The Athletic (paywall)
When Antonio Gibson’s 2-yard run gave Washington a third touchdown in as many drives with Brissett, and Joey Slye executed the extra point for a 28-27 lead with 4:52 remaining, the Commanders’ sideline showed something rarely seen in recent weeks: joy.
That’s when bottom-line thinkers with an eye on Washington’s 2024 first-round draft positioning began panicking.
There’s no salvaging a lost season that began cratering by October. Any lamenting about the missteps that led to this dismal perch at this stage is more about venting than fixing. Even those whose Mondays are ruined when Sunday game days go awry must acknowledge what’s important now: How managing partner Josh Harris overhauls the coaching and front-office staff. And, therefore, the evaluators determining the depths of a roster rebuild matters more than a sleep-better victory.
It’s abnormal for fans to root against winning. Coach Ron Rivera can’t comprehend that notion.
“I’m going to show up, and we’re going to work, and we’re going to play to win,” Rivera said. “Everything we do is about winning. It has nothing to do with losing, OK? If that’s what they’re thinking, that’s unfortunate.”
The dip in form came at the worst possible time for Sam Howell.
It looked for a long time as if Sam Howell was the franchise quarterback everyone associated with the Washington Commanders had been craving since Kirk Cousins left for the Minnesota Vikings in free agency. Now, his second benching in as many weeks could have huge ramifications on the team’s plans this offseason.
The New England Patriots gained a surprise victory over the Denver Broncos. This surged the Commanders up to No. 3 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft. It puts them in a prime position to potentially select one of the top two prospects emerging from the college ranks.
Commanders have a big decision to make with Sam Howell
Caleb Williams and Drake Maye are the consensus best. This might be a little high for LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels despite his exceptional campaign that eventually concluded with a well-deserved Heisman Trophy win.
Some sections of the fanbase are still clamoring for the Commanders to select a premier left tackle such as Olu Fashanu or Joe Alt. It also doesn’t help that those making the decisions aren’t currently around. Something that only adds to the level of speculation about what comes next for the franchise.
The Commanders shouldn’t go chasing. If Williams or Maye aren’t around, then one would expect the Commanders to stabilize their blindside. There’s also the prospect of getting a veteran signal-caller in free agency or through the trade market. Washington has an abundance of options, but nobody knows the specific plan of attack because some significant hirings need to be made first.
The Athletic (paywall)
Why is it so hard, even in Hot Take America, to say we don’t have enough information on [Sam Howell] yet?
“I told him, man, this is going to be the hardest part of your career right now,” Brissett said. “And it’s going to feel like you’re in this by yourself. And it’s snowballing — it’s one thing after another, one thing after another. But I know, from being in this league, the good ones find a way to get to the other side. No matter how long it takes, how hard it is. You surround yourself with good people, and I hope he leans on me as one of those good people that can help get him through this. Because I know I will. And you just go through it like that.”
I’m guessing Howell is never going to be great. But I don’t know that any of the 2024 prospects will be either. And the ones that the draftniks think most likely will be, USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye, probably will be gone by the time Washington drafts. Maybe. The way the Commanders are rocketing up the ’24 draft board, they have to consider taking a potential franchise quarterback. I get that. It would be organizational malpractice not to think long and hard about going that route; even if Williams and/or Maye are gone, Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels, among others, will almost certainly still be there when Washington picks.
Of all the things that are most maddening about America’s obsession with the quarterback position, the most is the notion that everyone with a keyboard or a Football Insiders account knows who can, and cannot, play it. And that they know it immediately, after a single season in which a quarterback was either great or awful. Whether it’s Troy Aikman or Andy Dalton or Peyton Manning or Jordan Love, people swear they know. And they don’t.
In reality, there’s no position that’s evaluated worse than quarterback. The professionals, the people who spend thousands of man hours every year going to practices and games and bowl games and the Senior Bowl and the combine and make their choices, get it wrong every single year — and not by a little. This is not me being judgmental or smarter. I’m not saying I know better. Of course I don’t. But that’s the point: Even the experts, who do have way more data points, can’t guarantee positive outcomes at the position.
Starter Brian Robinson Jr. injured his hamstring in a Week 13 loss to the Miami Dolphins and has missed the last two games. Antonio Gibson moved into the starting role with rookie Chris Rodriguez Jr. behind him. The Commanders also brought back Jonathan Williams and signed veteran Derrick Gore from the practice squad.
During Sunday’s loss to the New York Jets, Rodriguez tweaked his ankle and was in a boot after the game. This was after he rushed for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Head coach Ron Rivera said that Rodriguez had an MRI on Tuesday.
“He’s getting an MRI today, I believe,” Rivera said. “I actually haven’t talked to [Head Athletic Trainer] Al [Bellamy]. I’ll be talking to Al at our five o’clock meeting, so I’ll have a better feel for Chris.”
Additionally, Williams was in concussion protocol, and with Robinson’s status still uncertain, the Commanders brought back a familiar face. Washington signed Jaret Patterson to the practice squad.
Patterson signed with Washington as an undrafted free agent after the 2021 NFL draft. Patterson spent two seasons with Washington, appearing in 20 games with one start, rushing for 344 yards, two touchdowns and averaging four yards per attempt.
The Prince George’s County (Maryland) native was waived during final roster cuts in August and signed with the Chargers practice squad in September. After three months on their practice squad, he was released last week and now returns to Washington.
Despite the struggles, Sam Howell still made his way further up the Washington Commanders franchise boards.
With his measly 56 yards in Week 16 Howell moved into third place among all-time passers in Washington in completions in a single season. His 352 for the year surpassed Kirk Cousins who had 347 in 2017.
Furthermore, Howell passed two other franchise notables - Joe Theismann and Jason Campbell - for ninth in passing yards in a single season. He now has 3,624.
While many are calling for the first-year starter to be replaced, some for the sake of the team’s last two games, others because they never believed in Howell in the first place, and still others who simply get joy from pointing out coach Ron Rivera’s missteps, the running game continues to be something Commanders fans want more of.
In Week 16’s loss to the Jets Washington assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy chose to run the ball 21 times. With those carries the team produced 92 yards and three touchdowns.
The three rushing scores are the most we’ve seen from this team in a single game all year and the most it’s had in one since late November of 2020.
And with four total touchdowns on Sunday, the Commanders now have more such performances than they have since 2016.
Podcasts & videos
With @RealBramW talking about the future of the QB position in Washington for the Commanders. Looking ahead to Sunday… and late April. Some Chase Young talk. Much more. @ESPNRichmond https://t.co/SXItxz6QUV— John Keim (@john_keim) December 27, 2023
Jay Gruden agrees that Sam Howell needed to be benched - and probably shouldn’t start Sunday vs. 49ers
“Sam hasn’t played very good, you can’t sugarcoat it at all – and it’s not all Sam, obviously, there’s a lot of people that have their hands in it, but when the offense struggles moving the ball like they have with Sam starting the last couple weeks, change has to be made,” Gruden said. “Jacoby obviously proved that he deserves a little shot to try to spark the offense, and he has the last two weeks, so there’s no arguing with the decision to make a move to pull Sam. Now, it’s just a decision on the last two games, and I don’t think there’s really a wrong answer here. I think Jacoby probably right now from a confidence standpoint gives them the best chance to win, because Sam just looks like he’s a little out of sorts right now and could probably could use a couple weeks to chill out and get ready for the offseason.
“I just think right now based on the last two weeks production-wise, there’s nothing positive to speak of for the offense when Sam has been playing,” Gruden said. “You can’t put all the blame on Sam, but how does Jacoby make it work so well when he’s in there? So I think you got to go with Jacoby and just finish the season out, and then let the people who are going to make the decisions moving forward decide on the next quarterback or Sam’s future.”
If Jacoby hadn’t come in and didn’t play very well, I could see going back to Sam, but two weeks in a row, Jacoby put up some pretty damn good tape and had some really good throws,” Gruden said. “So clearly, based on the last two weeks, you have to go with him, and I think the locker room sees it. You’re not stupid when you’re watching the film, so I think everybody knows that the Jacoby, right now, gives them the best chance to win. At the end of the day it’s not about draft position, it’s about trying to win the last two games and see what happens at the end of the year.”
[Y]ou don’t wanna totally destroy his confidence, but I don’t think this would destroy his confidence, taking this backseat based on the last two weeks of his performance. I think it’s a chance for him to just take a step back and watch a veteran play and,, kind of show it how it’s done and, and maybe just get his wits back about him and start the off season on a positive note. I don’t think he’d be wrong if they started Sam, but just the way they’ve played the last two weeks, I think it’s a no brainer to play Jacoby.”
️New pod episode with @Fsmoot21SeanT. Fred comes strong to the mic on what the Commanders should do at QB this week (status quo) and going forward with the 3rd pick in play. Had to ask the former CB about Emmanuel Forbes. Also, a new QB idea for 2024. https://t.co/Dp2Aozvx0H— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) December 27, 2023
Washington Commanders Quarterback Decision Analysis | Sam Howell and Jacoby Brissett Futures
We’re going to take take a look back at the quarterback decision because we’ve got a whole lot of revisionist history happening out there folks. I don’t mean we’re looking into last week; I don’t mean we’re looking into the week before. We are going all the way back to training camp; we’re going back to preseason. Starting Sam Howell — bottom line — wasn’t Washington going down the wrong path. No, it might have been wearing the wrong boots when we use hindsight, but, of course, hindsight is 2020. And here’s what I mean by that.
The quarterback decision this this year was always about the future — it was never just about this season. Let’s recap that — I don’t want to say let’s get that straight, because we’ve been talking about this since June, July, August. It was always always, always about the future. Yes, you want to win this season — absolutely — but Ron Rivera had to show Josh Harris and this ownership group [that] Ron Rivera’s staff had the keys to unlocking future success here in Washington. And the way he was going to do that was the young quarterback. That is why Ron gave that shot to Sam Howell early on, because the most common method of trying to show owners you have a grip on the future is by installing a young solid quarterback. Point to any team in the National Football League that has had wholesale changes to their staff in the past decade, and I promise you that is part of the formula more times and not. So, in that vein, going with Sam how makes sense. But beyond that, he’s got arm talent, mentality, ability to improvise, weapons...everything you want in a starting quarterback — even a young one — except for protection. It’s amazing to me how many Commanders fans, and even some in the media, have magically forgotten how much the offensive line impacted Sam Howell’s play early on and his ability to stay upright. It’s almost like it never even happened.
NFC East links
Bleeding Green Nation
Philadelphia is still in contention for a first-round bye.
Here’s a look at the desired results (excluding ties):
- EAGLES: Win vs. Cardinals in Week 17 AND win at Giants in Week 18
- 49ERS: Lose at Commanders in Week 17 OR lose vs. Rams in Week 18
- LIONS: Lose at Cowboys in Week 17 OR lose vs. Vikings in Week 18
It’s hard to count on the 49ers losing again with how good they’ve looked at their best. Then again, they got banged up ahead of playing at a rest disadvantage on the road against a Commanders team that’s looked more competitive with Jacoby Brissett under center. It’s also possible that the Rams need to win in Week 18 to clinch a playoff spot.
NFL league links
Head coach Kevin O’Connell announced Tuesday that Hockenson suffered season-ending injuries to both his ACL and MCL. The coach added that pass rusher D.J. Wonnum, who was having a sensational campaign, suffered a torn quad.
“I can confirm with D.J. Wonnum that he did sustain a tear to his quad. He will be going on injured reserve and he will have that hopefully repaired sometime this week,” O’Connell said. “T.J. Hockenson did sustain an MCL and ACL injury. He will go on IR, as well. Crushed for both of those guys. Two of our most impactful players. Leaders on our team. Kind of set the standard of what we want as Minnesota Vikings in every aspect of who they are as men and teammates and players on the grass.”
“Just to keep the continuity going with Aaron and the team we’ve got,” Johnson said as a reason why he wants Douglas and Saleh back. “Like I said a year ago, we need a quarterback. We had a quarterback for four plays. Since then we haven’t been able to replace him. If we have a good quarterback, it makes everybody’s job easier. It makes the line better, the receivers better.”
In other words, Aaron Rodgers likes Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas and wants them around. There’s little reason why anyone would keep a head coach who has gone 17-32 (.347) in three seasons. I know it’s easy to say it’s not Saleh’s fault this season went off the rails and there is some truth in that. Rodgers got hurt and everything went to shit. It’s an easy scapegoat but I think it’s more complicated than that.
What left me frustrated as a Jets fan was that the leadership of the team could never adjust afterwards. The only quarterback move they made was signing Trevor Siemian. The whole organization sat on their hands and hoped Zach Wilson would work out even though he had proven he hadn’t. Great organizations can adjust when things go wrong. The Jets had the sports equivalent of a car accident happen and months later they are still sitting in their cars wondering what happened.
At the end of the day, I do understand the rationale of keeping Saleh and Douglas so you don’t make Rodgers mad. He’s literally the only option. We saw what the alternatives were this season. It’s uglier than Cousin Eddy’s shitter. So Saleh and Douglas get another season but Woody needs to really look at how he runs this entire team. When Rodgers does retire or leave, what’s the plan? He’s going to be left with a head coach and GM that can’t develop an offense and are helpless if anything goes wrong.
Oh…if you don’t believe me that Aaron Rodgers is the real King of the Jets, let’s see if his buddy and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is back in 2024. I’m guessing he will be. The Jets are dead last in the NFL in total yards, passing TD and rushing TD. Imagine rooting for a team bringing that guy back?