For a half on Sunday, the Denver Broncos looked like they were turning the page on their disastrous 2022 season.
Then it all came crashing down.
The Broncos blew a 21-3 lead against the Washington Commanders then saw their own rally come up painfully short in a 35-33 loss after a successful Hail Mary gave them a chance to tie the game.
With three seconds left in regulation, Russell Wilson found Brandon Johnson on an unlikely 50-yard Hail Mary that bounced off multiple Washington defenders before landing in the Denver receiver’s hands to set up a two-point conversion attempt.
But a no-call on contact on the attempt sealed the Washington win. Wilson looked to Courtland Sutton in the end zone with Benjamin St-Juste in coverage. St-Juste made contact with Sutton before the ball arrived, and the pass fell incomplete.
But officials declined to throw a flag, and the Commanders walked off the field victorious.
The ending capped a difficult Broncos day that saw their offense go quiet for most of the second half after building a big early edge. While Denver’s offense went stagnant, its defense struggled to contain a balanced Washington unit helmed by first-year starting quarterback Sam Howell.
A Brian Robinson two-yard touchdown run gave the Commanders their first lead at 28-24 with 13:25 left in the game. A 15-yard scamper by Robinson seven minutes put Washington up by 11.
Denver managed a field goal in response after driving to the Washington one-yard line on its next possession. Then the Broncos forced a Commanders punt with 48 seconds remaining to set up the late dramatics.
The 18-point comeback is the largest for Washington since 2015 when Kirk Cousins led a rally from a 24-0 deficit for a 31-30 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, inspiring his trademark “You like that” rallying cry. The Commanders are now 2-0 after a Week 1 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
The day in Denver started out great for the home team with a new offense helmed by first-year head coach Sean Payton and offensive coordinator Joe Lomabardi. The big plays were back from former Pro Bowler Wilson, who put Broncos up 14-3 with a 60-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Mims Jr.
A 53-yard strike to Mims on Denver’s next possession helped set up another Broncos touchdown to extend the lead to 21-3.
By halftime, Wilson had completed 6 of 8 passes for 154 yards and two scores. Denver’s offense had racked up 223 yards of total offense. The spark appeared to be back.
But the second half belonged to Howell and Robinson as Washington mounted a 32-3 run that started in the second quarter. Howell completed 18 of 32 passes for 303 yards with three touchdowns and 1 one interception in his second game since being named full-time starter. Robinson tallied 129 yards from scrimmage and the two scores.
Wilson finished the day 18 of 32 for 308 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He posted most of his second-half yardage on Denver’s final two drives that included the 50-yard Hail Mary. He added 56 yards on the ground.
The Broncos fall to 0-2 with the loss as they continue seeking to put last season’s disappointment in the past.