Washington commanders are working to generate buzz on the ground

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The sun was bright and shining. The crowd was thin. Carson Wentz’ appearance was relatively brief. And in their first preseason game under their new team name, the Washington Commanders attempted to take a step forward to reinvigorate their fanbase and put more emphasis on the football played on the field instead. than on the problems that were constantly swirling around.

This task falls somewhere between daunting and daunting. If progress was made on Saturday, it was incremental as the Commanders lost to the Carolina Panthers, 23-21, in front of a reported crowd of 44,855 at FedEx Field.

Wentz played decently, completing 10 of 13 passes for 74 yards in his preseason debut for his third NFL team. There were no firm conclusions to be drawn from this low-stakes outing about his ability to give the franchise lasting stability at quarterback.

“I think he threw the ball well,” Commanders coach Ron Rivera said. “I thought he threw it where it was supposed to. … He did the things we hoped he would do.

But there were no exhilarating moments either, even by pre-season standards. There wasn’t much to excite the crowd as it was. The most enthusiastic and consistent cheers, in fact, came when rookie quarterback Sam Howell engineered a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.

“I thought what our guys did coming back, giving each other a chance, there was a lot of excitement,” Rivera said. “And that’s what we want to do. We want to create excitement. We want to play hard. We have to play smart. We have to play better. »

The number of people actually present in the stands appeared much more modest than the official attendance figure. The stadium the Commanders are so desperately trying to leave for an upgraded version – somewhere – when their lease expires in 2027 was surprisingly empty on as pleasant an August afternoon as possible.

Pre-season football is far from exciting. But on such an idyllic day, with a new team name and quarterback unveiled, a better turnout might have been expected if the fan base hadn’t been so unhappy with the off-field turmoil of the franchise. The tickets would have been available on the secondary market for as little as $1, according to Athletic.

It speaks to the enormity of fan discontent, ranging from anger to apathy, that Rivera and a front office led by team president Jason Wright must try to overcome.

The Commanders and their owner, Daniel Snyder, are still under investigation by the NFL, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the DC and Virginia attorneys general.

Snyder spent more than 10 hours late last month voluntarily testifying under oath before the committee remotely after his lawyer refused to accept electronic service of a subpoena. Snyder faces potential disciplinary action from the NFL, depending on the findings of the league’s ongoing investigation by attorney Mary Jo White. It’s been 13 months since Snyder handed control of the franchise’s day-to-day operations to his wife, Tanya Snyder, the team’s co-CEO, after a previous NFL investigation by attorney Beth Wilkinson.

The team’s efforts to secure public funding for a new stadium in Virginia have been put on hold. As if there wasn’t enough commotion, Wright criticized a local TV reporter Friday on Twitter for his line of questioning in an interview with Wentz. The questions posed to the quarterback weren’t particularly inflammatory or out of place for a player who was traded twice, most recently after a single season with the Indianapolis Colts.

Wright did not back down on Saturday, telling reporters before the game that he thought his comments on Twitter were appropriate. He also said he believed commanders would be able to stick to their schedule to play in a new stadium. He portrayed a team with promising financial health.

Snyder, Wright and the team have consistently tried to paint a picture of a revamped franchise taking proactive steps to move away from its past issues. This did not convince the House Oversight Committee, which concluded in its investigation that Snyder and members of his legal team conducted a “shadow investigation” to discredit his accusers and shift blame.

In the quest to win fans back, playing better football would help. Rivera is a more than capable coach who won an NFC East title in his first season with the team. Even so, he’s looking for the winning first season of his tenure in Washington as he enters Year 3. It all hinges on Wentz, who put up strong numbers for most of last season in Indianapolis before he and the The team only fell apart late, missing the playoffs and prompting Wentz’s abrupt and not-by-choice exit.

If Wentz plays reasonably well, no one will remember critics’ claims that COs surrendered too much to trade for him. There are enough other pieces in place for this team to come down to a contender in a division that remains without an elite team. But, say, would a 9-8 record be enough for fans to care again? It is the job that awaits Rivera, Wentz and the commanders to make this question relevant.

“I thought the energy and the atmosphere was cool,” Wentz said. “Obviously it’s going to continue to pick up speed as we get closer to Week 1. But it was good to get out here and not get booed and have fun in front of these fans.”

Denise W. Whigham