Terry McLaurin kept it blunt in the locker room after the Washington Commanders' 37-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills: "They came in here and they whooped us.
"You have to give them credit for that. That's why they're the team that they've been for so long. They're going to force you to beat them."
Prior to the Week 3 matchup, all the Commanders had done was win dating back to Jan. 8. They ended the 2022 season with a promising win over a playoff team, breezed through the preseason with an undefeated record and started with 2-0 with comeback victories. Sunday's game was a reminder that there is still more work to be done, and it was a harsh lesson as the Bills put up one touchdown after the other in the fourth quarter.
One of the most obvious next steps for the Commanders is to flush the results from their memories, and the players intend to do that at some point. First, however, they plan to learn from the lessons presented to them. After a game like that, it's the only thing to do.
"What you will really be judged on is how you handle what happened today," said coach Ron Rivera. "Did we learn from it? Did we get better? Did we improve? Did we do the things that give ourselves a chance to win next week?"
Check out the best shots from the Washington Commanders' Week 1 matchup against the Buffalo Bills. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
"Missed opportunities" was the phrase that Rivera used to start his press conference, which was a straightforward way to describe how the offense performed on Sunday. Amid the 230-yard performance -- a season low -- there were moments where the unit got traction. A 21-yard pickup by Cole Turner moved the Commanders to the Bills' 25-yard line; an 18-yard run by Sam Howell helped them get to the 2-yard line; and a 23-yard run by Brian Robinson Jr. was the driving force that allowed them to get to the Bills' 15-yard line.
All of those plays, however, were followed by disaster. Two of the Commanders' nine sacks allowed preceded an interception; the Commanders' fourth-down attempt at the goal-line failed with an incomplete pass; and a pass to the end zone intended for Curtis Samuel was picked by Tre'Davius White.
So, it's not as if the Commanders were unable to operate against the Bills and their fifth-ranked defense. In fact, there were times when they moved the ball quite well. Those moments, however, were overshadowed by a failure to execute.
"Shoutout to them. They came to play," Antonio Gibson told reporters. "They made some great plays today and they got the best of us, so shout out to their defense."
Of all the mistakes made on Sunday, those committed by Howell were the most glaring. For the past six weeks, the Commanders experienced all the positives that come with having a young, talented quarterback as their starter. He's tough, has a strong arm, knows where to place the ball and has poise in the pocket. All those are qualities that have been hard to find consistently in Washington's previous quarterbacks, and it looks like Howell has a foundation to build upon for years to come.
On Sunday, Howell and the Commanders experienced the growing pains of having a quarterback with only four starts under his belt. All four of his interceptions seemed to compound on each other, and while some of the nine sacks can be credited to other factors, others were caused by Howell holding the ball for too long.
According to Next Gen Stats, Howell's throw time is 2.81 seconds -- one of the longest in the league -- and has been sacked 19 times -- the most in the league. After the game, Howell blamed himself.
"Obviously a lot of things didn't go right today, and it starts with me," Howell said.
Howell's teammates were also quick to defend him, putting some of the blame for Sunday's results on themselves.
"Sam's a great quarterback and a tough kid," said tackle Andrew Wylie. "As an offensive lineman, that's [the sacks] on our unit. We take that personally. We gotta do a better job of keeping him upright and getting him that extra tick. He's a baller! He's trying to make plays, and that's what we need out of him. Our guys up front take that very personally."
Howell also earned some praise from his teammates for staying consistent in the huddle.
"He didn't change his character and he stuck it out all the way to the last possession we got," Gibson said. "I feel like as a young guy and as a QB, that's tremendous to me, because that was a tough one."
Frustration and disappointment were the prevailing emotions in the Commanders' locker room. Much of that came from the offense, which kicked a field goal in the closing minutes to avoid a shutout, but the same could be said of the defense. Despite allowing the occasional explosive play, the defense had done well to limit the Bills to just 16 points. That, at least, made it feel like the Commanders could somehow climb back into the game.
But then the fourth quarter happened. The Bills had good field position thanks to an interception and fumble, and they wasted no time in getting into the end zone. Josh Allen also the day cleanly with zero sacks, thanks in part to his ability to avoid pressure and scramble upfield.
"Honestly, there's nothing that we went out there and the playbook wasn't working, the scheme, and all that stuff," Benjamin St-Juste said. "We need to go out there and be a little bit more focused. A little bit more of a sense of urgency to...not even give them a chance to come back or to get the lead."
If there was any positive sign after the loss, it was that the players were holding themselves accountable. Multiple players took ownership of the sacks, while the defensive players acknowledged that they could have capitalized on more opportunities.
All of them admitted that they need to improve going forward.
"Get back to work," Jahan Dotson said. "That's the only way. Not much to say about this. We got beat up today; that's all it is. We gotta bounce back we gotta get back to work."
Later on, McLaurin added to that by saying it's hard to beat teams like the Bills "when we're beating ourselves in certain situations."
"I think we're all going to look at how we can get better this week, from top to bottom. I think we have a great group of guys from top to bottom, so we're going to focus on what we can do better individually."
It's a long season, Gibson said about bouncing back from the loss, and of course he is correct. The Commanders have 14 games left to fix their issues, and while all the mistakes on Sunday are frustrating, none of them are irreversible problems.
"That was one game," Gibson said. "We still need to correct, but that was one game. It's a long season and we can still make what we want to happen come true so just got to go to work."
And the Commanders still have trust that the system they're working in can lead them to success.
"We have a lot of confidence every time we step out on the field, and we have a lot of confidence in \[Eric Bieniemy\] and we feel like he always gives us a good plan," Howell said. "We just got to do a better job executing. We're not going to panic or anything like that."
The Commanders failed to play up to their most recent measuring stick, but they have another opportunity on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles in their first division matchup of the season. Should the Commanders win, it would put them at the top of the NFC East.
The best approach for Washington to prepare itself for last year's NFC representative in the Super Bowl is to acknowledge the mistakes but not dwell on them longer than necessary.
"I think it just forces everyone to look in the mirror and make sure this doesn't happen again," McLaurin said.