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Practice notes | Howell wants 'to play good football' in season finale

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Sunday's 2023 season finale pitting the Washington Commanders against the Dallas Cowboys will be a full circle moment for Sam Howell. Almost a year ago to the day, Howell was named the starting quarterback for Week 18 against the Cowboys after the Commanders were eliminated from contention in the 2022 playoffs.

The past 365 days have been eventful for Howell. He was named "QB1" for the offseason workout program and officially placed in the role through training camp; he played in 14 games before getting pulled -- twice -- in favor of Jacoby Brissett; he was supposed to be benched for Week 17 before Brissett was ruled out with hamstring tightness; and now he's been named the starter for the Commanders' final game in a disappointing 4-12 season.

"It is crazy, man," Howell said. "I thought a little bit about that. This time last year, I was getting ready to play my first game, and now I have a full year under my belt. Definitely just so blessed to be where I am and just to be a part of this time."

In his first game against the Cowboys, Howell wanted to show how far his development had come during his rookie year. At that point, it was enough to lead the Commanders to a 26-6 win over the Cowboys and create some hype for his future. Now, after an up-and-down year, he's still trying to accomplish the same thing.

"I just want to make sure I go out there and show on Sunday the type of player I really can be in this league," he said.

Giving the fans, team and league a reminder of his potential would be beneficial for Howell, because for the last six weeks, he's looked completely different from the player he was to start the season.

From Weeks 1-10, Howell was doing enough to put himself among some of the best signal-callers in the league. There were frustrating days, like when he had four interceptions in an ugly 37-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills, and his tendency to take too many sacks was a pain point in his development. Those rough spots were not enough to mask the positives that Howell showed with his arm strength, poise and ball placement.

Those traits helped Howell created moment that hinted he might be able to hold the position for longer than the 2023 season. Even in losses, like the ones the Commanders suffered against the Philadelphia Eagles, he still put them in position to win and played well against playoff caliber teams.

For the last six weeks, however, Howell and the Commanders' offense has struggled. He's thrown 10 interceptions in that span, and the offense has only scored more than 20 points once. He flushed himself out of clean pockets, tried to force inadvisable passes into tight windows and generally struggled on deep passes.

Howell insists that those performances are not indicative of who he is.

"I just think I gotta get in a rhythm," Howell said. "I thought I was in a rhythm in the first half on Sunday [against the San Francisco 49ers], and in the second half, we kind of struggled to move the ball a little bit. I just think I gotta come out there and get into a rhythm and sustain that throughout the whole game."

The Washington Commanders began preparing for their final game of the 2023 season on Wednesday.

Although Howell was named the starter hours before kickoff last Sunday, he did look better in the first half than he had in over a month. He was avoiding pressure, choosing to leave the pocket when appropriate, and he was getting rid of the ball quickly. He even showed off his arm strength and accuracy on passes to Terry McLaurin and **Curtis Samuel.**

That did not last, though, and he threw interceptions on back-to-back drives that the 49ers turned into touchdowns. Still, Howell showed enough to convince Ron Rivera that he could finish the year as the starter.

"I thought what Sam did and went out and did the things that we were hoping he would be able to do," Rivera said. "He did some really good things. I thought he managed a couple of the drives very well, very nicely. And again, want to see him get an opportunity to finish it out."

Washington (4-12) enters the season finale with nothing to play for, just as they did in last season's Week 18 game against Dallas. Conversely, the Cowboys have everything to play for, as a win would help them win the NFC East. The Commanders could spoil that with a win, and getting a win over one of their oldest rivals would make the end of the season more palatable.

More than anything, though, Howell just wants to wrap up the season on a positive note.

"I just want to play good football," Howell said.

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