The Washington Commanders wrapped up the 2022 season with some spark and positivity, beating the Dallas Cowboys, 26-6, at FedExField. Quarterback Sam Howell, wide receiver Terry McLaurin, cornerback Danny Johnson and linebacker Khaleke Hudson all had strong performances that helped power Washington to the win over their division rivals.
On Wednesday, after a season playing backup to Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke while adjusting to life in the NFL, Howell learned that he would be starting the Commanders' season finale against the Cowboys. Not only would this game give him his first NFL start, but it would also give him his first-ever minutes of NFL regular season action.
The former UNC star's first play of the game could not have gone any more perfectly. Handling his first snap with just four minutes off the clock, the rookie signal-caller threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin that gave Washington an early lead. In the third quarter, Howell enjoyed his own jaunt in the end zone to extend the Commanders' lead to 14 points, making him the first Washington quarterback to throw and rush for a score in a single game since Robert Griffin III in 2012.
Howell finished with 11-of-19 for 169 yards and one touchdown. His only major blip throughout the contest was an interception early in the second quarter, but that will not be what many remember about the young quarterback's first start. Instead, it was his strong arm, accuracy and running skills that made an impression sure to have excitement bubbling about his future.
Washington's No. 1 wide receiver looked to be having fun in the Burgundy & Gold's final 2022 fixture. Like Sam Howell, his day could not have gotten off to a better start as his first touch was also a touchdown. McLaurin was hyped after the play, and later revealed that, beyond just being happy to put up points so early in the game, he was excited to have found the ball in his hands on that specific concept, as it had not panned out for him the entire year.
In addition to that touchdown, his fifth of the season, McLaurin set a new single-season career high in receiving yards. That tally ticked up as the contest continued. His longest reception, which came with under a minute left in the third quarter, provided one of the most memorable plays of the night. Howell unleashed a 52-yard bomb that found McLaurin perfectly in stride. The wide receiver ended the game with three receptions on six targets for 74 yards, bringing his season total to 1,191 yards.
Johnson has been a commendable model of the "next man up" mentality. Last week against the Browns, Johnson took over the starting role from an injured Benjamin St-Juste and made some solid plays to disrupt Cleveland's offense.
Last night against Dallas, he built on that performance and helped hold the Cowboys to their worst scoring performance of the season. In the second quarter, Johnson broke up a pass on third down intended for Michael Gallup and then did the same on third-and-9 in the third quarter to force the Cowboys to punt.
In Johnson's last five games, he has defended eight passes and five of those have been on third down. In addition to his pass breakups, he finished the game with seven tackles in an impressive outing that coaches will certainly file in the back of their minds this offseason.
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)
Another player who does not usually start and received a lot of praise for his play against the Cowboys was Hudson. The linebacker, who had only played five defensive snaps all season before the Week 18 matchup, seized his opportunity against Dallas and was active all evening. He made life difficult for some of the Cowboys' usual most potent threats, limiting Pollard, Prescott, Schultz and Lamb to just a few yards on several plays.
Hudson finished with seven tackles in an energetic and effective performance in which he played 100% of the snaps. Head coach Ron Rivera said he had a "tremendous game." Football aside, it has been an emotional time for the 25-year-old linebacker, who watched his childhood friend, Damar Hamlin, collapse and be resuscitated on the field last Monday in the middle of the Bills-Bengals game.
After the way he carried himself in practice throughout the week and went out against the Cowboys, Rivera gave a game ball to Hudson during the coach's victory speech in the locker room.