These Commanders know who they are, and that’s no small feat
Here’s the identification: Daron Payne, with the clock working down and a lead at stake, studying Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota on second-and-goal from the 4. Payne thought Mariota was going to run. Instead, Mariota set his ft for a cross rush. Payne was up for it, too.
“I just put my hands up,” he mentioned.
One of these huge mitts turned the ball into the air. In the top zone, cornerback Kendall Fuller noticed harmful Mariota goal Cordarrelle Patterson tangle with Washington security Darrick Forrest.
“I was just trying to get the camera out,” Forrest mentioned.
“I was just hoping D-Fo wasn’t going to hit me and knock the ball out,” Fuller mentioned. “But I was just thinking [about] getting my hands under the ball, squeezing my elbows and trying to make a play on the ball.”
Kendall Fuller’s interception allows the Commanders to survive for their third straight win
This is a winnable game by winning players on a team that has now won six of seven. The latest was Sunday’s lopsided 19-13 win over the Falcons, another last-second decision that required antacids. This is fun. It is also fragile.
“You can watch the final play of the sport from the protection,” offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr. said. “That ball, who knows what would have happened? Daron made sure that when it was a quick pass, he put his hands up. Once you raise your hands, anything can happen. Spike ball, get an interception. We just have to find ways to win.”
This is what commanders are doing. Their margins of victory over this 1-4 run: five, two, one, 11 (when they scored a fumble on the last play of the game against the Eagles), 13 (against the Texans low) and now six – when the opponent had first-and-goal from inside the 5 with just over a minute to go.
Fragile could describe the entire NFL. But with an offense that’s limited to the sport’s most important position, it’s become abundantly clear over the past six weeks how this team needs to do it.
Must direct the ball. Must play disruptive defense. And he needs to make a play or two in the last minute to seal things.
This could be a fragile system. It’s additionally true, and it is working.
“We did some issues to win it,” coach Ron Rivera said. “But we additionally survived.”
That’s how this group has to play – like they have to give back to survive. That’s not even a reference to Rivera’s battle with cancer two seasons ago, though it did come up among the players in the wake of Rivera’s 100th career coaching win, including the playoffs. It’s not a reference to rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. who overcame gunshot wounds suffered in a preseason robbery attempt to post the first 100-yard game of his career, needing just 18 carries for 105 yards.
You can accept the limitations of this group while simultaneously acknowledging that there is a unity around these players and coaches. Consider the increased effectiveness of Robinson and the running game, which gained 176 yards on Sunday and has averaged 144 over the past seven weeks. It’s not just that the beginner becomes more comfortable. It is also the line that earns confidence.
Once starved for turnovers, the Chiefs defense is now celebrating
“I’m doing one of the best I can to assist [Robinson] success,” said Leno. “Obviously his work is predicated on my work, our work as an offensive line. We’re attempting to do the suitable factor.”
The same goes for defense. Fuller’s game-winning interception doesn’t come without Payne returning the pass. Payne’s tip does not win the game unless Fuller secures the ball. After coming off the bottom of the pile — with FedEx Field really rocking — Fuller approached Payne.
“He mentioned, ‘I eat, you eat,'” Fuller said. “It at all times goes hand in hand.”
So they eat together. Not in a five-star bistro with white tablecloths and candles. Their hands are greasy. Napkins are made of paper. This is good.
“Football will not be an ideal sport,” Fuller said. “You’re going to give up the games. But you protect every yard.”
Defending those last four yards on Sunday — and, remember, the Falcons had first-and-goal from 2 before Montez Sweat sacked Mariota on Atlanta’s first down – giving them another win. And another win puts them in a rare position for this franchise, which is constantly coming from behind.
These Commanders are 7-5 at the end of November. Two of Washington’s three teams in the last 15 years to go into December over .500 played under Jay Gruden; had a 6-4-1 start en route to an 8-7-1 finish in 2016 and a 6-5 start that ended 7-9 in 2018. The last Washington team to have seven wins before December: the 2008 team, when Jim Zorn’s first team was 7-5. That group was looking down after a 6-2 start.
This one, somehow, is going the other way. More and more, because these Commanders know who they are, what they can and cannot do.
“They’ve gotten to the place they are actually … as a result of they consider in what they can do,” Rivera said. “There’s a lot of negativity that we’ve tried to overcome and we’ve tried to move past, and [we] just keep trying to show these guys what they can do.”
He added: “They discovered a typical bond and a typical thread, and that’s to do their job, to achieve success and to win. They perceive: It feels good. They know they are greater than succesful.”
Are commanders capable of more? At the moment, everything is in front of them. Win at the New York Giants next weekend and they’ll move ahead of them in the NFC East. Get a bye to regroup, then face the Giants again.
Who knows? Don’t count the wins yet. That takes the fun out of it. For now, go with Fuller’s reminder on Sunday afternoon, the whole “soccer will not be an ideal sport.”
It’s not, so don’t look for it here. Commanders are far from a perfect group. But they know who they are, and now it’s a team that has a chance to win every week.