Josh Harris probably just saw his best day as a Washington Commanders owner.
FedEx Field was filled with local fans. The team’s legends returned for a homecoming with John Riggins, Sonny Jurgensen, Champ Bailey and Darrell Green bringing their Super Bowl rings and Pro Football Hall of Fame resumes.
Concourses overflowed with fans who hadn’t seen Raljon since its early days, with a 64,693 attendance being the first sellout and real attendance number in a decade. Jerseys in the sea of burgundy around the entire stadium were more often Commanders than Redskins, and certainly not a visiting team’s colors. There were even people seated in the upper deck.
Why, the sun even came out in the fourth quarter, moments after the Commanders took the lead. Then again, Mother Nature made it rain moments after the Cards took an earlier lead, so who knows which side she was on.
Yes, Harris and his merry band of 20 investors saw the best of times in Washington’s 20-16 victory on Sunday that was much closer than expected. Maybe the crowd would have enjoyed a runaway victory, but the pregame energy in the stands hadn’t been this jazzed since at least 2012 and was reminiscent of the legendary RFK days.
“Love their enthusiasm, energy,” coach Ron Rivera said. “I heard their disappointment as well.”
Oh, there were disappointments. The offensive line was the feared weakest link and surrendered six sacks, while providing no running lanes for 46 yards rushing. Tight ends missed catches and blocks. Thus, two suspect parts of the team were quickly exposed.
But the defense was as good as expected. While the line only managed one sack, it didn’t crack. Aside a 29-yard run, Arizona managed only 47 yards. Commanders Montez Sweat, Daron Payne and Jon Allen took turns playing hero with big plays.
Safety Kam Curl roamed the secondary like an All-Pro while free safety Darrick Forrest continues to emerge as a major baller. First-round cornerback Emmanuel Forbes made a solid debut.
So, the defense saved the game and the offense managed enough to win. That’s pretty much the season’s game plan.
It’s not like new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy held back plays to save against coming foes. The Commanders were just trying to survive a thug Cards defense that was whistled for two late hits and a pass interference on Washington’s first touchdown drive. Howell, with all of one career start, was hit with a jarring sideline tackle early that prompted a skirmish. Howell blew off the jarring hit, but it was wicked. And, it might have been his real welcome to the NFL moment after an easy debut in last season’s finale.
Howell is still the core player on how far Washington goes this season. But, he needs more help from the line and his tight ends. Rivera knows a lackluster effort against the NFL’s perceived worst team won’t net many wins like Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
“We gotta get better,” Rivera said.