LANDOVER, Md. - Throughout the second half, Montez Sweat looked around at his defensive teammates and asked who was going to be the closer the Washington Commanders needed.
Turned out it was Sweat getting the job done.
The edge rusher strip-sacked Joshua Dobbs late in the first quarter to set up Sam Howell’s go-ahead touchdown run as the defense took over the game to help the Commanders rally to beat the Arizona Cardinals 20-16 Sunday.
"We made a lot of great plays to win the game," said defensive tackle Daron Payne, who had a key sack of Dobbs late. "We made the plays when they counted."
In front of a sellout crowd and with several prominent alumni back to celebrate the start of a new era, the Commanders were sloppy with a pair of turnovers and several penalties along the offensive line that allowed Howell to be sacked six times.
Washington’s defense eventually took over and turned the tide. After Sweat’s strip-sack allowed the Commanders to take the lead, Abdullah Anderson recovered another fumble by Arizona with under five minutes left.
"Game-changing plays like that definitely get the team going," Sweat said. "We just got to build on it."
LANDOVER, MARYLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Joshua Dobbs #9 of the Arizona Cardinals attempts a pass during the fourth quarter against the Washington Commanders at FedExField on September 10, 2023 in Landover, Maryland.
Howell had a jittery start in his new role as the Commanders’ starting quarterback, going 19 of 31 for 202 yards with a 7-yard TD pass to Brian Robinson Jr. and an interception. The second-year pro bounced back from the pick and a fumble late in the second quarter that handed the Cardinals a touchdown, completing four of seven passes after halftime.
"Offensively, we could’ve played a lot better," Howell said. "Turnovers, penalties, sacks — just a lot of things I think I can do better. Definitely a lot to clean up on the offensive side of the ball."
Arizona, which is expected to be among the worst teams in the NFL this season, lost Jonathan Gannon’s debut as coach. Dobbs, acquired last month in a trade with Cleveland and starting after Gannon refused to name his No. 1 QB leading into the game, was 21 of 33 for 133 yards.
"It’s disappointing not to win and that starts with me," Dobbs said. "We moved the ball in spurts. We have to do better in the red zone. It’s so hard to get down you have to get seven points. That’s what the game came down to and our two turnovers on offense."
Commanders coach Ron Rivera gave controlling owner Josh Harris a game ball after the win, and despite disappointment in how the game unfolded said he was thrilled about starting 1-0.
"(The new owners) got their first victory — the first one during the regular season — and it’s something to remember," Rivera said. "It was a hard-fought game."
Among the former Washington players who made an appearance for the first game with Josh Harris’ group in charge were Hall of Famers John Riggins and Champ Bailey and 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III. Nearly 65,000 fans filled FedEx Field in a party atmosphere, some chanting on the concourse goodbyes to former owner Dan Snyder, and many singing the team’s fight song in the stands after touchdowns.
"There’s a lot better energy," Griffin said. "The team doesn’t have the distractions. The community is back together."
Cardinals: TE Zach Ertz had six catches for 21 yards in his return, nine months since having surgery to repair a torn ACL. ... OL Kelvin Beachum (hand) was inactive.
Commanders: Howell and RG Sam Cosmi were each evaluated for a concussion and quickly cleared to play. ... Chase Young was inactive because of a neck injury.
Cardinals: Host the New York Giants in their home opener next Sunday.
Commanders: Visit the Denver Broncos next Sunday.