Wentz to describe the Washington Commanders' first half performance against the Detroit Lions: "ugly." 

"We've just got to be consistent," Wentz told reporters after the Commanders' 36-27 loss to the Lions.  "We can't do that early in a game. The league is too hard to win. We can't do that to ourselves and dig ourselves a hole like that." 

Consistency has been the root of the Commanders' problems to start the 2022 campaign, from slow starts on both sides of the ball in Week 2 to nearly blowing the win against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the season opener. The past two weeks have been a roller coaster in which the undeniable highs have been followed by a void of concerning lows. 

It is a ride that the Commanders are looking to abandon for a smoother excursion going forward. 

"It's just about putting four quarters together," Terry McLaurin said in the visiting locker room.

The Commanders fell into the same trap last week against the Jaguars; the only difference was that a strong start and finish was separated by a lull in the second and third quarters. A 14-3 lead was erased in part because of interceptions on back-to-back plays, only for the game to be saved with less than two minutes left by a highlight reel catch on a pass from Wentz to Dotson.

Rivera had a solution when asked with how Rivera is planning to deal with Wentz being an up-and-down player: "Take antacids."

"We're going to ride with him. No matter how you look at it, we're gonna ride with him. We'll go with the good, we'll go with the bad, but that's the truth of the matter."

Wentz was up-and-down against the Lions, but he was hardly the only player that was guilty of that. The road trip against the Lions was a harsh referendum on how much work still needs to be done.

The team dragged its feet in the contest, while the Lions rode a disruptive front and raucous crowd out to a 22-0 halftime lead. Lions rookie Aiden Hutchinson led a pass rush that passing plays before they even began, and a constipated running game found few lanes that led to any real traction on the ground.

"I just feel like we can be a damn good offense," said tackle Charles Leno. "We really can. You saw in the second half what we can do. We just have to be able to weather that storm."

And Leno is right; the offense can be good, or at least better than the 2021 iteration. Wentz threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns, giving him seven in his first two games as a Commander. In that span, Washington has the seventh-ranked offense, which is fueled by the second-best passing attack, and has the eighth best scoring average.

The only problem is that it took a half in which the Commanders put up a meager 56 net yards and could not get a first down until the second quarter to get there.

"You cannot start like that," Wentz said. "You have to find a way to just force the issue. Find a way to get a first down and find a way to get a spark, and we didn't do that at all."

Defensively, the Commanders were devastated by explosive plays. Players like Amon-Ra St. Brown and D'Andre Swift, whose ankle issues were clearly well enough for him to slash through the defensive front, had their way for most of the afternoon.

The Lions capitalized on Washington's mistakes in ways that the Jaguars could not, and Rivera said during his Monday press conference that most of the explosive plays were the results of individual mistakes.

"It's not a group. It's not schematics. It is failure to put ourselves in position to force things to happen."

Rivera added that much of the outcome came down to six explosive plays. They included a 49-yard catch-and-run by St. Brown, a 50-yard rush by Swift, followed by a 58-yard jet sweep from St. Brown.

"It's that old thing that this game's gonna come down to six plays you make, or you don't make," Rivera said. "Well, there were six plays they made on their offensive side alone that really gave us trouble."

And to Washington's credit, it did have moments in the second half where the defense was better. It held the Lions to just 25 yards on their first two drives of the second half, which gave the team enough of a reprieve to cut into the Lions' lead.

But like the offense, it took too long to get those improvements.

"So unfortunately for us, it's a game of two halves," Rivera said. "You can't play that first half like we did. The unfortunate part is when we had some opportunities, we didn't take advantage of them."

Fortunately for the Commanders, the season is only two weeks old. There is still time to find some modicum of consistency, and history suggests that they will. The defense briefly found its footing in 2021 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which led to a stunning victory, while the offense gained some traction from its running game during a four-game win streak.

But there is not much time to squander for the Commanders with talented teams still on the schedule, the most immediate being the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, albeit without Dak Prescott, and Tennessee Titans.

Like its matchup with the Lions, Washington cannot wait to have success until it's too late.

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