Washington Post (paywall)
49ers 27, Commanders 10
The Washington Commanders had a debacle of a week that started with one quarterback change and ended with another hours before kickoff.
Washington appointed Jacoby Brissett the starter during the week, but a hamstring injury prompted the Commanders to start second-year quarterback Sam Howell against the San Francisco 49ers — four days after Coach Ron Rivera had benched him.
And then a strange thing happened Sunday: The Commanders played pretty well in the first half, competing with the NFC’s leader in a game that could’ve been wildly lopsided from the start.
But Howell threw a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions, and Washington fell to the 49ers, 27-10, to extend its longest losing streak in a decade to seven games.
Though he did throw two interceptions, pushing his number of picks to 10 in the last six games, there were some moments where Howell looked closer to the version in the first half of the season that had given the team so much hope for the future. He was only sacked one time, took shots down the field when they were provided to him — like the 42-yarder to Terry McLaurin that inched the wideout closer to recording his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
But Howell’s struggles still persisted at inopportune moments. Both of his interceptions came on forced throws — one to McLaurin and one to Byron Pringle. He also had a head scratching throw on the last offensive possession for the Commanders that fell around the 49ers’ 40-yad line with no one — receiver or defender — there to grab it.
While the Commanders’ offense sparked and fluttered, the 49ers were running on a consistent flame that blazed at the right moments to ignite explosive plays downfield. It should be noted that the Commanders’ defense played well at times, often holding the 49ers to smaller chunks of yardage, but those gains, however small, began to add up. They ended the afternoon with 408 yards — while running just 68 plays, no less — highlighted by 184 yards on the ground and 28 first downs to the Commanders’ 12.
It’s been quite a week for Sam Howell...
Howell was entering the last chance saloon, to a certain extent. Any further failings weren’t going to be well received by any prospective head coach or general manager combination. Therefore, making the best out of an indifferent situation against a ferocious San Francisco 49ers defense was essential.
It was almost a career-defining moment for Howell. As it turned out, the Commanders were unable to pull off one of the league’s biggest upsets of the season. It was also another indifferent outing from the second-year-pro.
With this in mind, here are four major observations from Howell’s performance versus the Niners at FedEx Field.
Sam Howell’s body language
One of the interesting things to monitor early was Sam Howell’s body language under center. It would have been easy for the signal-caller to sulk after a rough week that saw him benched before Jacoby Brissett’s unfortunate injury. Instead, he seemed full of resolve and determined to right some wrongs in the face of exceptional opposition.
This was a testament to Howell’s overall character. It’s not been easy - especially lately. But his steely will was enough to not only take the field with the same mindset but also rise to the occasion right out of the gate to keep the Washington Commanders competitive.
Washington Post (paywall)
Here, then, was Trent Williams on Sunday afternoon, toweling off and pulling on his size 14 sneakers in the visiting locker room at FedEx Field. There was so much to celebrate, what with his San Francisco 49ers’ 27-10 victory over the Commanders, then Arizona’s upset of reeling Philadelphia that clinched the top seed in the NFC playoffs for Williams’s squad.
He endured so much in 10 seasons with Washington. Sunday afternoon, with a cross-country flight to take him into the new year, he beamed.
“I’ve got a great, great organization, great teammates,” Williams said. “They keep me young. I got a lot of young guys in here that I feed off of. They keep work fun. I’m having a blast.”
He is 35, and nearly 14 years after Washington took him with the fourth pick in the draft, he remains exactly the kind of player and person to build a team around. He was here, and he was essentially run off. That he arrived back at FedEx with a team that will be a favorite to reach the Super Bowl is a reminder of the stench that so recently defined the franchise. It matters still that Daniel Snyder employed Bruce Allen as team president and Bruce Allen took a vengeful stance against Williams.
“When they dealt me away for nothing,” Williams said, “I still had a lot left in the tank.”
The wounds were deep. But Williams has moved on. During warmups in the hours before Sunday’s game, he hugged Washington staffers on the FedEx Field sidelines. The previous time he played here was five years ago. That’s a football lifetime.
Simply keeping Williams couldn’t have saved Ron Rivera’s tenure as coach and football czar in Washington because the list of mistakes has grown too long. But in hindsight, that Rivera couldn’t or wouldn’t make every effort to mend those fences has to be added to the stew of failures that define his tenure. Allen had been fired. Part of assembling the best team for 2020 and beyond should have been identifying the assets that could have helped going forward.
Washington Post (paywall)
Chase Young has a quiet return: Young, whom the Commanders dealt to the 49ers at the Oct. 31 trade deadline, told reporters earlier this week that his first matchup against the team that selected him second overall in the 2020 NFL draft was “just another game.” If Young had any extra motivation to face his former team, it didn’t translate to production, as he was credited with only one tackle and one quarterback hit. Young has 2½ sacks in eight games for the 49ers.
The Commanders were down three starters along the offensive line, but backup tackles Cornelius Lucas and Trent Scott held their own against Young and the 49ers’ fierce pass rush for most of the game. Defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell registered San Francisco’s only sack of Howell, on Washington’s first drive of the second half.
The Athletic (paywall)
Washington required more than a bushel of losses to secure the highest selection possible in the 2024 NFL Draft. It needed help. Help it received in consecutive weeks. The New England Patriots beat the Denver Broncos on Christmas Eve. A week later, the Arizona Cardinals shocked the Philadelphia Eagles, meaning a three-way tie at 4-12. Happy New Year.
The breaks continued. The strength-of-schedule tiebreaker, for now, favors Washington over Arizona, but league-wide results threaten to bump New England ahead of both. There’s no catching the 2-14 Carolina Panthers, meaning the quarterback-needy Commanders have reached their draft position potential with one week remaining in the regular season.
With a loss to Dallas, they’d clinch no less than the fourth overall pick in a year when potentially three quarterbacks — USC’s Caleb Williams, UNC’s Drake Maye or LSU’s Jayden Daniels — could go off the board in the first four picks. Now, it’s about how the SOS jigsaw puzzle is solved.
Washington gets the second pick with a loss to the Dallas Cowboys and a Patriots home win over the New York Jets. The path to two becomes trickier if both lose since the Patriots’ strength of schedule will tick down more facing the Jets than the Commanders against the playoff-bound Cowboys.
In terms of building for the future, neither Harris nor Hollywood’s best writers could have scripted this outcome much better. Factor in roughly $90 million in salary-cap room, nine draft selections, including five in the first 100 picks, and the reboot that begins on “Black Monday” following Week 18, and it veers toward picture perfect.
Stud: RB Brian Robinson Jr.
The Commanders missed running back Brian Robinson Jr. over the past two weeks. No, Robinson doesn’t have elite numbers this year, but don’t blame him. His first two touches went for 12 and 22 yards, and he was instrumental in Washington’s first scoring drive. Robinson runs hard. And on the screen pass, he showed excellent patience in waiting for his blocks. It’s inexcusable he only had nine carries. He finished the day with nine carries for 44 yards and four receptions for 32 yards.
Dud: OC Eric Bieniemy
Much like Howell and Robinson, Eric Bieniemy was excellent in the first half. It was one of his better halves of play-calling this season. Outside of the first drive, where he called three pass plays on a three-and-out, Bieniemy was excellent in Washington’s other first-half drives.
In the second half, however, Robinson had just four rushing attempts. The Commanders’ second-half struggles trickle down from Bieniemy’s play-calling to Howell’s struggles. No, Bieniemy didn’t throw the interceptions, but why not follow a similar plan as he used in the first half? It was working. You can’t help but wonder how much Howell would have been helped with more support from the running game this season.
The Washington Commanders ended 2023 with a 17-point loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Terry McLaurin and Brian Robinson Jr. are building blocks:
Even with the Commanders’ struggles this season, they aren’t bereft of talent. On the offensive side of the ball, Terry McLaurin and Brian Robinson Jr. have proven to be players Washington can build around on offense.
McLaurin had four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown against San Francisco, while Robinson ran the ball nine times for 44 yards and four catches for 42 yards.
Even with the uncertainty surrounding Washington after next Sunday, McLaurin and Robinson Jr. should remain a part of the franchise’s future.
DC Sports King
Washington Commanders cornerback Christian Holmes was diagnosed with a concussion after a scary moment during Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Holmes collapsed in the end zone after the stoppage of a play in the fourth quarter. The second-year defensive back appeared to make a routine play trying to prevent 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel from scoring a touchdown.
Scary moment at FedEx. Christian Holmes appeared to just fall down after this play and was flat on his back as trainers rushed out to tend to him. He later walked off on his own and was just carted back to the locker room. The team ruled him out with a concussion. pic.twitter.com/fzzQElAgmm— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) December 31, 2023
Scary moment in Washington.— The Comeback (@thecomeback) December 31, 2023
Commanders cornerback Christian Holmes falls to the ground after a play, seemingly out of nowhere. pic.twitter.com/iQF6MV117O
Eventually, Holmes was helped to his feet to the sidelines. Moments later, Holmes got carted to the sideline while sitting up. The team instantly ruled him out of the remainder of the game with a concussion.
Christian Holmes, a seventh-round draft pick in 2022, had been relegated to special teams for much of this season. However, on Sunday, he got his first defensive snaps of the season after several injuries for the Commanders’ secondary.
Holmes had three tackles and a pass breakup before exiting the game.
Podcasts & videos
Looking big picture. Again. Sam Howell’s day. What Terry McLaurin showed, once again. Brian Robinson: New Year’s vow should be to see a lot more of him in 24. Young dudes. And Chase Young’s return. More. @ESPNRichmond https://t.co/82Ipd9AVm0— John Keim (@john_keim) January 1, 2024
Locked on Commanders: Washington Commanders NFL Draft Position Increases After Week 17 Loss | Sam Howell | Brian Robinson
Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders during their Week 17 game against the San Francisco 49ers. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
NFC East links
Let’s review the Week 18 schedule and how it impacts the NFC playoff race.
Cowboys at Commanders: 4:25 p.m. ET
The last image Washington fans have of Dallas is Dak Prescott eating a turkey leg on the sideline on Thanksgiving Day when the Cowboys blew out the Commanders 45-10. Next Sunday is simple for Dallas: Win, and the Cowboys are NFC East champions and the No. 2 seed. If both Dallas and Philly lose, Dallas is the NFC East champ. Of course, if the Eagles win and the Cowboys lose, the Eagles are NFC East champions.
Don’t expect a result similar to Washington’s win over Dallas in Week 18 last season.
Eagles at Giants: 4:25 p.m. ET
The Eagles are in the playoffs, although they’ll enter Week 18, having lost four of their last five games and facing a Giants team that has played hard this season despite injuries and a lack of talent. As we saw in Arizona’s Week 17 upset, Philadelphia can’t take anyone lightly. The Eagles can win the NFC East but need Washington to win and take of the Giants. It’s probably not a great idea to be counting on the Commanders.
NFL league links
Washington Post (paywall)
In a video clip that went viral Sunday, Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper appeared to toss a drink from a luxury suite in the direction of Jaguars fans in the stands at Jacksonville’s EverBank Stadium.
The incident occurred, per reports, shortly after Panthers quarterback Bryce Young threw an interception late in the fourth quarter. It was unclear if Tepper was reacting to a play on the field or to possible comments from fans during what would end as a 26-0 Panthers loss.
A spokesman for the NFL said league officials were “aware of the video” involving the 66-year-old Tepper and would have no immediate comment. Team owners are subject to the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
A video shows Panthers owner David Tepper appearing to throw a drink into the crowd at EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville.— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) December 31, 2023
"We are aware of the video and have no further comment at this time," an NFL spokesperson tells @josephperson.
c_honsberger on Instagram pic.twitter.com/An6w47ALzY
Described by the Panthers as having grown up in “a working-class neighborhood” of Pittsburgh, Tepper was depicted in a 2010 New York magazine profile as having an occasionally volatile temperament.
“I had stuff thrown at me,” a source described by the magazine as a former colleague of Tepper said of him. “ … It’s almost like Jekyll and Hyde, you didn’t know any given day who was going to walk through the door.”
Tepper told New York magazine then that he “used to be worse” and was now “kinder and gentler.”