Howell, who was benched in favor of Jacoby Brissett last week, ended up starting on Sunday anyway after Brissett was added to injury report and eventually ruled out because of hamstring tightness. Howell ended the day going 17-of-28 for 169 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in the 27-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
"[I] thought Sam had some really good moments," Rivera said after the game. "Early on when things were balanced, it was one of those things that the situation gave him an opportunity and he performed. He really did. I thought he made some good decisions, threw some really good balls, and it's just obviously there are a couple throws I promise you he would wish he had back, but he did a lot of good things."
After starting the season with some solid performances, Howell has struggled in the second half of the season as the quality of defenses has improved. Over the last six games, he has thrown 10 interceptions, pushing him to 19 for the year, to just three touchdowns since Nov. 12. He has not thrown for more than 200 yards in the last month.
The plan was for Howell to sit for at least a week to let him learn from Brissett, an experienced veteran with more experience running a West Coast offense, handled the role. But with Brissett reporting hamstring tightness and being unable to satisfy trainers during warmups on Sunday, Howell was named the starter hours before kickoff.
Howell still wasn't perfect, but there were times when he looked closer to the version of himself that led the Commanders' offense in Weeks 1-10. He had a 42-yard completion to Terry McLaurin and a 25-yard pass to Curtis Samuel on a second-and-20. His touchdown pass to McLaurin in the second quarter also tied the score at 10-10.
Brissett will be Howell's backup.
Howell will match up against a Cowboys defense that is eighth in yards allowed and fifth in points allowed. The last time Howell saw the Cowboys, he threw for 300 yards on 28 completions with an interception that was returned for a touchdown by DaRon Bland.
Howell (3,793 yards) has a chance to be the first Washington quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards since Kirk Cousins in 2017. He is projected to finish the season with 4,030 yards, which would be the fifth best single season performance from a Washington quarterback in franchise history.