LANDOVER — Once the chairman of Six Flags theme parks, owner Dan Snyder got out of the rollercoaster business a long time ago.
But as long as Carson Wentz is the quarterback of his football team, the embattled billionaire and the Washington Commanders better be prepared for a wild ride.
At the start of a new season — and perhaps a new era — the Commanders got their first taste of The Carson Wentz Experience as the signal-caller led a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback after a series of ill-timed mistakes in Sunday’s 28-22 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Here was Wentz’s game: After throwing back-to-back interceptions that led to a 22-14 Jacksonville lead, the 29-year-old responded by finding star wide receiver Terry McLaurin and rookie Jahan Dotson for a pair of scores.
Both touchdowns came on the kinds of throws that Washington quarterbacks rarely made in recent years. McLaurin was hit in stride on a 49-yard bomb. Then, with less than two minutes left, Dotson hauled in a 24-yard throw that was perfectly placed over the shoulder of Jaguars cornerback Tyson Campbell.
Wentz’s stat line: 313 yards, four touchdowns, two picks and a 65.9 completion percentage (27 of 41). That doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story.
“I’ll take antacids,” coach Ron Rivera said when asked how he plans to cope with Wentz’s up-and-down tendencies. “We’re going to ride with him, no matter how you look at him. We’ll go with the good. We’ll go with the bad. That’s the truth of the matter. … We felt pretty comfortable and confident this was the type of guy we needed around here.
“The guy has got some courage that will step up to the fray and he’ll accept responsibility. That was huge of him. I’m very proud of what he did.”
The streaky performance felt familiar in some ways.
Last season Wentz melted down after a strong stretch with the Indianapolis Colts — capped off, coincidentally, with an embarrassing Week 18 loss to the Jaguars. The defeat, which caused the Colts to miss the playoffs, arguably cost Wentz his job as Indianapolis traded him to Washington months later.
But the difference Sunday was Wentz kept his composure and responded even after things had gone off the rails. Teammates noted how the quarterback came back to the sideline after his second turnover and took responsibility for the plays.
“He said to us, ‘Not everything is pretty in this league, but we’ve got to go out there and make a play,’” said Dotson, the first-rounder who had two touchdowns in his debut. “That’s what he did.”
The rally helped Washington begin the Commanders era on a positive note, months after the franchise rebranded from the temporary Washington Football Team. Earlier in the day, there were subtle reminders that the team had been unable to fully distance itself from the kinds of embarrassing mistakes that executives want to avoid.
Outside the stadium at a team merchandise truck, for instance, the Commanders were selling mugs that had the team’s new logo branded on an outline of the state of Washington — not Washington, D.C. Elsewhere, leaky pipes showered rain on the concourse — a throwback to last year’s opener when a pipe burst on a section of fans.
But fans entered Sunday with a sense of anticipation. Official attendance was listed at 58,192, and the lower bowl appeared to be mostly filled. Plenty of fans wearing Commanders merchandise could be seen in the stands, and long lines formed around the team’s new apparel store in the stadium. And they erupted on big plays, as when Wentz connected with McLaurin.
That’s why it was important for the Commanders to at least give a glimpse that this season could be different. Wentz, for all his warts, was still the first Washington quarterback since 1975 to throw at least four touchdowns in the team’s season-opener. He led Washington on back-to-back scoring drives to begin the game, something the team hadn’t done in Week 1 since 1991 — the season it last won the Super Bowl.
It’ll be on Wentz and the Commanders now, however, to sustain their momentum. Despite the victory, there are areas that Washington will need to address.
Washington’s offense, for example, fell into a funk that gave Jacksonville an opportunity to erase a 14-3 halftime deficit. And the Commanders’ defense, which ranked 29th in 2021, still gave up 383 yards — a total that could have been even worse if not for a series of drops and overthrows from the Jaguars in the first half. And the win ultimately came against a Jaguars team that finished just 3-14 a year ago.
But there’s potential. Wentz found a groove with playmakers like McLaurin, Dotson, running back Antonio Gibson (130 all-purpose yards) and Curtis Samuel (72 all-purpose yards). The defense was able to generate pressure and force stops, none more important than safety Darrick Forrest’s game-sealing interception on quarterback Trevor Lawrence with 1:10 left.
The Commanders, who travel to Detroit to face the Lions next week, appear to have talent to work with. No matter how bumpy the road may be.
“There’s highs and lows,” Wentz said. “You gotta find a way to battle through it.”