Highlights and low points of the Washington Commanders after defeating the Cardinals

A look at the good (Hail!) and the bad (Fail!) of the Washington Commanders 20-16 win about the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

It wasn’t pretty – let’s be honest, it was downright hideous at times – but the Commanders came from behind to make Josh Harris the winner in his first game as owner. “We are a family,” Harris said afterwards in the locker room, holding the game ball that coach Ron Rivera gave him. “That’s one. It’s something for the city. That’s all you. Thank you.” As a reminder, former owner Daniel Snyder needed two games to get his first win with Washington. On a day when co-favorites Minnesota, Seattle and Denver all lost at home to teams expected to challenge the Cardinals for the league’s worst record, Washington survived. That’s worth celebrating, no matter what it looked like.

For the second straight year, Washington won its season opener at home despite turning the ball over three times. Before last year’s Week 1 triumph against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the franchise had lost 34 straight games because of its lackadaisical handling of the ball. Sam Howell was responsible for two of the Commanders’ three giveaways, all of which came in the second quarter. Howell forced a throw that was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by linebacker Zaven Collins, and later lost a fumble deep in his own territory on a sack, leading to a Cardinals touchdown. Sandwiched between the second-year quarterback’s two turnovers, running back Antonio Gibson, who has struggled with ball security throughout his career, lost a fumble in the red zone.

Forget aesthetics. The owner has changed and the commanders have won.

Sweat was a defensive force, registering five tackles, including two for loss, 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. The Commanders’ 27-year-old defensive end, who passed Bruce Smith for 10th place on the franchise’s all-time sack list, turned Washington’s fortunes around late in the third quarter. His sack of Cardinals quarterback Josh Dobbs resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Daron Payne, energizing the crowd and setting up Howell’s touchdown run. Sweat had lost two of the Commanders’ 11 tackles, which was the third-most in a game since 2001.

Howell, who completed 19 of 31 passes, wasn’t particularly sharp, but he didn’t get much help from his receivers either. Veteran tight end Logan Thomas dropped a few passes, including one on Washington’s first drive. Running back Brian Robinson Jr., who caught a touchdown pass to open the scoring, had a screen pass go right through his hands in the third quarter, nearly leading to a fourth-down turnover for Washington. Defenders on both teams allowed potential interceptions, and the rain that increased in the second half may have been a factor.

The Commanders’ 2023 slogan was featured on some of the new signage at FedEx Field, which received a $40 million facelift before opening. “Our sole motivation for becoming owners was to restore this franchise to its place as arguably the most important and unifying organization in our community and region,” Mark Ein, limited partner in Harris’ investment group, said recently. “We know how much the team and the franchise have meant to people for generations.” Joe Theismann, Dexter Manley and Charles Mann greeted fans before the game at Legends Plaza, and John Riggins watched the victory from Harris’ suite. Champ Bailey and Robert Griffin III were among the other franchise greats who returned to the stadium for the first time in years. “I think there’s a reason a lot of alumni stayed away, and we don’t need to talk about that anymore,” Griffin told reporters before the game. “But now it’s a new beginning.” Welcome home, really.

At FedEx Field: full parking lots, full seats and full hearts

Failure: Become conservative

First-year offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy showed great confidence in Howell after a strip-sack fumble late in the first half, and the quarterback responded by leading an impressive one-minute drive that culminated in a field goal . The second half was a different story. After Abdullah Anderson recovered a fumble at Arizona’s 37-yard line, with Washington leading by one with less than five minutes left, Bieniemy called three straight run plays, including on third-and-six. This allowed the Commanders to burn with another two minutes left, but after Robinson failed to get a first down, the Commanders settled for a Joey Slye field goal that extended their lead to 20-16. The decision was defensible considering how well Washington’s defense played, but a first down or two could have put the game on the ice.

Hail: Tress Way and Jeremy Reaves

Washington’s special teams aces were in midseason form. Three of Way’s six punts were knocked down inside the 20-yard line. He also threw a 59-yard punt and managed to soft-handed a one-hop snap from Camaron Cheeseman on Slye’s field goal before halftime, which should make his brother-in-law, Brewers infielder Brice Turang, proud. Reaves finished the game with three tackles and helped Washington’s punt coverage unit limit the Cardinals to 24 yards on four returns.

The Cardinals committed 67 yards worth of penalties on Washington’s first touchdown drive, including two flags for lowering the head to make forcible contact within four snaps. The first such penalty, following a heavy hit by Kyzir White on the sideline, sent Howell to the medical tent and prompted backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett to briefly enter the field. Howell didn’t miss a beat. Arizona was penalized nine times for 122 yards, the most by a Commanders opponent since a 17-14 win at Seattle in 2017.

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Ian Walker

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