Terry McLaurin got his first taste of Sam Howell’s arm strength with 44 seconds left in the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys, and it was a delectable jolt to the Washington Commanders' offense.
McLaurin, lined up wide right of the formation, had a step on Trayon Mullen on a go route. It was not much separation, but Howell had watched McLaurin from the sideline enough to know that McLaurin can come down with the ball in a one-on-one situation.
McLaurin secured the catch for a 52-yard gain, making it the most explosive play of the night for the Commanders.
"That ball literally like walked into my hands," McLaurin said after the 26-6 win. "Hopefully, in the future, we can see more of that."
Howell was not necessarily playing for a starting job in Week 18, but he was providing a look at what the future could be. There is a whole offseason for Washington to work out its quarterback situation for 2023, but Howell did prove that he could be part of that conversation.
"Did things that we believed...he's capable of," Ron Rivera said. "I thought he handled it very nicely, went out and did some really good things."
There were several unknown factors surrounding Howell when Rivera made the surprising decision to put the rookie in the spotlight for the season finale. The tools were certainly there -- he showed some of that in the preseason finale against the Baltimore Ravens -- but there were few updates on how he had developed since then.
Any speculation on how Howell would perform in his first start, which happened to be against a defense that was tied for third with 54 sacks, evaporated with his first-ever completion. With the ball at the Cowboys' 16-yard line, Howell fired a pass to McLaurin, who finished the play in the end zone.
It was a "super cool" moment, Howell said, one that involved him having to trade a signed ball to a fan after McLaurin chucked the ball into the stands. But what was more impressive was that the touchdown came on a concept that McLaurin had not been involved in.
"I don't think I've gotten that ball on that concept all year," McLaurin said. "But when I saw the linebacker match me, I knew I was one on one, this is a chance right here. So, I clear the linebacker and he puts the ball right one my front number and I was able to just walk in."
It was a play Washington fans have been anxious to see, especially considering the team's recent struggles in the red zone. For Jahan Dotson, who caught three of Howell's passes for 72 yards, Howell's calm demeanor was not a surprise.
"We knew he was capable of doing what he did today," Dotson said. "He played a great game, getting everyone the ball, putting it on the money. He played an awesome game. I'm just super happy for him."
It was also impressive that Howell was able to take advantage of the opportunities that the Commanders' defense, which held Dallas to its lowest scoring performance all season, gave him. This was particularly true in the second half; while the Cowboys were limited to six three-and-outs, Howell led his offense to 13 points.
"We've seen him in training camp and scout team looks during practice," Kendall Fuller said in the locker room. "We know he has the arm strength. We know he has the talent, and we trust all three of those guys back there."
Arm talent was not the only thing he showed off on Sunday. Howell also carried the ball five times for 35 yards. None of them were explosive plays, but they were enough to keep the unit churning. He even scored his first rushing touchdown after keeping the ball and running up the middle of the defense for a nine-yard score.
"That's something I wanted to do," Howell said. "We talked about there being some opportunities on third down and a couple running lanes we thought we might have. And that's what we had. I tried to do my best to stay on the field and keep the chains moving."
Howell was more tempered when evaluating his performance. "I thought it was alright," he said.
"It was just fun to get out there and play some football with those guys. It was a lot of fun to get out there but there were definitely some things that I could've done better. On offense, we left a lot of points out there, but overall, it's just fun to go out there and play football again and get the win."
There was no proclamation on Howell's future from Rivera after the game, other than the fact that "he'll be a QB." There is still much to decide at the position, and Howell is at least part of that discussion.
For now, Howell showing that he does belong in the NFL is enough to be happy about.
"This is a guy who played some pretty big-time football and handled that pretty well," Rivera said. "He just did a nice job."