The Washington Commanders have ended the Baltimore Ravens' 24-game preseason winning streak with a 29-28 victory at FedExField. Here are five takeaways from the Commanders' second preseason victory, presented by Maryland Lottery.
1. Howell delivers a strong first-half performance.
The word "poised" was used often to describe Howell last week, and that's exactly how he looked leading the Commanders' offense through just about every situation imaginable. He completed five of his first six passes on Washington's opening drive, getting the unit down to the Ravens' 3-yard line to kick a field goal; he went through his progressions, taking what the Ravens' defense gave him, choosing to take the smart plays over the aggressive ones; and he threw darts to receivers in tight windows, stepping up in clutch situations to keep the chains moving.
The most impressive aspect of Howell's night was that he didn't let mistakes snowball into disastrous streaks of ineptitude. The prime example: after the Ravens zoomed down the field to go up 14-10 in two plays, Howell put together a two-minute drive, highlighted by an 11-yard touchdown pass -- his second of the night -- to Dyami Brown to retake the lead seconds before halftime.
Howell ended his night completing 19 of his 25 passes for 188 yards with a passer rating of 123.4. Assuming this is his last bit of preseason action, that should leave the team confident in its decision.
2. The defense started out slow.
Slow starts have been a problem for the Commanders for a while now. The staff wants to get that fixed in 2023, but Monday's game showed there is still more work to do in that area.
There was little resistance from the Commanders' defense as Josh Johnson and the Ravens' offense marched down the field on their opening drive. Missed tackles, like the one Emmanuel Forbes had on Zay Flowers, were abundant on the opening drive, and players took poor angles to pursue ball-carriers. As a result, Baltimore moved down the field in chunks, and the six-play, 75-yard opening drive was capped off by a 26-yard touchdown reception from Flowers.
Fortunately, the defense didn't stay sluggish. They got a three-and-out on the following drive, and in the second half, three of the Ravens' six drives ended in punts. All three of those drives ended with Baltimore covering less than 30 yards, and the third-down stop with three minutes left to play gave Washington a chance to win the game.
It's important to remember that most of Washington's starting defense did not play a single snap Monday night, so the lapses in coverage were not indicative of the entire unit. However, it's clear that the defensive depth still has much to learn.
3. Quan Martin bounces back from struggles in Cleveland.
Quan Martin dealt with his share of mistakes during Washington' first preseason game against Cleveland, and head coach Ron Rivera said after the Baltimore win that Martin had learned a lot from his first bit of NFL action.
On Monday night, he showed flashes of why the Commanders were so excited to pick him up in the second round.
The play came on second-and-3 at the Commanders' 21-yard line. Ravens receiver James Proche had gained a step on Martin and was gearing up to haul in a touchdown pass from Johnson. But Martin never gave up on the play, and as Proche's momentum took him out of bounds and away from the ball, Martin secured the pass himself for his first interception of the preseason.
Rather than take a touchback, Martin started sprinting in the other direction. He dodged defenders and found open space near the Commanders' sideline and ran 59 yards before being knocked out of bounds.
Martin is an example of why it's important to avoid making assumptions about a rookie after one preseason game. The former Illinois defensive back is going to have growing pains as he learns the defense; that is part of being a rookie. As he gets more comfortable, and the Commanders nail down the best position for him, plays like his interception should come more often.
Check out the best photos from the Washington Commanders' second preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
4. Mental mistakes hurt both sides of the ball.
The Ravens put together some impressive moments, which is why it took some last-minute heroics for the Commanders to pull off a win, but they also benefitted greatly from Washington's self-imposed errors.
Washington had fewer penalties than Baltimore, but they were far more detrimental to the team's success. Rachad Wildgoose’s defensive pass interference call, for example, put the Ravens at the Commanders' 7-yard line, which allowed them to score one play later. A neutral zone infraction by Isaiah Mack gave the Ravens a fresh set of downs on fourth-and-3 at the Commanders' 7-yard line.
The offense wasn't blameless, either. A holding call on Saahdiq Charles took the wind out of the Commanders' second drive, which ultimately ended with a punt. Howell admitted both the sacks he took were his fault, and while he did recover from them, it put the offense in a hole.
Washington still won, but it will need to clean up its gaffes before the season opener in a few weeks.
5. Jake Fromm puts together a game-winning drive.
Jahan Dotson joked that it might be the biggest preseason win in NFL history. And no, preseason streaks don't matter, regardless of how long they are, but there was undeniable drama as the Commanders' offense took the field down by two points with less than three minutes left to play.
The drive wasn't pretty. Jake Fromm fumbled the ball for a nine-yard loss at Washington's 23-yard line, and he did get bailed out by a pass interference call on fourth-and-11, but he did manage to come up with crucial throws to keep the team in contention. An eight-yard pass to Kazmeir Allen on third-and-8 ended up being just enough to get Washington in field goal range, and Joey Slye put an exclamation point on a 14-play, 60-yard drive with a 49-yard field goal -- his third of the night.
The players didn't make a big deal about it in the locker room. They shouldn't have, of course, because preseason wins are meaningless. But they did acknowledge that it was a fun moment, and while ending a 24-game preseason winning streak won't help them in 2023, it was a moment that brought the players a little closer together and showed what they are capable of.