- The Washington Times
Sunday, November 20, 2022

HOUSTON — Days before the Washington Commanders were set to take on a team with the league’s worst record, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said he knew his unit wouldn’t take the Houston Texans lightly. Disrespected teams, he said, are the ones that are scary.

“We are going in looking for their best and preparing respectfully because we know what it feels like to be disrespected,” Del Rio said. 

But the Texans, it turned out, weren’t that scary after all.

The Commanders took care of business Sunday with a dominant 23-10 win, following up on their stunning victory Monday night over the previously undefeated Eagles with a workman-like performance that helped improve Washington to 6-5 on the year. 

Washington is now over .500 for the first time this late in a season since 2018, putting the Commanders squarely in the hunt for a playoff spot — something that would have been hard to imagine just two months ago when the Commanders started the season 1-4. 

After a slow start to the season, Washington’s defense now looks like one of the best units in the league — and it showed again against the Texans. 

Houston’s offense may be one of the league’s worst, but the Commanders still suffocated the Texans (1-8-1) in a way other teams haven’t.  By the end of the first half, for instance, the Commanders had allowed just five net yards —  the fewest in Texans’ franchise history. The Texans finished the game with only 148 yards, a season low. 

The defensive line set the tone as the Commanders sacked Texans quarterback Davis Mills five times. Washington particularly created havoc on the interior, with defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne quickly collapsing the pocket. Commanders edge rusher Montez Sweat was also impressive with yet another multi-sack game: Sweat’s two sacks Sunday brought his season total to six. The edge rusher had zero sacks through the first four games. 

The Commanders also were efficient offensively. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke threw for 191 yards on 15 of 27 passing, while Washington was again able to control the clock with a steady rushing attack. Washington’s run game, which finished with 153 yards on 40 carries, has fueled the team’s recent stretch. 

But on offense, it was Heinicke’s performance that stood out the most.

Hours before kickoff, reports emerged that coach Ron Rivera had made a decision to stick with Heinicke as the Commanders’ starter even when Carson Wentz (finger) was healthy again — as long as Heinicke performed well and kept piling up wins. Rivera’s call was understandable — the Commanders were 3-1 under Heinicke this season entering the afternoon, compared to 2-4 with Wentz — but the choice would have meant nothing if Heinicke came out against the Texans and delivered a stinker. 

Instead, Heinicke was more than fine. He made crisp passes to playmakers Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Logan Thomas. He avoided costly turnovers and game-changing sacks. Simply put, Heinicke looked in control of the offense, perhaps the main reason why the Commanders are sticking with him. 

Heinicke and Co. put the game out of reach with three straight scoring drives in the second quarter. Wide receiver Curtis Samuel rushed for a 10-yard touchdown to put the Commanders ahead 14-0, and kicker Joey Slye added a pair of field goals to give the Commanders a 20-0 lead at the half. 

The Commanders’ hopes of a shutout, however, were dashed in the second half. A 41-yard gain by Bradin Cooks helped set up a 24-yard field goal from the Texans. Washington hasn’t completely blanked an opponent since 1991, the season it last won the Super Bowl. And later, with slightly more than three minutes left, Mills scrambled for a 4-yard touchdown to make the final margin more respectable. 

Still, Washington’s defense was in control. The unit forced two turnovers, including a pick-six by cornerback Kendall Fuller on just Houston’s second play of the day.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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