'Been a long time coming': Chase Young returns with 1.5 sacks, 1 TFL vs. Broncos

DENVER – In 2021, Washington Commanders defensive end Chase Young endured a sluggish start in his second season, then had it ended with a knee injury that sidelined him for the next 22 games. And then he missed the 2023 season opener with a neck injury.

So when he returned Sunday against the Denver Broncos and recorded his first sack in nearly two years a 35-33 win over the Denver Broncos, it felt good not only for him but for teammates and coaches.

Indeed, after Young finished his post-game interview, receiver Terry McLaurin, who played with Young at Ohio State and now for three years in Washington, embraced him and said, “I’m proud of you, bro.”

Young, who missed the opener after suffering a stinger during an Aug. 11 preseason game, finished with 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries.

“It’s been a long time coming for me,” Young said. “I just feel blessed, man.”

If he keeps producing, Washington’s defense will add yet another threat along its front. In two games, the Commanders’ line has combined for nine sacks -- five linemen recorded a sack Sunday and seven have at least a half sack this season.

Young was the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2020 when he posted 7.5 sacks, forced four fumbles and recovered three, including one for a touchdown.

But since that point it has been a struggle. Young managed only 1.5 sacks in his first nine games the following season before tearing the ACL and rupturing the patellar tendon in his right knee. Last season, he did not return until the final three games. He had been medically cleared several weeks earlier but needed to regain trust in the knee.

Young failed to record a sack in three games, though the focus was more on getting back to normal than it was on changing games.

However, this summer Young ditched the brace he wore on his right knee and looked sharp off the line. He and others said multiple times he had regained the explosiveness that helped make him the No. 2 overall pick in 2020.

“His explosiveness was back. He wasn't thinking about anything. He was just playing," defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina said of Young’s play in training camp. "It was smooth. You know, he was the Chase of old.”

Young’s first tackle was a stop for 1 yard in which he shed his block, ran to the middle and made the play. On his sack, a third-and-2 from the Washington 10-yard line, Young pursued quarterback Russell Wilson as he was flushed from the pocket by tackle Jonathan Allen. Young grabbed him by his legs for his first sack since Oct. 10, 2021. He had a half sack one week later, but that was it until Sunday.

“Obviously it feels good,” Young said. “I put my prayer hands together.”

If Young doesn’t make the stop, Wilson likely picks up a first down. Instead, they settled for a field goal.

“It was great to see him out there,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “He was feeling anxious and a couple of times he’s running out there when he’s not supposed to. He just wants to play so badly, so it was so good to see him play the way he did. He started to get some rhythm going.”

Later, on his half sack with fellow end Montez Sweat, Young bull-rushed tackle Garett Bolles and drove him back. Sweat now has three sacks. his career high is nine. But he kept the focus on his teammate.

“It was amazing,” Sweat said of Young’s day. “He’s been through so much, just battling injuries. Injury after injury. Just to have him out there with me, he’s my best friend so it was fun having success with him.”

Young also had to deal with Washington not picking up his fifth-year option this offseason. Sources said the team wanted to see how Young's knee responded but also was hoping it would serve as motivation for him. Rivera has made it clear he hopes playing in the final year of a contract does for Young what it did for tackle Daron Payne last season.

Payne finished with 11 sacks and earned a Pro Bowl berth in the final year of his deal and promptly received a four-year contract worth up to $90 million, with $45 million guaranteed, the following offseason.

But Young hasn’t focused on his contract, nor has he let any criticism -- whether from fans or media -- get to him.

“People, when you’re up they’re going to praise you and when you’re down they’re going to hate you,” he said. “I’m right in the middle.”

When asked if Sunday served as a reminder that he was back, Young shied away from an answer. But that’s where Sweat once again helped Young finish the job. And he finished it with gusto, loudly answering the question.

Said Sweat, “You’re f---ing right!”