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Sam Howell showed once again why he deserves to be Commanders' starting QB


Jahan Dotson smiled when asked if he was surprised by the way Sam Howell played against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football.

"Not at all," Dotson told reporters. "I've been saying it since we drafted him, since last year when people started asking me questions about him. He has all the talent in the world."

That sentiment is shared by head coach Ron Rivera and the rest of the Washington Commanders' roster. Though he wasn't perfect in the 29-28 victory over the Ravens, Howell showed off the talent Dotson alluded to in the first half, completing 19-of-25 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns.

Put as many caveats on it being the preseason as you want, but Howell is proving that Rivera was right to name him the starting quarterback. That has the head coach, and the rest of the team, excited about the future.

"I thought Sam did exactly what we were expecting him to do," Rivera said. "He went out, executed, took control of the offense, took control of the huddle and did a good job at the line of scrimmage."

Howell got 40 plays of action on Monday night -- more than doubling what he had against the Cleveland Browns -- and for the most part looked comfortable, poised and accurate as he led the Commanders' offense. That falls in line with how Howell has played since training camp began in August. Sure, the growing pains are there; he took two sacks against the Ravens that he admitted after the game were his fault. But the team is willing to live with them because he learns from his mistakes and doesn't let them build off each other.

That was the case on the Commanders' opening drive, when a sack at the 43-yard line turned a second-and-2 into a third-and-15. Negative plays like that are normally drive-killers, but Howell responded by calmly sitting in the pocket and firing a shot to Cole Turner for a 16-yard pickup.

"I just needed to relax," Howell said. "I was kind of just trying to make a play, trying to do too much. But, especially in that position, early in the game, just be smart, get the ball out of my hands and don't take a big loss like that."

That reignited the offense, and the unit began chipping its way down the field. A pair of 13-yard pickups by Terry McLaurin, and a six-yard scramble by Howell on second-and-1 helped Washington get to the Ravens' 3-yard line before kicking a field goal to wrap up a 15-play drive and get on the board.

The goal is always to get in the end zone, especially on drives that long, but there is something to be said for the way Howell completed five of his six pass attempts -- the incompletion was intentionally thrown out of the end zone -- and placed the ball exactly where it needed to be.

"There are a couple things I know that he does want to have back, but I thought he executed and handled the situation, circumstances the way he needed to," Rivera said.

Check out the best photos from the Washington Commanders' second preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)

Howell was just as efficient on the Commanders' drive that followed an interception from Quan Martin. He completed six of his seven pass attempts, including a nine-yard touchdown to Antonio Gibson, but what was perhaps most impressive was the way he delivered on a fourth-and-3 at the Ravens' 27-yard line. The ball was tipped by defensive tackle Travis Jones, but it still found its way to Dotson, who completed the 16-yard reception.

Howell has been praised by Rivera for his levelheaded approach to the position, and that was the case once again against the Ravens. That kind of demeanor matters to his teammates.

"He always kept his composure, and it helps us a lot because we don't always want to be up and down," said wideout Dyami Brown. "We want to be steady to make sure everything is okay and we can go out there and execute."

That composure came in handy on Howell's final drive of the game, when the Commanders had 94 seconds to score before halftime. Things started off poorly with a seven-yard sack, but Howell bounced back with an eight-yard scramble and passes of 13 and 16 yards to Terry McLaurin and Dotson, respectively.

"I think that's one thing that we do a good job of with the guys we got," Howell said. "When something goes bad, it's all about the next play and we can do everything. Obviously, the sack was bad, it was my fault, but I knew we had another opportunity in the next play."

It also helped that the Commanders have emphasized maximizing their opportunities in two-minute drills.

"We put a lot of focus on our two-minute drills and [Eric Bieniemy] cares about it a lot because he says all the time in the NFL, that's where a lot of games are won or lost," Howell said. "So, we put a lot of focus into it and that shows."

Howell ended the drive, and his night, with an 11-yard touchdown to Brown, putting Washington up 17-10. It was yet another test for Howell, and like all the rest, Rivera thought he handled it "extremely well."

"There's a lot of pressure obviously, and we know how important the quarterback position is in the league and how important it is in this area," Rivera said. "We've been looking for one, and I think we have an opportunity to have a guy that has a chance to be a really good football player for us."

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