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Howell leads big rally for Commanders, who hold on to beat Broncos after Wilson’s Hail Mary

DENVER (AP) — Washington cornerback Benjamin St-Juste didn’t flinch after Brandon Johnson snared Russell Wilson’s 50-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass off a double deflection with no time remaining Sunday.

That cut Washington’s lead to 35-33.

St-Juste said he figured, “OK, we got one more opportunity to shut this down and come up with a ‘dub.’

“So, we locked in and made the play,” said St-Juste, who appeared to get away with pass interference when he broke up Wilson’s 2-point conversion throw to Courtland Sutton, preserving the Commanders’ come-from-behind win. Washington rallied from an early 21-3 deficit to take a 35-24 lead, then had to hang on with no time on the clock.

CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore said it looked like St-Juste made enough early contact for a foul, but Brad Rogers’ crew didn’t throw a flag and the Commanders celebrated the franchise’s first 2-0 start since 2011.

The Broncos (0-2) have lost back-to-back home games for the first time, not the kind of history coach Sean Payton was hoping to make in his return to the sideline after a year in the broadcast studio following a highly successful 15-year stint in New Orleans, especially after he criticized predecessor Nathaniel Hackett for doing one of the worst coaching jobs in NFL history last year.

The Broncos lost despite scoring touchdowns on their first three drives for the first time since 2010. Their 18-point blown lead tied for the fourth-largest at home in franchise history.

“This is a resilient team,” Washington’s Sam Howell said after throwing for 299 yards and two TDs in his first road start. “The thing I’m proud of is we had each other’s back on both sides of the ball.”

Brian Robinson Jr. added two TD runs, helping the Commanders to the second-biggest comeback in franchise history. Washington overcame a 21-point deficit to beat Detroit on Nov. 4, 1990.

The Commanders used a 32-3 scoring outburst to take control before the Broncos made it interesting at the very end.

With 2 seconds left and the Broncos at the 50-yard line trailing 35-27, Wilson heaved a pass toward the end zone that was deflected by a scrum of players before Johnson snared it for the score.

Wilson threw for 308 yards and three TDs but also had two turnovers.

The last time Denver scored TDs on each of its first three drives was on Nov. 14, 2010, against Kansas City, a game the Broncos went on to win 49-29.

Payton got the ball into his young speedsters’ hands early on, and it paid off with undrafted rookie Jaleel McLaughlin scoring on a 5-yard pitch, rookie receiver Marvin Mims Jr. hauling in a 60-yard touchdown pass and second-year wideout Johnson snaring a 16-yard score.

None of the three touched the ball again until Mims got a handoff midway through the third quarter with the score tied at 21.

Mims had two catches for 113 yards on two targets but wasn’t thrown to again after Denver’s third possession and spent much of the rest of the game on the sideline.

“Some of it’s coverage-driven and some of it is just based on what we’re in,” Payton said. “We’re in a couple of different personnel groupings, so part of that is coincidence, I would say. We had a number of guys we’re trying to get the ball to and we will keep doing that.”

Mims also had a 45-yard punt return, giving him 168 all-purpose yards on five touches.

“Any time he can touch the football is a good thing for us,” Wilson said.

CELEBRATIONS

Washington coach Ron Rivera was presented with a game ball in the locker room for his 100th career win in the NFL, and the Broncos honored their Super Bowl 32 -winning team at halftime.

JACKSON EJECTED

The game turned when Howell threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Logan Thomas on fourth-and-goal and safety Kareem Jackson was ejected for launching himself at the tight end, who suffered a concussion on the play and didn’t return.

Jackson also drew a 15-yard flag in the opener for a hit he put on Raiders receiver Jakobi Meyers, and Payton was asked if he felt a suspension was possible.

“Gosh, I don’t have an answer for you,” he said, “because those things happen so quickly. … From my vantage point, I only get to see it one time, you look up and they make the call and you’ve got to go with it.”

With the flag moving the conversion try to the 1, Washington went for 2 and pulled within 21-11 when Robinson got the ball past the plane. Joey Slye’s 46-yard field goal as the first half expired made it 21-14. And the Commanders erased the final remnants of their 18-point deficit on Terry McLaurin’s 30-yard TD grab on their first drive after halftime.

INJURIES

Commanders: Thomas didn’t return after suffering a concussion on his TD.

Broncos: S Delarrin Turner-Yell, who replaced Jackson after he was ejected, sustained an undisclosed injury early in the fourth quarter and went to the locker room. He was replaced by DB Essang Bassey.

UP NEXT

Commanders: Host Buffalo next Sunday.

Broncos: Visit Miami next Sunday.

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