By R.L. Bynum
Sam Howell couldn’t have started his NFL career much better. His first professional pass in a regular-season game went for a 16-yard touchdown play.
More importantly, he led the Washington Commanders to a 26–6 home victory Sunday over their rival Dallas Cowboys and was given the game ball from Coach Ron Rivera after the game.
“Overall, it was just fun to get out there and play football again and get the win,” said Howell, who grew up a Cowboys fan. “It probably didn’t hit me until I ran out there on the field first. But I just said a quick prayer and just tried to stay in a moment and take it one play at a time.”
Howell connected on 11 of 19 passes for 169 yards with one interception for an 83.0 passer rating, and ran five times for 35 yards and a touchdown. He became the first rookie Washington quarterback to throw and run for a score since Robert Griffin III in 2012.
“It is about the QB making plays they’re supposed to make and, every now and then when you need a big play, make a big play,” Rivera said. “That’s what we need to get to.”
The fifth-round draft pick did that with a 52-yard completion to Terry McLaurin on the last play of the third quarter. That led to a 29-yard Joey Slye field goal to push the Commanders’ lead to 23–6. McLaurin also caught the touchdown pass in the first quarter.
“The ball literally walked into my hands,” McLaurin said, adding that Howell “makes some throws that make you say wow.”
Rivera said he saw the same player he saw at Carolina and that he delivered the ball on time and had good anticipation.
“He’ll definitely be a quarterback [on the team],” said Rivera, who didn’t say whether he saw him as a starter. “I won’t give you a number at this point.”
Howell said he’s not worried about his situation, knowing he’s the only quarterback under contract with Washington for next season.
“All I can do is control what I can control,” he said. “I know there’s probably a lot of decisions to be made. But I’m just gonna go to work and just try to become the best player I can and come back here better than I left. And so I don’t know what the situation would be, but you know, whatever it is. I’ll be ready for it. And I’ll come back ready to play.”
McLaurin was impressed with Howell’s postgame speech (the video is in the below tweet).
“For a rookie to get his first start against a team like that and to play the way he did, overcome some adversity and then give a speech — I’ve heard some good speeches, but not from a young guy like that,” he said.
McLaurin said that he regretted throwing the ball into the stands after the first touchdown. Howell signed a football two minutes after his first career touchdown pass to help the team negotiate with the fan to get it back.
Washington quarterback Carson Wentz let Howell’s family use his suite in the Commanders’ stadium.
Washington (8–8–1) ended a four-game winless streak to avoid its third consecutive losing season.
Dyami Brown saw limited action off the Washington bench, with eight offensive snaps. He notched a tackle on punt coverage on one of his nine special-teams snaps.
Giovani Bernard had a season-high seven carries and 28 rushing yards in Tampa Bay’s 30–17 victory at Atlanta to end the season for Coach Arthur Smith’s Falcons at 7–10. Jalen Dalton wasn’t active for the game for Atlanta.
Interim coach Jeff Saturday’s Indianapolis Colts finished the season with seven consecutive losses after they beat the Las Vegas Raiders in Saturday’s debut. The Colts lost 32–31 to the Houston Texans to finish 4–12–1.
For the Texans, M.J. Stewart Jr. had four tackles, a special-teams assist and a fumble recovery in 45 total snaps. Offensive lineman Charlie Heck played four special-teams snaps.
Michael Carter started in the New York Jets’ 11–6 Sunday victory over Miami, rushing four yards on three carries and catching two passes for a net gain of one yard with a six-yard reception. He played 18 total snaps compared to 17 for former N.C. State running back Bam Knight, who ran for 22 yards on 12 carries.
Ty Chandler had six carries for 20 yards in Minnesota’s 29–13 win at Chicago in 12 offensive snaps.
Tomon Fox had four tackles, one for a loss, and a special-teams tackle in the New York Giants’ 22–16 loss at Philadelphia. He played all 73 defensive snaps and 17 snaps on special teams.
The Eagles’ Robert Quinn returned after a stint on injured reserve with a knee injury and had no statistics in 18 defensive snaps.
In the Las Vegas Raiders’ 31–13 Saturday home loss to Kansas City, Mack Hollins had two catches for 15 yards.
James Hurst started at left tackle and played all 60 offensive snaps for New Orleans in the Saints’ 20–7 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Andre Smith had one special-teams tackle and one special-teams assist in 10 special-teams snaps during Tennessee’s 20–16 Saturday loss at Jacksonville.
Mitchell Trubisky didn’t play in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ season-ending 28–14 home win over Cleveland.
Giovani Bernard, Tampa Bay Bucs running back
Age 31 | 5–9, 205 | 10th NFL season | UNC 2011–12
30–17 Sunday win at Atlanta — 7 carries, 28 yards (8 longest); 2 catches on 2 targets, -1 yards (6 longest); 25 offensive snaps (45%), 15 special-teams snaps (54%)
Season statistics — 8 games, 8 carries, 28 yards (8 longest); 2 catches on 2 targets, -1 yards (6 longest)
Up next — Wild-card playoff game: 8:15 p.m. Monday vs. Dallas, ESPN, ABC, ESPN2
Dyami Brown, Washington Commanders wide receiver
Age 23 | 6–0, 195 | second NFL season | UNC 2018–20
26–6 Sunday win vs. Dallas — 1 special-teams tackle; 8 offensive snaps (12%), 9 special-teams snaps ()26%)
Season statistics — 15 games, 5 catches on 12 targets for 143 yards (28.6 average, 75 longest), 2 TDs; 1 rush, 15 yards, 1 special-teams tackle, 1 special-teams assist
The Commanders didn’t qualify for the playoffs
Michael Carter, New York Jets running back
Age 23 | 5–8, 201 | second NFL season | UNC 2017–20
11–6 Sunday win at Miami — Started; 3 carries, 4 yards (2 longest); 2 catches on 3 targets, 1 yard (6 longest); 18 offensive snaps (32%)
Season statistics — 16 games, 10 starts; 114 carries, 402 yards (25 longest, 3.5 average), 3 TDs; 41 catches on 50 targets, 288 yards (37 longest, 7.0 average)
The Jets didn’t qualify for the playoffs
Ty Chandler, Minnesota Vikings running back
Age 24 | 5–11, 204 | Rookie | UNC 2021
29–13 Sunday win at Chicago — 6 carries, 20 yards (10 longest); 12 offensive snaps (17%), 11 special-teams snaps (48%)
Season statistics — 3 games, 6 carries, 20 yards (10 longest)
Up next — Wild-card playoff game: 4:30 p.m. Sunday vs. New York Giants, Fox
Jalen Dalton, Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle
Age 25 | 6–6, 300 | third NFL season | UNC 2015–18
30–17 Sunday loss vs. Tampa Bay — Wasn’t active for the game
Season statistics — 7 games, 8 tackles, 5 assists
The Falcons didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
Tomon Fox, New York Giants linebacker
Age 24 | 6–3, 260 | rookie NFL season | UNC 2016–21
22–16 Sunday loss at Philadelphia — Started; 4 tackles (1 for a loss), 1 special-teams tackle; 73 defensive snaps (100%), 17 special-teams snaps (61%)
Season statistics — 13 games, 3 starts; 11 tackles, 9 assists, 1 sack, 1 special-teams tackle
Up next — Wild-card playoff game: 4:30 p.m. Sunday at Minnesota, Fox
Charlie Heck, Houston Texans tackle
Age 26 | 6–8, 311 | third NFL season | UNC 2015–19
32–31 Sunday win at Indianapolis — Played four special-teams snaps (15%)
Season statistics — 13 games, 3 starts; 156 offensive snaps, 49 special-teams snaps
The Texans didn’t qualify for the playoffs
Mack Hollins, Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver
Age 29 | 6–4, 221 | sixth NFL season | UNC 2013–16
31–13 Saturday loss vs. Kansas City — Started; 2 catches on 3 targets for 15 yards (12 longest); 66 offensive snaps (94%), 5 special-teams snaps (22%)
Season statistics — 17 games, 13 starts; 1 of 1 passing, 4 yards; 4 rush, 40 yards (10.0 average; 17 longest); 57 catches on 90 targets, 690 yards (12.1 average, 60 longest), 4 TDs
The Raiders didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
Sam Howell, Washington Commanders quarterback
Age 22 | 6–1, 220 | rookie NFL season |UNC 2019–21
26–6 Sunday win vs. Dallas (NFL debut) — Started; 11 of 19, 169 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception, 83.0 rating; 5 rushes, 35 yards (10 longest); 66 offensive snaps (100%)
The Commanders didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
James Hurst, New Orleans Saints tackle
Age 31 | 6–5, 310 | ninth NFL season | UNC 2010–13
10–7 Sunday loss vs. Carolina — Started at left tackle; 60 offensive snaps (100%), 3 special-teams snaps (15%)
Season statistics — 14 games; 14 starts, 1 fumble recovery, 1 tackle on an interception return; 975 offensive snaps, 36 special-teams snaps
The Saints didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
James Robert Quinn, Philadelphia Eagles linebacker
Age 32 | 6–4, 264 | 12th NFL season | UNC 2008–09
22–16 Sunday win vs. New York Giants — Had no statistics in 18 defensive snaps (29%) off the bench
Season statistics — 13 games, 7 starts; 8 tackles (1 for a loss), 2 assists, 1 sack
Up next — Divisional round playoff game Jan. 21 or Jan. 22 against the winner of Monday’s Dallas at Tampa Bay game
Andre Smith, Tennessee Titans defensive lineman
Age 25 | 6–0, 240 | fifth NFL season | UNC 2015–17
20–16 Saturday loss at Jacksonville— 1 special-teams tackle, 1 special-teams assist; 10 special-tams snaps (42%)
Season statistics — 5 games; 3 tackles, 1 special-teams tackle, 1 special-teams assist
Tennessee didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
M.J. Stewart Jr., Houston Texans safety
Age 27 | 5–11, 200 | fifth NFL season | UNC 2014–17
32–31 Sunday win at Indianapolis — 4 tackles, 1 special team assist, 1 fumble recovery; 22 defensive snaps (85%), 23 special-teams snaps (85%)
Season statistics — 16 games; 27 tackles, 5 assists, 1 tackle for a loss, 2 fumble recoveries, 7 special-teams tackles, 5 special-teams assists
The Texans didn’t qualify for the playoffs
Mitchell Trubisky, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback
Age 28 | 6–2, 220 | sixth NFL season | UNC 2014–16
28–14 Sunday win vs. Cleveland — Didn’t play
Season statistics — 7 games, 5 starts; 117 of 180, 1,252 yards (45 longest), 4 TDs, 5 INTs, 11 sacks; 19 rushes, 38 yards, 1 TD
Pittsburgh didn’t qualify for the playoffs
Out for the season
Running back Javonte Williams, Denver (torn ACL in right knee); 4 games, 4 starts; 47 carries, 204 yards (4.3 average, 17 longest); 16 catches on 22 targets, 76 yards (4.8 average, 13 longest)
On injured reserve
Offensive lineman Joshua Ezeudu, New York Giants, neck injury (10 games, 2 starts; 245 offensive snaps, 136 special-teams snaps)
Linebacker Cole Holcomb, Washington, foot injury (7 games, 7 starts; 37 tackles, 32 assists)
On practice squads
Fullback Jake Bargas, Miami Dolphins (signed Nov. 9; released in camp first by Vikings, then by Bears)
Defensive tackle Aaron Crawford, New York Giants (signed Nov. 9; Ravens released him during training cap)
Defensive back Myles Dorn, Minnesota Vikings (5 games, 1 tackle, 1 special-teams tackle)
Cornerback Kyler McMichael, Buffalo Bills
Linebacker Chazz Surratt, New York Jets (released by Minnesota)
Signed to practice squads, then released
Wide receiver Dazz Newsome, Kansas City (released earlier in camp by Chicago)
Released during camp and unsigned
Linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel, Denver (earlier by San Francisco)
Wide receiver Austin Proehl, New York Giants
Offensive tackle Jordan Tucker, Pittsburgh
Released from injured reserve with settlement
Tight end Bug Howard, Tampa Bay
Released after Week 3
Running back Antonio Williams, New York Giants
Photo via @Commanders