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From the booth | We can all exhale after beginning a new era


That was not a normal season opener in any way. 

From Ron Rivera publicly pronouncing that it's time for his team in his third year to make tangible strides on the field, to acquiring Carson Wentz and listening ad nauseam to how everyone in the world (myself included) characterized his career, to announcing a new name, new jerseys, new identity, and don't forget the celebration of the team's 90-year history.

Then, in camp, the offensive line turned into musical chairs, the team ran out of tight ends, and we started wondering who was going to be the "lead" back until an awful event left us wondering why we cared so much who'd actually run the ball in the first place. 

This offseason was exhausting (and clearly overlooks other notable moments) and it turned the opener against a team who had not won a road game since before the pandemic into a referendum on, well, everything. The Commanders officially launched a new business in a spruced up stadium in front of a (hopefully) re-energized crowd in a game that when the schedule dropped was treated like a layup. And there are no layups in the NFL, see Week 1 across the league.

What came out of it was a roller coaster ride that had an exhilarating start and truly remarkable finish. It closed a circle in so many ways for Wentz and hopefully freed him up to stop answering a multitude of questions about his past, and allows him to just be himself here. The fans snaked through the stadium to wait to get into a new team store and didn't give up after a walk-in touchdown made it look like Jacksonville was going to spoil literally all of it.

I have no clue what the future for this season holds. If I'm being honest, after camp I didn't know what to expect on Sunday. Rivera said as much in his final press conference before kickoff. But this team proved resilient again, showcased some of the major personnel choices they made and gave the fans a memory worthy of a new launch.

From the game itself: The NFL has quite the sense of humor scheduling Jacksonville as the opener when it comes to Wentz. He lost to the Jaguars in last year's finale, which became the last straw for the Colts and led them to trade him. Doug Pederson is the Jags' new head coach, the same coach who drafted Wentz and won a Super Bowl with Wentz on the roster watching the Philly special run by his backup. This was historic; only twice in NFL history has a quarterback drafted second overall or higher faced his former head coach with both men on different teams.

Subtext aside, Wentz proved what appeared to be happening by the third week of camp: he has control of the offense. The early camp inaccuracies were qualified by the staff as just the tinkering of practice in a camp with a new quarterback and new parts. That, for at least a week, turned out to be true. Seven different receivers caught passes from Wentz in the first half alone. Curtis Samuel was showcased, Jahan Dotson made his first NFL catch in the end zone and Terry McLaurin barely saw any action but still had an impact. The team said watch out when we get Antonio Gibson in space. And that proved to be true as well.

The narrative that Wentz gives you all these highs and lows felt lazy on Sunday, even with him throwing two interceptions. Yes, there is one he'd like to have back. The second one? Is it possible the number one overall pick made a play like a No. 1 overall pick? And besides, what is getting profoundly annoying is the fact that some quarterback's mistakes get blown out of proportion and others don't. Is everyone in Jacksonville dunking on Trevor Lawrence for two misses on clear touchdowns?

Scott Turner has a "one ball" problem. Driving back from the stadium and listening to the postgame, I heard one caller say he had a problem with McLaurin's lack of targets in the first half -- a half in which they led 14-3 on two long scoring drives. I hope that this is the issue every week, someone wonders what happened to the player who didn't get the looks in a win. Turner seemed content to get the ball out of Wentz's hands quickly in what I hope and think was a sign of confidence building.

The heroics of the offense stole the on field headline. But Darrick Forrest equally deserved a game ball for his aggressive play, defending passes in the end zone, slicing Travis Etienne in half and grabbing a game-sealing interception. He was outstanding in a star role in place of the injured Kam Curl.

The Defensive line was undermanned thanks to the injury to Phidarian Mathis and was clearly gassed midway through the third into the fourth quarter. But, not unlike Wentz, when the game was on the line, Montez Sweat showed up in a big way. Casey Toohill also made a couple of great plays on the edge.

Of concern, and this was something that could be an ongoing issue: dealing with good slot receivers. Christian Kirk had a quiet 117-yard debut for the Jags. Whether Washington has the requisite answer in the slot and center of the field with the corner and linebacker play will be something I'll be interested to see develop.

On the stadium: there was a different energy in the building. I believe it helped that there was an opponent that didn't bring a large swath of fans with them. That said, the crowd was energetic in the stadium early and completely engaged when things did go wrong. I want to particularly say to those who ideated the artwork on all of the cinder walls coupled with all the many vibrant changes, the stadium is looking better than it ever has.

So it's over, and we can get used to calling them the Commanders and get back into the rhythms of a regular season. And we can all exhale.

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