- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2022

ARLINGTON, TEXAS —  Before Sunday’s contest, Dan Snyder made his way near midfield to chat with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. The exchange marked the Commanders’ owner’s first public appearance of the season, and not long after the interaction, his team’s Twitter account posted pictures with a caption.

“Friends and rivals for 24 years,” the social media post read. “Ready for Chapter 1 of Cowboys vs Commanders.” 

That “chapter,” however, read a lot like the old book. 

Snyder’s club has a new name and new uniforms, but so much of Sunday’s 25-10 loss to Dallas felt familiar for a franchise that has struggled for years — if not decades — to recapture past glory. There was the subpar, inefficient quarterback play. There were self-inflicted, momentum-changing mistakes. And there were players and coaches who insisted afterward that this was all fixable in the long run.

All that was missing from this go-around was a fight on the sideline between two teammates.

No, the Commanders weren’t blown out by 42 points Sunday like they were last December — when defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne got into a prime-time scrap near the team’s benches. But Washington’s latest loss was another indication of how little the club has actually progressed under coach Ron Rivera. Or Snyder, for that matter. 

The Commanders fell to 1-3, with this defeat their third straight. The season, to be fair, is far from over, but what’s clear after four weeks is that Washington has been unable to manifest the sort of growth that Rivera had envisioned — and expected — heading into the season.

“It’s time to take another step,” Rivera said in his post-game press conference. “You look at the players and you look at some of the things that go on — you watch the entirety of the game … you see enough that tells you, you should play better. We need to play better.” 

The Commanders lost to a Cowboys team without star quarterback Dak Prescott, who missed his third straight game with a thumb injury. Dallas’ Cooper Rush (223 yards, two touchdowns) has proved to be an adequate replacement, though he gave the Commanders enough opportunities to steal a much-needed victory.

That didn’t happen. Instead, the Commanders were undisciplined. They committed 11 penalties, two of which wiped away what would have been Rush interceptions. Those mistakes cost Washington a total of 136 yards.

Elsewhere, quarterback Carson Wentz — Washington’s big offseason acquisition — was again a problem, finishing with just 170 yards on 25 of 42 passing for one touchdown and two interceptions. 

Sunday’s loss was especially notable because of just how much Washington’s coaches dramatically shook up their typical gameplan — and how those changes ultimately failed to have an impact on the final result. 

After being outscored 46-0 in the first half of the prior two games, the Commanders came out determined to run the ball. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner dialed up a variety of quick-throw plays and screens for Wentz. And early in the game, Rivera even made a personnel change along the offensive line by benching veteran Trai Turner for guard Saahdiq Charles. 

The adjustments, though, made little difference. Washington’s trio of Antonio Gibson, Jonathan Williams and J.D. McKissic combined to rush for a solid 137 yards on 26 carries, but Washington’s offense only mustered 10 points. Their lone touchdown came in the second quarter when Washington took a 7-6 lead off a perfectly placed Wentz pass to rookie Jahan Dotson in the corner of the end zone for 10 yards. Dallas responded with a touchdown on the ensuing drive. 

Wentz appeared responsible for a lot of the team’s miscues as he averaged only 4.1 yards attempt. Though he wasn’t sacked nine times like last week against the Eagles, Wentz took plenty of punishment. He was sacked twice and hit 11 times. 

Specifically Wentz’s tendency to hold the ball — a flaw that’s followed him at each of his three stops in the NFL — has hurt Washington’s offense. On Sunday, he earned two intentional grounding calls — one of which knocked the Commanders out of the red zone when it was still a one-score game.

The Commanders settled for a 45-yard field goal shortly after the penalty, making it 15-10 with 1:31 left in the third. In theory, there was more than enough time to mount a comeback, but Wentz led Washington on five drives that ended with two turnovers on downs, a punt, an interception and the clock expiring. 

“I’ve got to be more accurate,” Wentz said. “I’ve got to make better plays, better decisions.” 

When Rivera was introduced in 2020, the team touted a new “coach-centric approach.” As part of that, the owner entrusted Rivera with influence over the roster — leading to the decisions like trading for Wentz. In March, Rivera gave up multiple draft picks for the quarterback and agreed to take on his full $28.3 million cap hit. 

In Rivera’s third year, Washington has a roster that has been molded by its coach. These are his guys, players Rivera is counting on to make a huge jump this season. But a quarter of a way through, the Commanders are 1-3 — a blow after two straight seasons, albeit one that resulted in a playoff berth, under .500.

“We keep showing pieces and pieces here,” Gibson said. “We’ve just got to put it together.” 

Gibson was one of a parade of players to express optimism in the locker room, to note that there are months for the Commanders to turn it around. 

Outside, a motorcade escorted Snyder and other team executives from AT&T Stadium. Snyder, who a team spokesperson said has been at every game this season, left quickly after the final result. There was nothing to celebrate. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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