Looking for a good omen coming out of the Washington Commanders' roller-coaster victory over the Denver Broncos in Week 2 of the 2023 season? Try this one on for size.
Some of the more mature fans out there might recall 35 years ago – Super Bowl XXII – played in San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium between the now-Washington Commanders and these same Denver Broncos.
In that game, Denver, behind John Elway, raced out to a 10-0 lead before Washington seemed to realize the game had started. The team who we all know went by a different nickname back then – was fortunate to have stopped the legendary signal-caller on a third-down quarterback sneak inside the ten-yard line, thus setting up a short Rich Karlis field goal.
Otherwise, it would have been 14-0 midway through the first quarter.
Commanders can take heart from Week 2 comeback
On the ensuing kickoff, Ricky Sanders was upended by Denver’s Ken Bell and fumbled. There were about 200 Broncos players within a few feet of the ball. Had one of them recovered, they would have had the ball inside Washington’s 20, going against a tired defense, with a chance to extend the lead to 17-0.
Sidenote: At that point in NFL history, no team had overcome a deficit of more than seven points and won a Super Bowl.
But when the referees succeeded in unstacking the mass of humanity on top of that ball, they awarded possession to Washington. The official NFL transcript says that rookie linebacker Ravin Caldwell recovered the fumble.
I have watched this play a couple hundred times. I have never even seen Caldwell in the picture. Sanders was on the bottom of the pile, trampled by multiple Broncos. Two tight ends – Terry Orr and Anthony Jones – are diving in from the outside.
There is another body largely blocked from the camera on the ground. I assume this must have been Caldwell, though his path to the ball is clearly impeded by at least two Denver players.
What goes on at the bottom of a fumble pile in the NFL is best not discussed in polite company. After the game, Richie Petitbon – Washington’s defensive coordinator – said Orr had recovered. Neither Orr nor Caldwell has ever elaborated on what happened. When asked about it, they tended to merely offer an enigmatic smile.
But whatever happened, the now-Commanders got the ball back. They did not do much with it, but they were able to move a little bit and flip the field on their ensuing punt.
The next time they got the ball, they would begin rewriting NFL history by going on a scoring rampage – 42 consecutive points and their second Vince Lombardi trophy.
Now let’s look at this week’s game.
Denver seemed unstoppable in the first 20 minutes. They ran and they passed up and down the field to the tune of 21-3 early in the second quarter.
On the Commanders' first play from scrimmage after the Broncos' third touchdown, Sam Howell looked for tight end Logan Thomas on a short out. He had time to throw. For one of the few times early in the game, Charles Leno Jr. handled edge rusher Randy Gregory, but he got his hands up and deflected the throw.
The ball turned into the soft pop-up headed right into the arms of Denver linebacker Alex Singleton. Had he intercepted, Denver would have had the ball around the Commanders' 30-yard line, already up 21-3 and playing against a tired, bewildered defense.
But he didn’t intercept. He didn’t secure the pick because of a great, head’s up play by Thomas, who leapt back to knock the ball out of Singleton’s hands. Washington would not do anything on that series, but at least they would get a typically clutch punt from Tress Way which flipped the field.
A few plays later, Russell Wilson would fumble, Cody Barton recovered, and the Commanders would be on their way to a 32-3 run and a 2-0 start. Thomas would be one of the players to score a touchdown a little while later.
Orr was a smart player. Thomas is a smart player. They both made plays that will not appear on a stat sheet. They both made plays that kept a flailing team on life support. And they both teed up great comebacks.
Sure – Orr’s play in the Super Bowl was far more important. But the Commanders haven’t gotten a whiff of hoisting the famous trophy since before my son was born. And he’s already pretty old. So I’ll take baby steps on the way back to championship caliber. I’ll take whatever omens I can get.
The one on Sunday has me filled with good karma.