Magic calls out Commanders after loss: No ‘fire’

What to make of Magic Johnson’s criticism of the Commanders (1:49)

Dan Graziano, Mike Tannenbaum and Bart Scott react to Magic Johnson tweeting his disappointment about the Commanders’ performance vs. the Bears. (1:49)

  • John Keim, ESPN Staff WriterOct 6, 2023, 02:06 AM ET

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      John Keim covers the Washington Commanders for ESPN. He joined ESPN in 2013 after a stint with the Washington Post. He started covering the team in 1994 for the Journal Newspapers and later for the Washington Examiner. He has authored/co-authored four books. You can also listen to him on ‘The John Keim Report’, which airs on ESPN Richmond radio, and follow him on Twitter @john_keim

LANDOVER, Md. — Washington Commanders limited partner Magic Johnson delivered harsh criticism of his new team following a 20-point loss to the Chicago Bears on Thursday night.

After the Commanders lost 40-20 to the previously winless Bears, Johnson tweeted in part that “the Commanders played with no intensity or fire. We didn’t compete in the first half. … It was too big of a hole to climb out of and that is why we ended up losing.”

Tonight the Commanders played with no intensity or fire. We didn’t compete in the first half and got down 27-3 heading into halftime. It was too big of a hole to climb out of and that is why we ended up losing 40-20.

— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) October 6, 2023

Johnson, who attended the game, is one of 20 limited partners with new owner Josh Harris. Johnson has been highly visible as part of the franchise, between charitable events and attending games.

But this was his first critical tweet of his new team. And the players did not disagree with his assessment. After all, Washington fell behind 27-3 at halftime.

“I’d probably say that’s pretty fair,” Washington receiver Terry McLaurin said.

“Definitely,” defensive end Montez Sweat said. “We came out flat.”

The Bears scored on each of their five possessions in the first half, often because of missed tackles or blown coverages in the secondary. A defense that entered with two sacks recorded four. And an offense that averaged 298 yards in the first four games managed 451.

“We got our ass kicked,” Washington defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said.

Washington coach Ron Rivera said he couldn’t repeat his postgame message to the players but that in short he told them, “That’s not good enough.”

That’s why no one in the locker room was about to reject what Johnson tweeted. However, some said there were other factors.

“I mean, that’s the perception when you’re down that quick, it looks like that,” Washington left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said. “I’m not going to say the guys did not have any intensity or urgency coming into the game. I would definitely say it was a lack of execution early offensively; when they put up seven on the defense, we need to respond.”

McLaurin said the Commanders’ intentions, of course, were not to start that way. However, he said, intentions don’t matter.

“It’s what you put on the field,” McLaurin said. “I know we don’t have a lazy bunch; I know we don’t have a non-intense group of guys. That showing is not reflective of us, but that’s who we are. We put that on tape. I’d say that’s a pretty fair assessment [by Johnson].”

Both teams were coming off difficult losses: Chicago had blown a 21-point lead at home to Denver and Washington had lost in overtime in Philadelphia. But one team was 2-2 and playing at home; the other was winless and traveling on a short week.

“I don’t know if we thought they was about to give us the game,” Sweat said. “But them guys was hungry. They came out with more fire than us.”

Johnson has been complimentary toward the Commanders after other games. He lauded their effort against Philadelphia, saying he was proud and that he hoped that effort would be “part of our DNA” all season. He tweeted after a comeback win in Denver about his excitement watching the rally live.

However, Thursday he opted for a different message — one that was echoed in the locker room.

“When you don’t get off to a fast start,” McLaurin said, “and a team that’s hungry like that, fighting for every play, every yard and they’re capitalizing, that’s what can happen. The record didn’t really matter. You don’t come to play, that’s what’s going to happen to you.”