During head coach Ron Rivera's first season in Washington in 2020, the franchise was able to overcome a 2-7 start to win an NFC East title. Last year, the club was unable to crawl back from a 3-6 start; despite putting together a four-game winning streak following the bye, Washington ended with a 7-10 record and outside of the playoff picture.
Rivera has made it loud and clear that for 2022, he expects the Commanders to take a step forward in his third season at the helm.
"This is our third season and I'd like to see the growth continue and I'd like to see us get to another level," Rivera said Wednesday following OTAs. "I do think we can develop and grow as a group together both offensively, defensively and in special teams. But to me, it really does come down to winning.”
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In order for the Burgundy and Gold to return to the postseason in 2022, starting the season on the right foot is key. Safety Bobby McCain, who the team re-signed on a two-year deal this past spring, is well aware of how important starting fast is in terms of overall season success.
"I know we got Jacksonville Week 1. We can start strong there with a win," McCain said.
McCain specifically mentioned Washington's Week 1 matchup last season against the Chargers as an example. The Commanders held a three-point lead entering the fourth quarter, but a costly Antonio Gibson fumble deep in Washington territory led to the Chargers' eventual game-winning TD.
When Washington went into the FedEx Field locker room following that contest, the team felt they let one slip away. That feeling is exactly what McCain and the Commanders hope to avoid in 2022.
"I don't like to spend too much time on last year, but we can say that Charger game, we felt like we should've won the game but we didn't," he said. "We had a tough schedule at the beginning of the year last year, for sure, but there are no excuses."
In 2021, not only did Washington struggle out of the gate to start the season, but the Commanders also started off slow in each individual game as well. Washington allowed the third-most first-quarter points of any team last year while ranking 21st overall in first-quarter scoring offense.
Washington struggled on both sides of the football in the first quarter last season, leading to them having to play from behind often. McCain made it clear there's an emphasis to prevent that from occurring once again this season.
"We gotta start fast in the game," he said. "Last year in the games, our first quarter we wouldn't start fast. But we have to start fast, just take it one play at a time, and understand that everybody has a role, and everybody needs to do their job. If everybody does their job, man, we'll be fine."
Taking that step forward starts in the offseason. Washington is off to a great start, as the team has near full attendance for its voluntary OTA sessions. That's been a welcome sight to the coaching staff, as well as the players.
"It starts now," McCain said. "It starts now in OTAs, it starts now in training camp, when training camp starts. It starts just, you know, with the continuity with each other and understanding that, like I said, you gotta perfect your role, and if it's not perfect get it as close as you can."
The Commanders begin the season with a home date with Jacksonville before traveling to Detroit in Week 2. This past April, the Jaguars and Lions drafted first and second overall, respectively. Washington has an excellent chance to begin the season with two victories -- something that should be expected within the Commanders' locker room based on the team's high hopes for 2022.
"We gotta get it done," McCain said. "and this year, we will."