By R.L. Bynum
Rookie Sam Howell may have been the Washington Commanders’ third quarterback in Saturday’s 23–21 loss to the Carolina Panthers in the exhibition opener for both teams, but he was easily the most impressive.
The fifth-round pick out of UNC gave the home fans in Landover, Md., a good display of his versatile skills. Commanders fans discovered that Howell may have been the steal of the draft as he moved the ball with ease against his hometown team.
Howell led two second-half scoring drives to rally Washington from a 20–6 deficit to a 21–20 lead.
Howell said that his biggest takeaway from his first NFL exhibition action was the pace of the game.
“I just saw just how fast the game is,” Howell said. “I was just super excited to get out here for my first real game experience. It just feels good to have the first one.”
Washington coach Ron Rivera liked what he saw.
“The more he learns, the better he’s going to become. I think he’s going to have a bright future,” Rivera said.
After starter Carson Wentz and second-string Washington QB Taylor Heinicke combined for 95 passing yards and 14 rushing yards, Howell was 9 of 16 passing for 145 yards, completed a two-point conversion pass and ran for 19 yards and two touchdowns. He put up an 86.7 passer rating, playing 45% of the Commanders’ snaps (31).
Howell entered the game with nine minutes left in the third quarter and played the rest of the game.
Howell was responsible for the three longest Washington plays in the game. He completed passes to Kyric McGowan for 27 yards, to Alex Erickson for 25 yards and to Dax Milne for 23 yards. His 17-yard pass to Marken Michel was the fifth-longest and his 17-yard touchdown run was the sixth-longest.
Both of Howell’s touchdowns came in the fourth quarter, one on a scramble for 17 yards and the other on a one-yard run.
After the second score with 2:26 left, Howell connected with Erickson on a two-point conversion to give the Commanders their first lead of the day.
A 45-yard field goal by Panthers quarterback Zane Gonzalez with 24 seconds left gave them the victory.
Former Carolina wide receiver Dyami Brown caught two passes on three targets for 14 yards for Washington while linebacker Cole Holcomb had four tackles in limited action.
Washington’s next exhibition game at 4 p.m. Saturday in Kansas City will air on NFL Network.