It does not matter how good your team is or thinks it may be, there is a near certainty that every team will have a game that puts in question every single foundation that has been built. It is one thing that you learn to expect at some point; the hard part is not knowing when it's coming.
And this one, I did not see coming.
What happened in Detroit should have caught everyone off guard. But the good news is it is week 2. It is one game and cannot, nor should it, determine how a season goes.
First, let's cover that rough start. The Commanders have begun games from behind more often than not. There is a settling in period that typically takes shape, and then the game is on. In this case, the Commanders seemed overwhelmed by the aggressiveness and overall energy that the Lions played with. This should not have come as a surprise. The Lions played with the intensity that head coach Dan Campbell preaches. They come out like their hair is on fire, and it feels as if they want a chaotic game and are willing to be punished for being over aggressive with the endgame of outlasting you or better yet forcing ill-timed mistakes.
What I saw in the first half was protection that was not quite prepared for the sheer amount of stunts and blitzes, despite this tactic not being something that should have come as a surprise. So lesson one: it is time to start matching the energy of the opponent.
Special teams coverage and return units have not been a sore spot in the Ron Rivera tenure. This game hopefully was an aberration. Failing to down a perfect punt by Tress Way that landed inside the 5-yard line only to have it carried into the end zone for a touchback was a major unforced error. I agree with Rivera that Dax Milne’s returns were not as problematic as social media portrayed them to be, but one in particular had him run into traffic when clear lanes were open. Of course, that is easy for me to spot when I am on the seventh floor of Ford Field looking down at the action. The team then gave up a momentum-building return off the free kick post the safety. Couple that with a missed extra point and an onside kick that didn't even travel the requisite distance for a possible recovery, and the units certainly contributed to the final score in a profound way.
Lesson 2: The little things matter, and I assume we will not see the amount of errors we got in this one.
The Run game: it was practically nonexistent against the Lions. Their aggressiveness paid off in stopping literally every run play with the exception of an end around to Curtis Samuel. Washington has hung its hat on being a power run team when necessary, and while this passing attack appears to be what the most prolific aspect of the team can and will be, what happened Sunday needs to improve. I'll defer to the coaches about whether it was early season tells, which may need some self-scouting, or the Lions just winning up front that made the difference.
The pass game: This offense has only played four halves, but in three of them, Carson Wentz has looked decisive in his reads and throws. The first half was the outlier. Pressure certainly is a huge part of that, but clearly, some of the indecisiveness, including a sack where he backed into Aidan Hutchinson, was hard to get a read on. The second half proved that this team can adjust quickly, and had the hole not been so deep, they might have pulled off an all-time comeback. I'd love to know what the coaches adjusted to at the break, because it might as well have been a completely different unit where time and accuracy were on display.
Lesson 3: This is one of the silver linings, but Wentz and the offense don't seem to be shaken by any deficit after having been tested by a rough half down 22-0 or blowing an 11-point halftime lead and needing to make plays in crunch time.
Lastly, and this may be the most important takeaway moving forward: there are going to be a ton of pointed questions this week. The staff has been critical of certain players when they feel it is warranted to do so. Motivation through the media (having been a beat reporter for 8 years previously in my career) can work both ways. The intended result is often in the best interest of the team. When that result doesn't translate to the field, there is going to be a natural reaction to ask for fingers to be pointed.
And on that enormous point, where everyone is going to have an opinion of what's wrong, it is imperative for the team to remain just that: a team. Remember, it is September. Nothing has been settled yet. In fact, we are too far away from one bad game doing the type of damage that would threaten a season.
These next two weeks offer this team a golden opportunity to circle the wagons, agree that what happened (no matter whose fault it is) will be a footnote if they figure out a way to beat the Eagles and Cowboys. Nothing changes opinions in this town like doing that.