Howell’s surprise return ends with a two-interception loss to 49ers
It wasn’t a total loss for fans who made the trek out to Landover on New Year’s Eve.
Terry McLaurin and Brian Robinson Jr. made the big plays they’re known for, Doug E. Fresh performed a halftime show saluting 50 years of hip-hop, and the lines were reasonable at Guy Fieri’s chicken fingers stand.
The rest was business as usual, a 27-10 Washington Commanders loss to the San Francisco 49ers on a crisp winter day where the expected outcome arrived via a wild week.
On Wednesday, quarterback Sam Howell was benched in favor of backup Jacoby Brissett.
Late Thursday, after the Commanders had wrapped up practice and meetings, Brissett reported tightness in his hamstring, and was moved to the “questionable” list for the game.
Brissett did a workout on the field about three hours before the game, but was ultimately scratched, bringing Howell right back to where he started.
Howell was efficient early, leaning on McLaurin, Robinson and Curtis Samuel to make the big plays that kept the offense moving. But as the Niners’ lead inched bigger, and the pressure to make a play grew larger, Howell regressed to form, throwing two second-half interceptions to seal the loss.
“Jacoby was still tight, so we just had to be careful with it, and that’s why we went with Sam,” Rivera said. “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.”
Howell’s final line was 17-of-28 for 169 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. Robinson averaged a respectable 4.9 yards per carry on his 9 carries, but the Commanders ran just 43 offensive plays limiting any player’s ability to post big numbers.
Rivera wouldn’t commit to a starter for next week’s game.
The Commanders have the NFL’s longest losing streak, at seven games, and while the team continued to fight, there hasn’t been much to show for it, with Sunday’s outcome the latest in a string of disappointments for Rivera and his team.
One thing they do have is an improved draft position, thanks to the Arizona Cardinals.
The Commanders leaped the Cardinals for the No. 3 selection in next year’s draft, and could overtake the Patriots for the No. 2 spot if New England can find a way to beat the New York Jets next week, and the Commanders continue to hold serve by losing.
After a Monday night loss to the Ravens, the 49ers put on their hard hats and methodically dismantled the Commanders, leading only by three points at halftime but using a smothering defense in the second half to claim an insurmountable lead. Brock Purdy threw for 230 yards without stretching himself or the offense too much, and after Christian McCaffrey left with a calf injury, Elijah Mitchell took over and ran for 80 yards in relief.
McCaffrey said after the game he’d take things day by day, but acknowledged he likely would have returned to the game if it had been the playoffs.
It was a muted homecoming for Chase Young of the 49ers, who finished with just one credited tackle, but reiterated after the game he appreciated being on a team having the success that San Francisco has had.
While Young’s play was quiet, the Niners’ locker room was anything but, as they celebrated clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC and a bye week on the first week of the playoffs.
That contrasted with another subdued, pack-the-bags-quickly afternoon on the Commanders’ side, as some of the players had showered and left before all the 1 p.m. games had finished.
Howell said he’ll try to take what he can from the positives of a start he originally wasn’t supposed to make.
“No matter what the circumstances are, as long as I have a chance to play, I’ll be ready,” Howell said. “Didn’t make enough plays in the second half, but did some good things in the first half. We were kind of in the game, just didn’t make the plays we needed to in the second half.”
While the 49ers were sleepwalking, it could have been an opportunity for the Commanders to put some truth to the “any given Sunday” saying. Instead, a depleted roster wasn’t able to muster four quarters good enough to match one of the league’s best, and one of the longest seasons in recent memory is now 60 minutes from its conclusion.