The Washington Commanders have ended their 2022 season on a high note with a 26-6 win over the Dallas Cowboys -- their first since the 2020 season. Here are five takeaways from the season finale.
1. Sam Howell looked impressive in his first start.
Scoring a touchdown on his first career pass against his childhood team was certainly the highlight of the evening for Sam Howell, but it was hardly the only sign from the former fifth-round pick that he could compete at the highest level.
It was hard to guess what to expect from Howell, who had not played since the preseason finale, against a talented Cowboys defense. But from the moment he took the field, Howell made the most of his opportunities. He zipped the ball to seven pass-catchers, including six targets to Terry McLaurin, and showed off his arm talent with a 52-yard shot to the Commanders' No. 1 receiver.
The interception in the end zone on a pass to Cam Sims was the most obvious gaffe; he thought he could get the ball over the defender to Sims. For the most part, though, his passes were on-time, on target and catchable, as he finished with 169 yards. On the 52-yard bomb, McLaurin said the ball "walked into his hands."
Howell also had a willingness to run the ball and keep plays alive with his legs. Moments like converting a third-and-4 with a nine-yard pickup showed he was willing to take what defenses gave him. And the nine-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter showed how dangerous he could be near the goal line.
Ron Rivera only said that Howell will "be a QB" when asked about the signal-caller's future, but he was pleased with what he saw.
2. Special teams played a critical role.
The Commanders' special teams unit has come up big in critical moments all season, and they helped flip the field for Washington early against the Cowboys.
It started with a muffed snap by Bryan Anger after the Cowboys' opening drive was stopped short on seven plays. Anger's attempt at trying to salvage the play fell right into the arms of Milo Eifler, who took the punter down and gave the Commanders the ball at the Cowboys' 20-yard line.
Washington went on to score two plays later.
Dallas' struggles continued from there. Following a three-and-out from Washington's offense, returner KaVontae Turpin muffed the punt, and Christian Holmes secured it for himself before going down at the Cowboys' 15. The drive ended in a missed field goal, but on a positive note, it did take a possession away from the Cowboys' potent offense.
3. The defense shined.
Injuries were a problem for the Commanders throughout the week with several starters out. This was particularly true for the defense, as Kam Curl, Benjamin St-Juste, Jonathan Allen and Jamin Davis were not available for Sunday.
Rather than allow the Cowboys to rack up points, Washington ended the night with one of its better defensive showings.
Not only did Washington hold the Cowboys to their worst scoring performance of the season, but they also gave Dak Prescott fits all evening. He was held to 128 yards through the air, which was the lowest of the season for the two-time Pro Bowler. That played a part in Washington allowing the Cowboys to convert only four third downs on 18 attempts.
The Cowboys, which perhaps have one of the backfield duos in Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, ran into a wall made of Commanders defenders all night. Pollard had only 19 yards, while Elliott had 10, contributing to a rushing performance of just 64 yards on 27 carries.
It was their worst rushing total since Week 4.
4. The running game functioned without its top weapons.
Washington, on the other hand, had no such issues running the ball against a Dallas defense that averaged 129 yards allowed on the ground.
Despite not having Brian Robinson Jr. or Antonio Gibson, Washington exceeded that average with 151 rushing yards on 41 carries.
More than half of that came from Jaret Patterson, who spent most of the season on the practice squad before being signed to the active roster on Jan. 5. He did not break off many explosive runs -- his longest gain was 14 yards -- but he was efficient with 17 carries, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt.
Howell's effectiveness with his legs has already been mentioned, but Jonathan Williams also proved to be a viable option with 32 yards on 14 carries. Like Patterson, he did not have many explosive plays, but he kept his feet moving forward and helped Washington avoid difficult down-and-distance situations.
Players like Patterson and Williams show that Washington's depth can be useful when put in the right circumstances.
The Washington Commanders have begun their 2022 season finale against the Dallas Cowboys. Check out the top photos from the afternoon. (Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
5. A chance to build on next season.
Washington's season ends with the win over the Cowboys. A 6-1 stretch sandwiched between rough patches led to the team being eliminated from playoff contention, leaving a bittersweet taste in the mouths of the players and coaches.
Seeing the Cowboys' fans leave while the Burgundy & Gold faithful sang Steam's "Nah Nah Hey Hey Goodbye" was a delight, though.
The win does give Washington's staff plenty to look at over the offseason, and there are positives to celebrate. Aside from the fact that Washington finished a season with eight wins for the first time since 2016, the Commanders proved they have some depth players who can perform in larger roles. The defense held the Cowboys' offense in check all night, and the offense showed that it can be dynamic under the right circumstances.
There are still questions on the roster, most notably at quarterback, but Washington has the entire offseason to learn, build and prepare for the next time they take the field.