The Washington Commanders opened the 2022 season with a 28-22 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Here are five takeaways from the matchup, presented by the Inaugural Washington Commanders Fan Cruise.
1. The offense started hot.
Washington's slow starts were a problem throughout the 2021 and 2020 seasons. It became a common occurrence for the team to play catchup, as it was often down by at least a touchdown in the first quarter of game.
That was not the case in Week 1. For the first time since 2019, Washington's season-opening drive ended in a touchdown, as Carson Wentz directed a six-play, 74-yard drive that ended with a three-yard pass to Curtis Samuel in the end zone.
Washington's momentum carried over to the ensuing possession, as Wentz led the offense on a 14-play drive that encompassed 71 yards. Thanks in part to 32 yards on three touches from Samuel, Washington breezed downfield to the Jacksonville 7-yard line, where Jahan Dotson ended the possession with a grab to make the score 14-3.
Washington put up 145 yards of offense in its first two drives, compared to 58 for the Jaguars. After two seasons of struggling in the first halves of games, that efficiency was a welcome change of pace for the Burgundy & Gold.
The Washington Commanders are kicking off the 2022 season with a home matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Photos by Kourtney Carroll and Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
2. Then, it cooled off.
The afternoon was still far from perfect for the Commanders, because after the initial surge, the offense did not do much at all for most of the afternoon.
The most frustrating part was that Washington's stagnant second and third quarters were caused by self-inflicted mistakes. Washington did have a chance to pack on more points at the end of the first half, but a fumble from Samuel quickly dashed that possibility. Over the next five drives, Washington put up just 38 total yards.
Some of that was caused by drops; a miss from John Bates on a third-and-2 ended a promising possession in the third quarter. But the most damning stretch came over the course of about three minutes in the fourth quarter, when Wentz threw back-to-back interceptions, both of which led to points that helped Jacksonville take the lead.
Fortunately, Washington put up points when it mattered and avoided what would have been a disappointing loss. But there are much better teams on Washington's schedule that will not allow the team to climb back from a late deficit. It is an area that Washington will need to fix going forward.
3. The defense performed much better on third downs.
Part of the reason why Washington was able to stay in the game while its offense sputtered was because the defense was holding its own, particularly when it came to third downs.
As many Commanders fans can attest, that area was the cause of much frustration in 2021, when the team was 31st with an allowed conversion rate of 48.5%. That was not the case against the Jaguars, who converted just three of their 12 attempts.
Washington took advantage of moments when the Jaguars were faced with third-and-long situations. One of the better examples came on the Jaguars' second drive, when Jonathan Allen slung Trevor Lawrence to the ground on a third-and-15 for a nine-yard loss.
Another came at Washington's 19-yard line, when the Jaguars were down 14-3. Darrick Forrest forced an incompletion from Zay Jones with 27 seconds left on a third-and-19, and one play later, Riley Patterson's field goal attempt bounced off the right upright.
Like the offense, it was not a perfect performance. Washington still gave up big plays, including a 49-yarder to Christian Kirk and several double-digit gashes by Travis Etienne. However, it was still a solid foundation for the defense to build on for the rest of the season.
4. Washington's arsenal of weapons got plenty of chances to shine.
Washington made sure that Wentz had plenty of weapons when they traded for Wentz, and he made sure they got plenty of opportunities to make plays.
A couple of the headliners included Samuel and Antonio Gibson. Samuel, who was marred by injuries throughout the 2021 season, was back to his athletic self, as he juked his way to 72 yards and a touchdown on 15 touches. However, Gibson ended the day as the most productive of the Commanders' weapons, leading the team in rushing and receiving with 130 yards.
That is not to say that the Commanders' remaining weapons had quiet days. Terry McLaurin was still a dynamic playmaker for the Burgundy & Gold with two catches for 58 yards, most of which was gained on a 49-yard touchdown that closed the gap on the Jaguars' eight-point lead. Logan Thomas made three catches for 45 yards. One of his catches was a 27-yarder on a third-and-8 that set up McLaurin's touchdown.
And of course, Dotson brought in two touchdowns, one of which was a 24-yarder that gave Washington the lead for good.
There are plenty of issues to work out, but it is clear that the offense does have the potential to be one of the better units in the league.
5. Darrick Forrest stepped up.
There were hints during the preseason and training camp that Forrest was about to take a step forward in his development. After a strong month as one of the team's primary backups, all he needed was an opportunity to show what he could do in a game scenario.
With Kamren Curl ruled out before kickoff, he got that chance hainst the Jaguars. And he did not disappoint.
Forrest finished the game tied with Cole Holcomb for second on the team with five tackles. His physicality was on display in the matchup (see the pass breakup mentioned above), but the moment he will be remembered for the most came when Washington needed a play to seal the game.
It was third-and-11 as Lawrence scrambled to his left to avoid the Commanders' pass rush. He fired a shot downfield that looked like it would land out of bounds, but Forrest snagged the pass before that could happen for his first career interception.
Forrest has continued to prove himself in his second season, and while Curl is expected to be back soon, the former Cincinnati Bearcat has proven that he is worthy of a larger role.
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