The Washington Commanders' inaugural (pre)season has now begun, and despite the unveiling of the new Fight Song with a chance to vote for a new mascot, the afternoon didn't go as planned.
Despite a late surge from Sam Howell in the fourth quarter with two rushing touchdowns, the Commanders failed to stop the Carolina Panthers on one final drive and fell to 0-1 to start the preseason with a 23-21 loss.
There isn't much to be gleaned from a preseason final score. Instead, the focus needs to be on chemistry, timing and competitiveness from the starters. In that area, there are some positive updates; Carson Wentz looked in control of the offense, as he completed 10-of-13 passes for 74 yards with a passer rating of 89.9.
The running game, led by rookie Brian Robinson, also looked strong at times. The former member of the Crimson Tide showed exceptional vision as well as the downhill ability that was touted when he was drafted, he had a total of eight touches for 41 yards.
It took a full quarter for the team to gain any traction, though, while the Panthers, led by Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, put the Panthers up, 10-0, with scoring drives of 54 and 19 yards, respectively.
The short field came from a fumble by Antonio Gibson, who had two carries for 14 yards in the contest. Three plays later, Robbie Anderson secured an eight-yard touchdown pass.
The double-digit deficit was what ignited the Commanders' offense. Wentz led the unit on a 14-play, 82-yad drive, picking up four third down conversions along the way. The final play was a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, and Robinson slipped through untouched for the score.
The slow start was felt on the defensive side as well, as the duo of Darnold and Mayfield completed a combined 6-of-10 for 61 yards and a touchdown. A punt and a turnover over on downs ended the first half on a positive note for the starters and primary backups, but that did not carry over once the third and fourth units took the field to finish things up.
With PJ Walker under center, the Panthers marched down the field on a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a three-yard rushing touchdown from Spencer Brown. After a three-and-out from the Commanders with Howell now under center, the Panthers added to their lead again with a 37-yard field goal.
Howell found his rhythm late in the fourth quarter, completing back-to-back throws to Kelvin Harmon and Marken Michel. Then, Howell decided to take the ball into the end zone himself on a 17-yard touchdown scramble.
The Panthers ended with game with 286 total yards, and most of their production ended once Matt Corral entered the game. The Commanders defense forced back-to-back punts, highlighted by a sack from David Bada.
After capping off a 13-play, 67-yard drive with another rushing touchdown, Howell connected with Alex Erickson for a two-point conversion that made the score 21-20. However, thanks to a facemask penalty on the Panthers' final drive, Corral was able to bleed the clock long enough for Zane Gonzalez to hit a 45-yard field goal with 24 seconds left.
Howell finished the game completing 9-of-16 passes for 143 yards.
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The second Washington Commanders Preseason game is this Saturday, August 20th at the Kansas City Chiefs! Pregame at 2pm, Kickoff at 4pm.
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