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Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Commanders kick off the season with a win against Cardinals at sold-out home opener

D.C. ushers in a new era of football with new ownership, a new quarterback and a new offensive coordinator

Forecasts for torrential downpours did not stop Washington Commanders fans from showing up to the sold-out home opener against the Arizona Cardinals at FedEx Field Sept. 10. Commanders fans left elated after the Commanders won the game 20-16.

After seeing a whopping 14 different starting quarterbacks in the past ten years, the Commanders welcomed Sam Howell, who was a backup for the team last season. The team also has new ownership this season, as well as a new offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, who won two Super Bowls as the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.

In the first few minutes the teams exchanged possession, which resulted in no major plays. Howell was then abruptly thrown into the heat of the game, facing a helmet-to-helmet hit by Cardinals outside linebacker Kyzir White while attempting to run the ball. The penalty cost Arizona 15 yards, and set the tone for the many Cardinals penalties that would follow, to little surprise as they led the league in penalties last season. 

Less than a minute later, the Cardinals were charged with another helmet-to-helmet penalty that cost them 15 more yards, this time on defensive back Jalen Thompson who hit Commanders wide receiver Jahan Dotson out of bounds after completing a short pass.

A third penalty from the Cardinals, this time a 37-yard pass interference call on cornerback Marco Wilson, put the Commanders into the red zone, and a short pass from Howell to running back Brian Robinson secured the touchdown. With 4:22 left in the first quarter, an extra point from kicker Joey Slye put the Commanders up 7-0. The touchdown came after a 97-yard long drive from the Commanders, 67 of those yards given up by Cardinals penalties. 

In an attempt to equalize, the Cardinals ran a trick play where quarterback Joshua Dobbs faked handing off the ball to two running backs, and instead handed it off to wide receiver Marquise Brown, who ran for 29 yards before Commanders safety Darrick Forrest took him down. Another big play from the Cardinals after a short pass to wide receiver Rondale Moore resulted in a 31-yard run that put the Cardinals in position to score. However, the Commanders defense applied enough pressure to stop the Cardinals momentum, and after two incomplete passes intended for tight end Zach Ertz, the Cardinals were held to a field goal by kicker Matt Prater, making the score 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.

The start of the second quarter mirrored the first, with a Cardinals penalty on defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter for roughing the passer, which cost them 15 yards. This time the Commanders were unable to turn the penalty into a scoring drive, as the next play resulted in a Cardinals interception by linebacker Zaven Collins.

The Cardinals offense was unable to gain much ground after the interception, only advancing one yard and forcing Prater to kick a 54-yard field goal, which brought the score to 7-6 with 13:31 left in the half.

After one recovered fumble did not result in a scoring drive for the Cardinals, they got another chance a few possessions later. The Commanders started with the ball at their own 12-yard line, and made it to their own 26-yard line before Howell was sacked by linebacker Dennis Gardeck, who fumbled the ball. Cardinals linebacker Cameron Thomas recovered the ball at the Commanders 2-yard line, diving into the end zone for a defensive touchdown. After an extra point, the play left the score 13-7 with Arizona in the lead and the Commanders with 1:02 left in the half to respond. 

With less than a minute left and no timeouts, the Commanders made a few successful long passes to the outside edges of the field, stepping out of bounds to stop the clock. A 32-yard pass from Howell to wide receiver Curtis Samuel put Washington 12 yards away from the end zone. With eight seconds to the end of the half, the Commanders settled for a field goal, which put the score at halftime 13-10, shortening Arizona’s lead. 

The Cardinals opened the third quarter with a series of successful passes by Dobbs, but the Commanders defense held them to a field goal making the score 16-10. The rest of the third quarter remained scoreless, but in the last nine seconds of the quarter, Commanders defensive end Montez Sweat sacked Dobbs and forced a fumble, which Daron Payne recovered with a nose tackle. 

Thanks to that turnover at the end of the third quarter, the Commanders started the fourth quarter with the ball at Arizona’s 29-yard line. The Commanders offense ran the ball for a total of 23 yards, and then Howell ran the ball in himself for a touchdown, putting the Commanders back in the lead 17-16 after the extra point by Slye.

The Commanders’ last scoring play arose from another Cardinals fumble, this time fumbled off the snap from center Keith Ismael to Dobbs, recovered by Dobbs who was then hit by Sweat forcing another fumble that was recovered by Commanders defensive tackle Abdullah Anderson. The Commanders didn’t advance much after the turnover, gaining a mere 7 yards before bringing out Slye for a field goal, making the score 20-16.

With only a minute to recover, the Cardinals traveled 7 yards before turning the ball over on downs, unable to get close enough to score a necessary touchdown to beat the new and improved Commanders team.

“Coming to FedEx Field today and feeling the energy and seeing the fans, they were awesome today, we have the best fans in the world,” Howell said. “Obviously there is a lot of momentum with [Josh Harris] buying the team and it’s just such a great part of this organization so we’re just going to try to keep getting wins on the field.”

The Washington Commanders won 35-33 against the Denver Broncos on Sept.17 and look to continue to win in this new era of Commanders football, playing their next game at home against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday Sept. 24 at 1 p.m.

This article was edited by Penelope Jennings, Delaney Hoke and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis.

Section 202 host Gabrielle and friends go over some sports that aren’t in the sports media spotlight often, and review some sports based on their difficulty to play. 

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