Sam Howell didn't want to hype himself up after his 397-yard performance against the Philadelphia Eagles. Given that the Washington Commanders are 3-5 at the halfway(ish) point of the season, it's difficult to focus on individual accolades, especially just minutes after a 38-31 defeat at home.
"I wasn't my best when my best was needed and it hurt the team today," Howell said, bringing more attention to the interception he threw in the fourth quarter that preceded the Eagles taking a touchdown lead.
Yes, with just nine starts in the NFL, Howell still has a long way to go in his professional career. But through all the growing pains, there have been glimpses of a bright future.
After putting up career highs in yards, completions and touchdowns against the Eagles, Howell has placed himself among the most statistically successful quarterbacks this season. He's sixth in yards (2,146), third in completions (209) and tied for sixth in scores (13). To the Commanders, those are some of the signs that the franchise may have found a long-term answer at quarterback.
"It's something that we've talked about," head coach Ron Rivera said on Monday. "I think when you start seeing the production that he's having, it's now time for us to go out and do the things that we're capable of."
Although it came in a loss, Howell was at his best last Sunday, and he did so against a defense considered to be one of the league's best.
Howell looked like a different quarterback in Week 8 compared to how he performed in East Rutherford, New Jersey against the New York Giants. Where Howell was constantly under pressure and inaccurate against the Giants, he was poised, calm and managed the game while taking shots when necessary.
Just to show how significant the bounce back from Howell was, consider this: Howell didn't get 10 completions in Washington's game against the Giants until there were just over three minutes left in the third quarter. Against the Eagles, Howell reached that mark on the Commanders' third drive of the game.
"I thought his delivery was where it needed to be. He was close a couple times on a couple of really nice shots that were downfield," Rivera said. "I liked the fact that he chose to take a couple of shots too. That was good."
The Commanders benefited often from Howell stretching the field against the Eagles. That started with 7:13 in the first quarter, when he connected with Terry McLaurin on a 26-yard touchdown pass. McLaurin had to leap for the pass, but the ball was delivered on time and exactly where McLaurin needed it to be.
Later in the first half, Howell threaded a pass between three defenders to Jahan Dotson, putting the Commanders near midfield with an opportunity to put points on the board with 13 seconds left in the second quarter.
"The ball placement on some of the touchdown passes were outstanding and again, his command out there was really good," Rivera said.
Howell's comfort level in the pocket was also an improvement over what it was against the Giants. Some of that is because the protection from the offensive line, which featured new starters in Chris Paul and Tyler Larsen, was better than it has been at any point in the season. After giving up 40 sacks in the first seven games, Howell was only brough down once.
But the game plan for Howell played just as much of a role in protecting him as the offensive line. Unlike in previous weeks, Howell was more active in the backfield, scrambling to avoid pressure and finding options downfield. That was the case in the second quarter, when he sprinted to his right before finding Dotson for a 23-yard reception.
The Commanders also emphasized getting the ball out of Howell's hands quicker to get him in a groove through passes closer to the line of scrimmage. On the Commanders' first drive of the game, for example, Howell hit Brian Robinson Jr. on a screen pass that resulted in a nine-yard pickup.
Howell didn't attempt a pass longer than the first-down marker until his touchdown pass to McLaurin.
"I see growth from Sam every week," Robinson said. "That's something we speak about and we work on. I expect to see him continue to grow week-in and week-out."
After the game, Howell said he liked how the game was called by assistant head coach/offensive coordinator **Eric Bieniemy.**
"We did a lot of things to keep them off balance."
Even in what was his best performance, Howell still showed that he has more to learn. The only real egregious error he made on Sunday was overshooting McLaurin deep in Commanders territory, which then led to an interception that gave the Eagles a short field just two plays after tying the score. On the following drive, Howell also took a sack on fourth down that all but dashed the Commanders' hopes of a comeback.
"Obviously, the two turnovers caused us late in the game, but until then, I thought I was doing a decent job. Just got to continue to find ways to finish better," he said.
The game also follows a frustrating up-and-down trend for Howell. He played well against the Atlanta Falcons and in the first matchup with the Eagles, but his showings against the Chicago Bears and Giants were uneven at best.
Rivera would like to see that even out, both from Howell and the team as a whole.
"Yesterday was a good example of it," Rivera said. "We saw it the first time we played Philadelphia. We saw it in moments of other games, but we've got to get consistent there."
If Howell can figure that out, it could give the Commanders stability at a position that has been in flux for years.
"Looking at the way this team is put together and where we are, you're hoping that this is coming together, coming to fruition," Rivera said, "and everything we've been talking about since the spring -- committing to him and his growth and development -- is important because I really do think we've got something here with this guy."