SNIDER: Commanders finally have ballers


For decades, the Washington Commanders would look to on-field leaders in times of crisis. Often, there weren’t many, if any. Some nice players for sure, but not many that picked up the sword and led comebacks.

Now, patience over three seasons has developed young playmakers who were pivotal in the 35-33 victory over Denver on Sunday. The Broncos may be 0-2, but this was a game the Commanders certainly would have lost in the past, with a rudderless roster whose best player might have been its punter. Now, the team’s top players are also leaders who have found allies on the field.

Washington has multiple ballers. That’s why it’s 2-0.

When the defense needed a big play against Denver, linebacker Jamin Davis emerged from two seasons as an underperforming first-rounder to force a fumble. It was the game’s watershed moment in helping to cut a 21-3 deficit to 21-11. Suddenly, a blowout loss looked like a possible comeback.

The first touchdown came from Logan Thomas, who held on despite suffering a concussion on the play. A following field goal made it 21-14 at halftime on a series fueled by tight end John Bates’ 34-yarder. The Commanders never gave up on Bates as a pass option despite the 2021 fourth-rounder’s mere 47 receptions in four seasons at Boise State. Sure, the 6-foot-6 tight end is primarily a blocker, but Washington has steadily groomed him as a receiver, too.

Terry McLaurin made another dazzling 30-yard touchdown catch to tie the game at 21-21. First-rounder Emmanuel Forbes soon grabbed an interception that was wasted by a missed field goal that gave Denver a short field for a 24-21 lead.

Still, the Commanders didn’t wilt after trailing once more. Brian Robinson became that dominant running back delayed by a year after being shot twice in a carjacking. He ran 27 yards, then later banged in from the two-yard line for a 28-24 lead. Robinson followed with a 15-yard touchdown run in the next series that was like watching Larry Brown truck into the end zone during the 1970s. Between Robinson’s runs, Antonio Gibson showed what he could do in space that coaches so often discussed for the past year with a 37-yard reception.

Meanwhile, Davis ignited the defense with ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat delivering a pressure vise that has been expected for four seasons. Young returned from a preseason stinger for 1.5 sacks, one shared with Sweat. Often yelling to teammates “Who’s going to be the closer?” in huddles, Sweat’s challenge was met with big games by Daron Payne and Kam Curl, too.

The defense just comes in waves and the offense is showing its playmakers can spread the field. With offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy flipping his script in the second half with more runs and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio dialing up persistent pressure, Washington proved unstoppable.

Quarterback Sam Howell, who was a big gamble to open the season given one career start, is looking like a mixed version of Sonny and Billy. Sometimes he resembles like Jurgensen’s deep arm, other times chugs around like Kilmer making tough plays. Howell has the moxie of both in becoming 3-0 lifetime.

Developing players amid mediocre seasons has been overlooked. Now, playmakers fill the locker room. Maybe not to the likes of the Joe Gibbs era when winning three Super Bowls, but at least now Washington has players that can lead victories.

And, that’s a big deal.

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