The Washington Commanders pulled off a stunning comeback victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday, overcoming an 18-point deficit in the second quarter to win 35-33. The Commanders improved to 2-0 for the first time since 2011, while the Broncos suffered their first loss of the season.
Robinson runs wild
The star of the game was Commanders running back Brian Robinson Jr., who had a career-high 87 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. He also added 42 receiving yards on two catches, showing his versatility and the growth of Washington’s screen game under new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
Robinson scored the go-ahead touchdown with 4:32 left in the fourth quarter, silencing the crowd at Empower Field at Mile High. He ran for 11 yards on a fourth-and-one play, breaking a tackle and diving into the end zone. He then celebrated by pointing to his name on the back of his jersey, reminding everyone of his presence.
Robinson’s performance was even more impressive considering what he went through last year. He missed the first four games of his rookie season after being shot twice in an attempted carjacking or armed robbery in August 2022. He recovered from his injuries and played in 12 games, rushing for 797 yards and two touchdowns.
“From the time I stepped back on the field, I was dealing with all kinds of things going on in my body…,” Robinson said after the game, “…there wasn’t one time I felt like Brian Robinson.”
He said he felt much better this season and credited his teammates and coaches for supporting him.
“I’m just thankful for this opportunity and this team,” he said. “They never gave up on me and they always believed in me.”
Howell shows resilience
Another key factor in Washington’s comeback was the poise of their young quarterback Sam Howell, who bounced back from a rough start to lead four touchdown drives in the second half. The 22-year-old rookie completed 21 of 31 passes for 268 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for 32 yards on six carries.
Howell was sacked three times in the first quarter and had a pass deflected that led to an interception by Broncos safety Justin Simmons. He also missed some throws and looked rattled by Denver’s pressure.
But he settled down in the second half and made some clutch plays with his arm and legs. He threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to tight end Logan Thomas in the third quarter, cutting Denver’s lead to 24-21. He then ran for a first down on a fourth-and-four play in the fourth quarter, setting up Robinson’s go-ahead score.
Howell’s most impressive drive came after the Broncos regained the lead with a field goal with 2:12 left in the game. He led Washington on a seven-play, 75-yard march that ended with a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jahan Dotson with 36 seconds remaining. He completed all five of his passes on the drive for 69 yards.
Howell said he never lost confidence despite the early struggles and praised Robinson for sparking the offense.
“He’s a beast,” Howell said of Robinson. “He runs hard, he catches the ball well, he blocks well. He does everything you want from a running back. He’s a big reason why we won today.”
Commanders coach Ron Rivera said he was impressed by Howell’s resilience and maturity.
“He’s very unflappable, and he really handled the game very well,” Rivera said. “I think his teammates feed off of it. It was exciting to see him do the things he did today, because those are things we’re going to build off of.”
Defense makes big plays
Washington’s defense also played a crucial role in the comeback, forcing three turnovers and limiting Denver’s explosive offense in the second half. The Commanders intercepted Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson twice and recovered a fumble by running back Javonte Williams.
Wilson had a stellar first half, throwing for 221 yards and two touchdowns and running for another score. He connected with wide receiver Jerry Jeudy for a 75-yard touchdown on Denver’s first play from scrimmage and later found tight end Noah Fant for a 28-yard score. He also scrambled for a six-yard touchdown to give Denver a 21-3 lead in the second quarter.
But Washington’s defense adjusted and pressured Wilson more in the second half. Linebacker Cole Holcomb intercepted Wilson in the third quarter, setting up Washington’s first touchdown of the game. Cornerback Kendall Fuller picked off Wilson in the fourth quarter, leading to Robinson’s second touchdown.
Washington also forced a fumble by Williams at midfield with 1:49 left in the game, giving Howell a chance to lead the game-winning drive.
Defensive end Chase Young said the defense never gave up and trusted each other.
“We knew we had to make some plays to help our offense,” Young said. “We knew we had a lot of time left and we just had to keep fighting. We have a lot of faith in this team and we showed it today.”
Broncos left stunned
The Broncos were left stunned by the loss, which snapped their four-game winning streak dating back to last season. They fell to 1-1 and missed a chance to take sole possession of first place in the AFC West.
Broncos coach Sean Payton said he was disappointed by the team’s performance and took the blame for the collapse.
“We didn’t play well enough in any phase of the game,” Payton said. “We made too many mistakes, we didn’t execute, we didn’t finish. That’s on me. I have to do a better job of preparing this team and putting them in a position to succeed.”
Wilson said he was frustrated by the turnovers and the missed opportunities.
“We had some chances to put the game away and we didn’t,” Wilson said. “We have to take care of the ball better and make more plays when it matters. We can’t let a game like this slip away from us.”
The Broncos will try to bounce back next week when they host the Kansas City Chiefs, while the Commanders will look to stay undefeated when they visit the Philadelphia Eagles.