Howell named starting quarterback for Commanders' season finale

Sam Howell
Posted at 10:09 PM, Jan 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-04 22:09:08-05

ASHBURN, VA (WTKR)- With the Commanders' playoff hopes buried for the 2022 season, Ron Rivera will get a look at what the future may hold for the franchise, including the quarterback position.

Rivera announced on Wednesday that rookie Sam Howell will start at QB and make his NFL debut for Washington on Sunday against the Cowboys. ESPN reported that Rivera was initially prepared to start Old Dominion product Taylor Heinicke, but changed course after speaking with team leaders and members of his coaching staff. According to that report, Heinicke endorsed the rookie and said he was deserving the opportunity to start the Week 18 rivalry match-up.

"I've worked my whole life to, to get to where I am right now," Howell said during his media availability on Wednesday. "When coach told me the news this morning, I was super excited and I'm just gonna go out there and try to give him my all."

"I think that the opportunity is going to be a good one for him to go out and play football and just kind of show us," Rivera said. "We're not going to judge everything on Sam based on just one game. We are going to get an opportunity to see him and see how he prepares and gives himself the opportunity to play.”

Heinicke will serve as Howell's primary back-up on Sunday, with Carson Wentz inactive. Wentz returned to the starting role last Sunday, throwing for 143 yards and three interceptions in Washington's 24-10 loss to the Browns. Rivera said on Wednesday that he did not consider going back to Wentz at starting quarterback for the season finale.

"Going with Taylor would've given us an opportunity to see what they're doing, how they're doing it, and would've given Sam a chance to take a look at it," Rivera noted. "But at the end of the day, at some point if Sam ever gets the opportunity to be a starter, this would be the chance. Why not get it over with now and go from there? But the most important thing is that we're really intrigued in terms of watching and seeing what Sam can do as a quarterback in this league.”

“I really try not to worry about what I have to prove to people," added Howell. "At the end of the day I want to prove to my teammates that I can do this job and I just want to prove to them that I'm capable of playing in the NFL."

Howell, a fifth round draft pick in 2022 out of North Carolina, praised Heinicke and Wentz for their help throughout the season and their assistance through the process. He served as Heinicke's back-up for seven games before Wentz returned from a finger injury that saw the veteran quarterback placed on injured reserve. Heinicke went 5-3-1 during his stint as the starter this season, but Washington was 0-2-1 during his final three starts.

The rookie will become the eighth player to start at quarterback for the Commanders in Rivera's three years as head coach and 33rd since the team last won the Super Bowl during the 1991 campaign. Of note, wide receiver Terry McLaurin has caught passes from ten different starting quarterbacks during his four seasons in Washington.

While the Commanders will get a glimpse of the future by playing Howell and some other young players, Dallas enters the game still in the hunt for the NFC East title and the top seed in the NFC. A Cowboys victory combined with an Eagles loss to the Giants would give Mike McCarthy and company the division crown.

Kickoff between the Commanders and Cowboys is set for 4:25 PM on Sunday at FedEx Field.