The Commanders improved their record to 2-0 for the first time since 2011 with a thrilling 35-33 win over the Denver Broncos. Here are five takeaways from the victory, presented by Maryland Lottery.
1. Jamin Davis turned the tide.
It's rare to pinpoint one play that completely swung the momentum in a game, but things absolutely flipped for the Commanders after the forced fumble by Jamin Davis.
Prior to that play by the former first-round pick in the second quarter, the Commanders were getting drummed on both sides of the ball. The Broncos zoomed down the field on their first three drives averaging 13.3 points per play, including a busted coverage on a 75-yard touchdown by Marvin Mims. The offense, after knocking on the door of the red zone twice, had become completely anemic with back-to-back drives resulting in minus one and one yard.
After the fumble, it was as if the Commanders were playing a different game.
The Broncos didn't do much on offense until their final two drives after Russell Wilson coughed up the ball at the Denver 49-yard line. They punted on three of their next five possessions and turned the ball over once in the third quarter. In that span, they put up just 52 yards as the defensive line racked up three sacks.
Meanwhile, Washington's offense was humming in a way that fans haven't seen since Thanksgiving in 2020. They scored on five of their next seven possessions, including three touchdowns in the second half. The unit averaged 6.7 yards per play, compared to 3.7 in its first four drives, and collected 13 first downs.
The Commanders will be the first to admit that they didn't want to wait until they were three scores down to have a game-changing play, but they were able to capitalize for a second straight week.
Check out the best photos of the Washington Commanders from their Week 2 matchup against the Denver Broncos. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
2. Sam Howell looked sharp.
Part of the reason why Washington had so much success was because Sam Howell looked calm and unrattled despite being down 18 points.
Howell, who ended the day completing 69% of his passes for 299 yards, still had some growing pains in his third career start, but the mistakes were down compared to Week 1 against the Cardinals. The biggest difference was how much smarter he was with the ball on errant plays, electing to throw it away rather than take a sack. He was still sacked four times, but he avoided several more because of his ability to correct his errors from last week.
Howell paired that with poise and accuracy in the pocket. His 7.7 yards per attempt was drastically improved from his 4.4 against the Cardinals, and while the offense was gaining momentum, he completed 69% of his passes after the Wilson fumble.
He also showed complete trust in his receivers, which led to impressive throws like the 30-yard touchdown to Terry McLaurin into double coverage and the 35-yard shot to John Bates at the end of the first half.
Howell is still growing as a quarterback, but his highs offer a glimpse into what he could be in the future. Through two weeks, Howell is 10th in passing yards, 11th in passing touchdowns and sixth in completion percentage among quarterbacks with at least 70 passing attempts.
3. Daron Payne is a freak.
The Commanders' defensive line was dominant once again on Sunday, securing seven sacks, five tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hits. However, there were times when Daron Payne was the clear leader and singlehandedly shut down the Broncos' offense.
The best example of that came during the Broncos' opening drive of the second half. On the first play of the series, Payne busted through the middle of Denver's offensive line for a nine-yard sack on Wilson. The next play saw Payne in the backfield again, this time resulting in Payne helping Montez Sweat take down Javonte Williams for a two-yard loss.
And on third down, Payne swatted away a pass from Wilson that was almost an interception. Had Payne managed to catch the ball, there was no one to prevent him from getting into the end zone.
Payne ended the game with five tackles (two for loss), a sack, a pass deflection and three quarterback hits, adding more evidence as to why the Commanders were right to keep him in Washington for years to come.
4. Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson fueled the comeback.
Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson were not used much in the first half, combining for just 39 yards on eight touches. Then the second half came around, and the duo became the focal point for the unit's comeback attempts.
We'll start with Robinson, who finally started to find some running lanes against a Broncos defense that held Josh Jacobs to one of the worst rushing performances in his career in Week 1. The power runs, like his two-yard score that gave Washington the lead, were there, but he also had several explosive plays like his 27-yard pickup in the third quarter that pushed Washington to the Broncos' 46-yard line. Then, in the fourth quarter, he broke loose for a 15-yard touchdown that made the score 35-24.
Gibson wasn't used much in the running game with just two carries for nine yards, but his three receptions for 44 yards helped highlight his background as a receiver. The best example of that came in the fourth quarter, when he grabbed a screen pass from Howell and weaved through the Broncos' defense for a 36-yard gain. That play moved Washington to the Broncos' 14-yard line, and two plays later, the offense finished the 75-yard drive with a score.
Robinson and Gibson ended the game combining for 182 yards on 25 touches. Performances like that show how the Commanders are slowly starting to figure out how to use the two in ways that highlight their talents.
5. An improbable comeback.
There was a time when the Broncos were almost guaranteed to win. With 7:57 left in the second quarter, ESPN gave them a 96.3% chance to getting a victory. Then Wilson fumbled the ball, and things began to creep in Washington's favor for the rest of the afternoon.
Washington climbed back from an 18-point deficit to claim it second victory of the season, making it the largest road rally since its 21-point win over the Detroit Lions on Nov. 4, 1990. It was also just the third time Washington beat Denver on the road and the first since the 2001 season.
While the Broncos almost spoiled it with their Hail Mary at the end of regulation, it doesn't change the fact that Washington went on a 32-3 run to go from a three-score hole to a two-score lead. And on top of that, they did it by controlling the time of possession, 33:45-26:15, and not allowing any turnovers.
It's not sustainable to win games by four or fewer points. The Commanders know that, and they'll need to get off to a fast start if they hope to beat the Buffalo Bills and get their first 3-0 start since 2005. However, a win is a win, and Washington has shown that it is resilient enough to stay competitive and capitalize when the time is right.