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Instant Analysis | Defense lifts Commanders to 20-16 win over Cardinals


The Washington Commanders' season opener, like the weather that drenched the sell-out crowd at FedExField, was sloppy on both sides of the ball. Passes were dropped, penalties stalled drives, and explosive plays in the first half flipped the field.  

In the end, though, Washington ushered in the new era of the franchise with a win, and as wonky as Week 1 can and has been for other teams, that's ultimately what matters most. 

With a tremendous performance by the defense in the second half that included two sacks and two forced turnovers, the Commanders did enough to start the season 1-0 with a 20-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals. The result created some mixed emotions from the Burgundy & Gold. They were happy to get a win, but the prevailing thought was that they could, and should, have done better. 

"We had some opportunities that we didn't take care of the football in the way we should have," Rivera told reporters after the win. "We will be better."

Check out the best photos from the Washington Commanders' Week 1 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)

The Commanders' defense was the primary reason the team was in the game long enough to retake and extend the lead in the fourth quarter. In addition to holding the Josh Dobbs-led Cardinals offense out of the end zone, they held their opponents to 210 total yards, including 96 on the ground. In the second half, they ensured the Cardinals could not extend their lead by holding the team to 86 yards on six possessions.

They also had several key momentum-swinging plays that gave enough energy for the offense to show some life. Both of their forced fumbles came in the second half and gave the offense ideal field position, which the unit then turned into 10 points.

Much of that can be traced back to the defensive line, despite not having Chase Young in the season opener. Montez Sweat filled the stat sheet with five tackles, two forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks, a quarterback hit and two tackles for loss. There were times when Daron Payne, who had two tackles for loss, seemed unblockable for the Cardinals' defensive line. Jonathan Allen was as disruptive as ever, recording three tackles and a fourth-quarter sack.

While the Commanders' defense was smothering the Cardinals, their offense was struggling to gain its footing. They got on the board first with a six-play, 91-yard drive, helped by two personal fouls and a pass interference call from the Cardinals, and capped things off with a seven-yard touchdown by Sam Howell to Brian Robinson Jr.

But the offense could never quite build on any momentum it got in the first half. A Cardinals field goal was followed by an interception from Howell off a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage. On the next drive, a promising 59-yard drive was cut short with a fumble by Antonio Gibson at the Cardinals' 16-yard line. It also didn't help that Washington allowed six sacks. Some were on Howell as he scrambled out of bounds to avoid pressure, but some were on the offensive line as well.

Then the back-breaker: a strip-sack on Howell that forced him to cough the ball up and resulted in a Cardinals defensive touchdown.

The Commanders were able to get in field goal range and cut into the Cardinals' lead, but a 13-10 score felt more relieving than hopeful.

It wasn't until the final seconds of the third quarter that things started to turn around. Sweat forced a fumble from Dobbs at the Cardinals' 25-yard line, and it was scooped up by Payne at the 29. Seven plays later, Howell scrambled six yards into the end zone, giving Washington a 17-16 lead with under 12 minutes to go.

It was here that Washington's defense started to take over. The unit forced a three-and-out on the ensuing drive, and with about four minutes left, Sweat forced another fumble that was picked up by Abdullah Anderson. Another unsportsmanlike penalty on the Cardinals moved the ball up to the Cardinals' 22-yard line, leading to a Commanders' field goal that made the score 20-16.

Finally, with some help from an eight-yard sack from Allen and a pass breakup on fourth down by Emmanuel Forbes Jr., the Commanders were able to run out the clock and leave FedExField with a come-from-behind win to start the season.

After the game, Rivera said he was "happy as hell" that Washington pulled out a victory, but he knows there's plenty of room to grow.

"I really appreciate the fans coming out. We have to be a better football team for them."

The Commanders have a special offer on NO FEES for their Thursday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears. Click HERE to secure your ticket

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