DENVER — Sam Howell threw for two touchdowns and the Washington Commanders rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat the Denver Broncos 35-33 on Sunday, holding on after Russell Wilson connected with Brandon Johnson on a 50-yard Hail Mary but failed to complete the tying 2-point try.
Washington cornerback Benjamin St-Juste broke up Wilson's pass to Courtland Sutton on the 2-point conversion attempt. St-Juste appeared to get away with pass interference, but no flag was thrown and the Commanders celebrated the franchise's first 2-0 start since 2011 while Sutton and his teammates argued vehemently for a foul.
Howell threw for 299 yards on on 27-of-39 passing in his first road start and led Washington to the second-biggest comeback in franchise history. Washington overcame a 21-point deficit to beat Detroit on Nov. 4, 1990.
The Commanders trailed 21-3 in the second quarter. Brian Robinson Jr. ran for two scores during a 32-6 scoring outburst before the Broncos made it interesting at the very end.
With 2 seconds left and the Broncos 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.
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 jumped out to their big lead by scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions for the first time since Nov. 14, 2010, against Kansas City, a game they 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 hauling in 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 caches for 113 yards on two targets but wasn't targeted again and spent much of the rest of the game on the sideline.
Robinson's 2-yard TD run with 13:25 left gave Washington its first lead at 28-24 and his second score, from 15 yards out, made it 35-24 with 7:11 remaining.
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.
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.
The Commanders tied it on Terry McLaurin's 30-yard TD grab on their first drive after halftime.
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.
Commanders: Host Buffalo next Sunday.
Broncos: Visit Miami next Sunday.