The Washington Commanders dropped their first preseason game in a tight 23-21 loss against the Carolina Panthers. Here are three numbers to know from the defeat.
Third down conversion was a big problem area for Washington's defense last season. The team ranked 31st in the category, allowing opposing offenses to convert approximately 48% of their third down opportunities.
The issue reared its head once again this afternoon. The Panthers converted on 11 of their 18 third downs (approximately 61% conversion rate). Baker Mayfield completed three of the Panthers' third down attempts, completing passes on 19, five and 15 yards. It wasn't until Carolina faced a third-and-14 at Washington's 23-yard line that the drive stalled.
The stat proved most costly during the Panthers' final drive of the game. Washington had scored 15 unanswered points to take a one-point lead with the clock winding down, but 11 plays and 40 yards later, failed to stop Carolina from clawing its way into field goal territory. The Panthers faced four third downs and converted three of them.
The last third down, which resulted in a Jeremy Reaves stopping Darius Bradwell for one year, was followed by kicker Zane Gonzalez hitting a 45-yard field goal that would ultimately give the visitors the win.
Rookie quarterback Sam Howell made his much-anticipated debut against his hometown team on Saturday afternoon. The UNC product took over the reins from Taylor Heinicke with Washington trailing with just under nine minutes in the third quarter. It took time for Howell to get going, but he ignited the Commanders offense in the final period, piecing together two impressive drives that saw Washington come back from behind to take a narrow lead and had fans roaring throughout fourth.
Howell flashed several tools in his arsenal during the two drives, showing off his accuracy under pressure, quick feet, speed and decision-making ability. Two of his most memorable plays of the day were a 17-yard scramble with a little over eight minutes to go in the fourth and a one-yard dive into the end zone to give the Commanders the lead. He finished his day completing 9-of-16 passes for 145 yards.
While Howell still has work to do, it was a solid showing for the rookie in his preseason debut.
Brian Robinson has a unique accomplishment that can put on his resume after Saturday's game. After the Commanders had marched down to the Panthers' 1-yard line in the second quarter, the running back scored the very first preseason touchdown of the Commanders era by slipping through a hole on the left side of the offensive line, providing a much-needed spark for the offense
The play was the cherry on top of an exciting drive that featured a heavy dose of Robinson. The Commanders third-round 2022 draft pick accounted for half the yardage in the 14-play, 82-yard possession and closed out his debut with eight touches and 41 total yards (six carries for 26 yards; two catches for 15 yards)
After the game, Rivera said Robinson showed the Commanders why they drafted him.
"He runs with a good lean, he moves the pile," Rivera said.
Robinson has been taking strides since training camp began, and he's starting to prove just how valuable he can be for the offense.