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Game Balls | Three standouts from Washington's win over Arizona


The Washington Commanders punctuated their season opener at FedExField with a 20-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Defensive end Montez Sweat, defensive tackle Daron Payne and running back Brian Robinson Jr. showed up with strong performances to get the home team off to a hot start in 2023. 

 Montez Sweat  

Sweat's initials may as well also stand for "Momentum Shifter" after Sunday. Deep into the third quarter, the situation unfolding in Landover, Maryland, was looking rather bleak for the Commanders. The offense was sputtering, and the defense had made errors which had allowed the Cardinals to pull ahead by six.   

With three seconds left before the fourth quarter, Sweat decided he had seen enough. The defensive end came up with a huge strip-sack on Josh Dobbs, which Daron Payne recovered. From then on, the Commanders put their foot on the gas, taking the lead on the very next offensive drive and never looking back.  

Sweat continued to assert himself as Washington's most significant difference-maker in the fourth quarter. With under five left to play and the Commanders holding on to a narrow one-point lead, Sweat forced yet another fumble out of Josh Dobbs that Abdullah Anderson was able to recover. On the next drive, the Commanders were able to push their lead to four.  

Sweat, who finished with 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two tackles for loss, was rightfully given an official game ball in the locker room after the win.

Daron Payne

After a fantastic 2022 season for the Commanders for which he reaped rewards for in the offseason, Payne did not come out with any signs of complacency against the Cardinals.

In the second quarter with Washington up by four points, Payne, with the help of Casey Toohill, brought down running back Keaontay Ingram for a three-yard tackle for loss on a drive where the Cardinals would have to settle for a field goal.

Like Sweat, however, it was the end of the third quarter where Payne dominated the game. With a minute and a half to go in the quarter, he dished out yet another tackle for loss on Ingram. On that same drive, he was responsible for recovering the fumble that Sweat broke free out of Dobbs' hands at Arizona's 29-yard line. The fumble recovery was the fifth of Payne's career.

It's only Week 1, but Payne looks to be picking up right where he left off just nine months ago.

Brian Robinson Jr.

Now for a little bit of offense. In another chapter of "guy picking up right where he left off," Robinson did not take long to heat up at FedExField on Sunday.

With a little over four minutes to go in the first quarter, Robinson put the Commanders' first points on the board after collecting a short, cross-bodied side-arm pass from Sam Howell in the end zone. The receiving touchdown, which capped off a 91-yard drive, was the second-receiving touchdown of Robinson's career, and got the crowd rowdy.

Robinson was, of course, also a ground threat on Sunday afternoon. Time and again when handed the ball, the running back dug his feet in, ran hard and was able to grind out yards with bodies piling on top of him. A great example of this was in Washington's final two points-scoring drives of the game in which Robinson repeatedly wore down Arizona's defense for precious yardage when the stakes were highest.

The Commanders' running back finished with 19 carries, 56 yards and a touchdown.

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