Perspective | When Commanders fans wonder, it’s called hope

Losing 21-3, unprotected and clumsy, the Washington Commanders faced the first test of a new era. So Ron Rivera relied on an intangible that has eluded every coach of this franchise for nearly a quarter century: trust.

“The crazy thing is we were kind of waiting for something good to happen,” he said.

And the crazier part is that something good actually happened.

On Sunday, it was linebacker Jamin Davis who forced a fumble from Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson. Cody Barton recovered it for the Commanders and it led to Washington's first touchdown in a 35-33 comeback win. In the future, this could spark a period of resilience and mean an entire franchise attempts to make a dramatic comeback.

It is too early to announce the arrival of the commanders as candidates. It's been a dozen years since they took a 2-0 lead, but that's more sad than shocking. However, the good vibes are undeniable, and those feelings extend beyond making the playoffs this season. The energy now leans toward anticipation, not concern. You can't be sure what the Josh Harris group will build, but you're not automatically immune from incompetence – or worse. It seems safe to wait for something good to happen.

Analysis: How the Commanders' ‘alarming' defense upended the Broncos' momentum

In his 24 years of shoveling dirt with the franchise, Daniel Snyder has never missed a tackle, thrown an interception or made a terrible coaching decision. It just seemed like he did. As the team failed to enjoy long-term success, the debate focused on the impact of poor ownership. Couldn't a great general manager bring together the talent needed to solve the problem? Couldn't the right coach get the win? Couldn't a franchise quarterback make a difference?

Looking back, there was never any hope for change, just the illusion of it. The embarrassment remained. There was no protection from the dark cloud. The negativity of one failure after another, one controversy after another, made it impossible to cultivate faith.

A team's mood doesn't matter much until we notice extremes. Normally there is little point in researching something so unquantifiable. But everyone feels the emptiness when they are drawn into it. And everyone is happy when the mystical power carries a team beyond its limits.

Something is happening in Washington. Something good. It's not about how well the commanders play. In two games, they needed second-half comebacks to get past the Arizona Cardinals, potentially in the race for the No. 1 overall pick, and the Broncos, who lost 5-12 last season. What's even more striking is the spirit within and around the team.

The commanders no longer try to overcome themselves. You have the freedom to become yourself.

“I’m telling you, it feels different,” left tackle Charles Leno Jr. told reporters Sunday. “I just like this team, we are resilient. We just find ways to win. It doesn’t matter what the score is, no matter what the situation is, it’s just about getting the W.”

It's a far cry from the days when DeSean Jackson posted on Instagram: “You can't make epic [stuff] with common people.”

Or Robert Griffin III, exasperatedly declaring, “I just work here, man.”

There will certainly be conflict and dysfunction in Washington. It's in every football locker room. This sport requires at least 40 players and a dozen coaches to communicate well and trust each other. Even on wonderful days, there are plenty of mistakes and hurt feelings. In the NFL, the most overanalyzed league in America, small complaints become big stories.

But a disagreement is not the same as a feud that destroys a season. In Snyder's culture, there were too many morale-destroying crises in Washington. But now Rivera may have an opportunity to make the training camp mistake by alluding to players struggling to adjust to new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy's demanding standards without that comment on factions within the locker room and coaching staff leads.

After that preseason incident, Rivera quickly apologized. Bieniemy handled it like a pro. The story lasted a few days and the focus returned to the football, not the soap opera.

Success or failure: The Commanders' rare offensive outburst leads to an even rarer 2-0 start

The second half on Sunday saw the potential of Bieniemy's offense against a good Broncos defense. It's not a reflection of the Kansas City Chiefs system he used to run. Sam Howell is showing tremendous growth in his first year as starting quarterback. Brian Robinson Jr. is already one of the best power running backs in the league. The Commanders have good wide receivers and solid receiving depth regardless of position. Howell and the team need to continue to develop, but this could be a solid offense by the end of the season.

If so, the Commanders will be able to play the complementary football they have shown in two games. In Week 1, they won a defensive slugfest. In Week 2, they showed off their firepower to win a shootout. Now they will receive a visit on Sunday from the Buffalo Bills, who have been Super Bowl contenders for several seasons. It's the perfect time to step up the competition, and from what I've seen, it would be disappointing if Washington didn't play its best game and at least give the Bills a good challenge.

A team doesn't just learn to believe in good times. Neither do an organization and its fan base, even if they deserve maximum joy after emerging from distasteful ownership. Struggle is inevitable and necessary. Washington has had deceptive moments for so long. Everything looked good until something went wrong. Then, when the last shaky plan failed, something became clear: even the people who should have believed were just pretending.

The commanders don't seem so fragile anymore. They're expecting more good things to come out of this season, and the crazy thing is that we're no longer prepared to think that hope is foolish.

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