The takeaway advice from Sunday’s season-opening, nickname-christening, they-might-blow-them-out-no-they-might-lose 28-22 victory for the Washington Commanders over the Jacksonville Jaguars comes from none other than Ron Rivera, the head coach himself, about the quarterback he both traded for and tied his future to, Carson Wentz. Take note, all you fans who filled the lower bowl at FedEx Field and raised newly issued “Take Command” banners. This is sage stuff on how to get through the Sundays to come.
“I’ll take antacids,” Rivera said.
It was framed as a joke, and it got the deserved chuckles. It is absolutely reality. On any given Sunday night for this new team and its new quarterback, the Tums might have to be followed by Tito’s.
“It is hard to win in this league,” Wentz said after his first start for another new city. “It doesn’t matter how it looks.”
Because as it turns out, it can look like a kaleidoscope of things in a single 3½-hour window.
After one wild Sunday — in which Wentz tossed interceptions on back-to-back throws in the fourth quarter, then responded with the two scoring tosses that won the game — there really can be no hard and fast conclusions, right? Wentz did his best to lose the game before he went out and won it. He became the first Washington quarterback to throw four touchdown passes in a game since 2015, the first to throw four in his debut ever — and yet his performance was in danger of being defined by the mistakes because they were that bad.
In some ways, this is exactly what Rivera and his front office signed up for when they traded two draft picks to Indianapolis for Wentz and his $22 million salary. He can do things other recent Washington quarterbacks weren’t physically capable of. That’s how he hit Terry McLaurin on a perfect go route down the right side, a 49-yard touchdown executed with ease.
But he can also do things that make your eyes bleed and your cranium throb. That’s how he stared down rookie Jahan Dotson — who announced his presence with two touchdown catches, including the game-winner — for enough time to bake a cake. It was as if, on the second play of the fourth quarter with Washington nursing a 14-12 lead, he thought: “Well, I usually throw an inexplicable interception here, so why not lean into that?”
Ulcers, it seems, are to be expected. Get used to it.
“We’re going to ride with him,” Rivera said. “No matter how you look at it. We’re going to ride with him. We’ll go with the good, and we’ll go with the bad.”
So, Washington, you have heard so much about the Carson Wentz Experience — and even seen it in Philadelphia and Indianapolis. Now try living it. There are reasons this guy was once the second pick in the draft — and why two franchises decided to part ways with him in the past two years.
“I’ve played a lot of football,” Wentz said. “I’ve seen the ups and the downs. I think just knowing from the past, trying to do too much in those situations can come back to haunt you. I think it’s going [on] to make the next play.”
And the next play could bring almost anything. His stat line of 27 for 41 for 313 yards with the four scores and the two picks contains both the productivity and the danger he has come to represent. Expecting both explosiveness and consistency from this character in Week 1 was so unwise as to be almost foolish. Maybe it will happen as he gets more comfortable in the offense of coordinator Scott Turner and more familiar with his weapons. But the egregious plays Sunday didn’t arrive because Wentz didn’t know a play call or understand the tendency of a receiver.
They came because, first, he stared at Dotson as if he was trying to recognize a long-ago high school sweetheart from across the mall. They came because, second, he tried to execute a screen in the midst of Beltway-like traffic deep in his own territory and Jaguars linebacker Travon Walker made an athletic interception.
Those two plays led to the field goal that helped Jacksonville erase the last of what had been a 14-3 halftime lead and the touchdown that gave the Jaguars a 22-14 advantage with just under 12 minutes left. Those two plays changed the tenor from the announced crowd of 58,192 from supportive and excited to angsty and nervous.
“That’s an ugly stretch, obviously,” Wentz said.
So give him this: He doesn’t run from accountability. He embraces it. In those situations, he can’t throw those picks, and he knows it. But Sunday shows he knows something else: He can move on from plays that are as ugly as you will see and still harness the talent he has — which is sheer arm strength, the ability to almost effortlessly flick a ball downfield and let what looks like a dangerous and diverse group of receivers make plays.
“The real key point,” McLaurin said, “is the way he responded.”
Because it’s Week 1 and because the Commanders are 1-0, let that be the takeaway then. After the second interception, Rivera said Wentz came to the sideline “and kind of beat the ground a little bit.” The frustration lasted seconds, not minutes. When Rivera offered, “You’re going to have to go win this,” Wentz said directly, “I will.”
“And just walked away,” Rivera said.
He won it not just with the bomb to McLaurin that cut the deficit to 22-20 but then with a third-and-10 throw to tight end Logan Thomas that was both necessary and perfect. He did so with the 24-yard toss to Dotson in the end zone with 1:46 left — a play that grew directly off the interception on which Wentz stared down Dotson for too long.
This time, Dotson set up cornerback Tyson Campbell with a double move. This time, Wentz lofted a ball to a spot where only Dotson could catch it. This time, Dotson made a play — with sure, strong hands — that showed why the Commanders believed he was worthy of the 16th pick in the draft.
This time, Wentz was the hero. About 10 minutes after he was the goat.
“We trust in Carson 100 percent,” Dotson said. “We know that he’s going to be able to make those plays for us, especially when it comes down to it.”
It came down to it Sunday. Now wait a week to see what will be next.
Washington, perhaps, has its team name for the future — though a not-tiny portion of the fan base chanted, in the closing minutes, “Let’s go, [old name]! Let’s go, [old name]!” But any notion that it has its unquestioned, no-brainer quarterback for the future is premature at best. Washington is 1-0 as the Commanders, and Carson Wentz has enough good, positive tape to watch until next week’s trip to Detroit. Who knows what that will bring? Grab the antacids, and hang on.