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Instant analysis | Commanders struggle in first half, drop sixth straight with 30-28 loss to Jets


If you're looking for a representation of how the 2023 season has gone for the Washington Commanders, just watch the first three series of their Christmas Eve game against the New York Jets.

You could just look at the stats and see that it's...not great. In eight plays, the Commanders went backwards, slipping to -13 yards on eight plays. Sam Howell's first two passes bounced off the hands of open receivers, the second of which resulted in an easy pick; Tress Way's punt on the second drive was blocked, setting up the Jets' first, first-quarter touchdown all year; and there was a three-and-out on the next possession, which in this case, was the best the Commanders could have hoped for.

All in all, it was an ugly day for the Commanders in a 30-28 defeat, despite Jacoby Brissett relieving Howell in the second half and scoring on three of his five drives. To their credit, the team didn't quit, but the efforts weren't enough to overcome the mountain of mistakes in the first 37 minutes of regulation.

The Commanders now sit at 4-11 with two playoff contending teams remaining on the schedule, both of which will be competing for the No. 1 overall seed in the postseason.

The Washington Commanders have begun warming up at MetLife Stadium for their Week 16 matchup against the New York Jets. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)

While the Commanders performed better in the second half and the defense stabilized against a Jets offense that is statistically the worst in the league, there were little, if any positives to start the game. It wasn't as disastrous as the first three drives, but there were still plenty of roadblocks. Each positive play, like Curtis Samuel's 16-yard screen pass, resulting in the Commanders first, first down of the day, was met with a series of negative ones, such as Jamison Crowder's head scratching fumble on a punt return that led to another Jets possession.

At the center of it all was Howell, who continued his streak of struggling against the league's top defenses after looking so proficient in the first half of the season. Sunday's game against the Jets' second-ranked secondary was one of his most difficult. His first half totals -- 5-of-17 for 51 yards -- made it look better than it actually was. He didn't complete a pass until 9:37 in the first quarter on the Commanders' fourth drive of the game. He also scrambled away from clean pockets, leading to passes that were either thrown away or off-target.

Howell was pulled in the third quarter after throwing a second interception, ending his day with 56 yards on six completions. Rivera said after the game that the team would evaluate the quarterback decision to determine who will be the starter against the San Francisco 49ers on New Year's Eve.

While the Commanders reeled, the Jets were humming in a way that they rarely have all season. Coming into Sunday's game, they had just 20 combined points in the first quarters of games. They had 17 against the Commanders, highlighted by an eight-yard score from Jason Brownlee and a 36-yard romp to the end zone by Breece Hall.

The only reprieve for the Commanders in the first half came when Trevor Siemian (27-49, 217, TD, INT) bobbled a snap that was picked up instead by Casey Toohill. The Commanders only needed one play to find pay dirt: a 12-yard rumble by Chris Rodriguez Jr. -- the first score of his career -- to make the score 20-7. 

But the Jets and Hall, who had 191 total yards, roared right back with an 11-play, 71-yard drive that ended with Hall stretching the ball across the pylon as he was falling out of bounds to put New York up 27-7 at halftime.

The Jets, who averaged 257 yards per game coming into the matchup, had 246 after two quarters. The Commanders had 86 yards and zero third-down conversions on six tries.

Quincy Williams intercepted Howell's pass intended for Samuel on Washington's second drive, putting the Jets at the Commanders' 33-yard line. It looked like the Jets would effectively put the game away, but it was at that point that Washington finally began to wake up.

Cody Barton jumped Brownlee's route and picked off Siemian's pass, taking it all the way to the Jets' 44-yard line. A horse collar tackle moved it up even further to the Jets' 29, and the Commanders, now with Brissett in at quarterback, went on a six-play drive that ended with a 15-yard touchdown by Logan Thomas -- his first since Week 8 -- to make the score 27-14.

The Commanders forced a Jets punt, and Brissett completed five of his next six passes and drew a defensive pass interference penalty that put the offense at the Jets' 1-yard line. Rodriguez powered forward for his second touchdown of the day, bringing Washington within a touchdown of taking the lead.

Another Jets punt, and another Commanders score, came next. A 21-yard catch from Jahan Dotson, plus a facemask from C.J. Mosely, set Washington up at the Jets' 11-yard line. Antonio Gibson did the rest of the work, hitting runs of nine and two yards to put the Commanders up, 28-27, with 4:52 left to play.

But that's where the Commanders ran out of steam. The offense was forced to punt after stalling at their own 27, and while it was a good punt from Way that put the Jets at the 33-yard line, Siemian moved his unit 31 yards on eight plays to set up the game-winning field goal from Greg Zuerlein.

Washington will close out the season with two home games, the next of which will be against the 49ers. Kickoff will be at 1 p.m. on New Year's Eve.

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