After a three-game skid, the Washington Commanders are feeling just peachy about their 24-16 win over the Falcons to bring the team back to .500 on the season. Quarterback Sam Howell, cornerback Kendall Fuller and cornerback Benjamin St-Juste stepped up to help deliver the Burgundy & Gold a key bounce back win.
It seems clear that Washington's starting quarterback is studying tape and correcting mistakes each week as he continues to show signs of improvement in critical areas. In yesterday's win, for example, Howell took time to watch plays develop instead of forcing passes and executed crisp throws after making good decisions. Not to mention, he was dynamic with those throws, releasing quick, short passes to the likes of Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson and airing it out on more than one occasion to Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel.
Howell finished the game with 14 completions on 23 attempts, 151 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Those last two numbers were big for the young signal caller. Sunday's victory was the first time he has thrown three TDs in a game in his budding NFL career and those zero interceptions demonstrate his focus on protecting the ball -- an emphasis Coach Ron Rivera has voiced in recent weeks.
The 1,602 yards Howell has thrown through his first seven games in Washington are the most by a Washington quarterback ever in that span. The evidence points to a lot of promise for No. 14, and Rivera knows that when the quarterback plays like he did against Atlanta, he can catalyze the whole team's performance.
"As he grows and develops and continues to do positive things, it gives every opportunity to be even better as a football team," Rivera said after the game. "I think his growth is going to be real critical, real important for us to continue to grow."
While protecting the ball is important for the offense to win games, taking the ball away is vital for that same pursuit on the other side of the ball. Both last season and into this season, Rivera and the defensive staff have talked at length about the need for Washington's defense to create more turnovers.
Fuller heard the message loud and clear, and yesterday he took matters into his own hands to put one of those sought-after tallies onto the stat sheet. With Washington up by a touchdown to start the second half, Fuller expertly read a Desmond Ridder pass intended for Van Jefferson on third-and-7. He pounced to intercept it, got up and was able to run all the way down to Atlanta's 27-yard-line. The offense picked it up from there, and Robinson was able to run it in on a 24-yard reception two plays later to extend Washington's lead.
The Commanders came into the game with just two interceptions on the season, and Fuller, who was also responsible for one in Week 3 against the Bills, got the ball rolling for the defense in a game-changing area of yesterday's contest. He also finished the game with more solo tackles (9) than anyone else on defense.
Fuller got the interception game rolling for the Commanders, and Benjamin St-Juste kept it going. With just over five minutes to play in yesterday's game and the offense in the red zone, Atlanta had an opportunity to chip away at Washington's advantage.
Great pressure on Ridder by Washington's front forced the quarterback to lob a half-strength ball to his receiver in the end zone though, and St-Juste made him pay. The cornerback leapt for a relatively easy catch for his first career interception. Just as important as the catch itself, however, was the move St-Juste made to take a knee in the end zone after securing the ball.
"It was a smart decision to just go down, just in case someone comes from behind and punches the ball out or whatever," St-Juste said of the moment. "I just had my pick, and I went down. Gave the ball back to the offense, I did my job."
The interception helped seriously deflate Atlanta's hopes for a comeback, which Jamin Davis then squashed for good with 31 seconds left in the game thanks to another interception. Washington's three picks in yesterday's win are its most in a single game since Nov. 24, 2019, vs. Detroit.
When it came to the defense coming out strong, putting a stamp on the game and making big plays in a way that has not been seen perhaps all season, St-Juste said it came down to discipline.
"There was nothing that changed from the previous week," St-Juste said. "We just can be more disciplined and more detailed in our coverage. How we fit the run, how we use the ball, how we help each other and support each other. We stayed disciplined from the first quarter all the way to the fourth and we always say, if we are the most disciplined team, we'll win this game."
With a game on the horizon against the Giants who are hungry for a win, the same winning principles the defense applied yesterday will be needed once again next Sunday in the Meadowlands.