- - Sunday, September 11, 2022

After Washington Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz threw his second interception Sunday, leading to a 22-14 advantage by the Jacksonville Jaguars, coach Ron Rivera looked at Wentz on the sideline and said, “Hey, you’re going to have to win this.”

Win it for whom? His team? The coach? The fans? Perhaps the future of the Washington Commanders franchise?

How about all of the above?

The quote goes “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” and Sunday at Ghost Town Field was the time for this new Commanders franchise — an expansion team, for all intents and purposes, with a new name and new brand — to make a good first impression.

At that point, early in the fourth quarter, losing their first game to the lowly Jaguars, that impression would have been like all the other impressions made in Christmas Past, to paraphrase team President Jason Wright — disgust and despair.

But that didn’t happen. Wentz turned around and threw two dramatic fourth-quarter touchdown passes to lead his team to a 28-22 victory in the Commanders’ inaugural performance and sent the raucous crowd home happy and perhaps hopeful.

It’s a scenario Rivera has been waiting for since he was hired on Dec. 31, 2019, as Washington’s head coach. He’s had big wins here before, but not with the stakes so seemingly high as they were in a home opener.

He had a crowd of Commanders fans — many wearing new Commanders gears — that was loud and supportive throughout the game. 

Paid attendance was 58,192 — nearly 6,000 more than last year’s home opener against the Los Angeles Chargers — and most of them were there to cheer on the home team. 

It was one of the few times the atmosphere did not seem like an away game with the presence of visiting fans. There was a smattering of Jaguars fans, but their impact was negligible. It would have been a significant failure to waste that opportunity.

“Really appreciate the fans getting out and getting behind us,” Rivera said after the game.

Wentz, who has been used to hearing boos recently in his final days in Philadelphia and last year in Indianapolis, welcomed the fan reaction during his fourth-quarter comeback. “You could feel the energy and momentum in the stadium,” he said.

Now, let’s not get nuts here. There are generations of football fans in this town who know what it feels like to make an entire stadium shake with energy and momentum. That hasn’t happened at Ghost Town Field, at least in any recent memory. So it is understandable that Rivera in particular would embrace the glow that comes with a win that, upon further examination, might be a dim bulb. After all, the Jaguars were a bottom-feeder last season and showed no reason Sunday to think much has changed.

But a loss? Why would anyone have come back to this stadium — ranked the worst in the league by a USA Today story and deemed unfit for World Cup soccer games by the FIFA crime family — to buy into the new Commanders era for the next home game on Sept. 25 against the NFC East division favorites, the  Philadelphia Eagles? Really, who would show up besides Eagles fans if this team had lost the inaugural game of the Commanders to such a woeful opponent?

That didn’t happen, though. They won, and like Wentz said, “To rally together and get it done, it was a cool way to win. It doesn’t matter how it looks. It’s hard to win in this league.”

It will matter later this week to Rivera how it looked. He went out of his way to praise offensive coordinator Scott Turner for the play-calling on the Wentz fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson. But after saying he appreciated how defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio handled the defense, he also made comments like,  “Jack needs to get (that) corrected” and “Jack has some things to adjust.”

He didn’t say “I need to get this corrected” or “We have some things to adjust.”

They’ll be time enough when the Commanders start playing the varsity to point fingers. They were nearly all pointing at Wentz Sunday after two interceptions. But not Rivera’s. “We’re going to ride with him,” Rivera said of the tarnished quarterback he traded for this off season. “We’re going to get the good and the bad.”

They got both Sunday, but enough good to perhaps make the fans feel good about their new team for one day.

You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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