With 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter on Sunday, little remained of the sea of Washington Commanders fans that flooded the stands of FedEx Field hoping to see their franchise’s first 3-0 start since 2005. Those who stayed watched Washington’s offense toss four interceptions, cough up a fumble and give up nine sacks.
Fresh off a stifling defensive performance against the Arizona Cardinals to open the campaign and another flashy win against the Denver Broncos to follow it up, the Commanders showed potential to start the season. The team’s defense held Arizona to 16 points, and they sacked Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson seven times in Week Two. However, on Sept. 24, Washington could not overcome five turnovers en route to a 3-37 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Heading into the contest, Commanders fans, including Dawson Jewell, expressed cautious optimism about second-year quarterback Sam Howell and his supporting cast.
“There’s a lot of things he still needs to work on, obviously, with him being a young quarterback,” Jewell told The Hoya. “But he’s pretty promising going forward through the season. I’m pretty confident with Sam Howell.”
On the other side, Corey Howard and Matt Sinasky, two Bills fans from Virginia Beach, had no doubts heading into the matchup.
“Bills by a billion,” Howard repeatedly told The Hoya. “We don’t care what team it is, who’s playing quarterback — Bills by a billion.”
Howard wasn’t too far off, as Washington failed to score a touchdown while giving up four to its opponent. In the worst performance of his young career, Howell’s four interceptions and nine sacks were the most by any NFL quarterback this season.
Despite the growing pains, Washington had a couple of bright spots. The defense was not nearly as bad as the 37-point rout suggests. While the unit gave up three touchdowns, the offense’s failure to move the ball downfield meant that three of Buffalo’s scoring drives started in enemy territory. The secondary tallied multiple impressive pass breakups, which were key to what little resistance the Commanders put up to Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s unrelenting attack.
Running back Brian Robinson Jr., who averaged 7 yards per carry, shined on offense, but the team only handed him the ball 10 times. Despite spending most of the game down just two possessions and failing to generate any traction through the air, Washington refused to turn to Robinson even after he continued to log impressive carries. After the game, Robinson had a decisive answer about what the team could have done better.
“Invest in the run game,” Robinson said.
Still, the Commanders’ 2-0 start was not all a fluke. Heading into Sunday’s game, Howell had thrown for 501 yards and three touchdowns as he led Washington to its first two wins of the season, earning him a respectable 93.2 passer rating. Although he tanked his rating Sunday, Howell pointed to the Commanders’ strong start as a reason for optimism.
“We did some good things the first two weeks of the season,” Howell told The Hoya. “We know the caliber offense that we can be and the type of team that we can be. We just got to put it together, and just try to play good football each and every week.”
Howell’s teammates, including running back Antonio Gibson and tackle Andrew Wylie, backed up their quarterback, #14, after the game.
“He didn’t change his character and he stuck it out all the way to the last possession we got,” Gibson said.
“He’s a true competitor, the definition. Dude is a warrior out there. He took some hits and got right back and continued to sling the ball,” Wylie said. “We’re going to keep battling for our guy, #14.”
His teammates’ words reiterate the expected growing pains for Howell. Sunday was his fourth start in the league, and he turned 23 just eight days before that kickoff. That’s about the same age as rookie quarterbacks in the NFL, who typically have more leeway to make some of the mistakes Howell made Sunday.
Overall, the Commanders come out of Week Three with a winning record and a quarterback who, with time, could become the commander Washington is looking for.
Realistically, though, the promising start doubles as a reminder that winning comes with immediate expectations. Before the game, Commanders fan Kevin Bost emphasized that the sole goal for the young team is to capitalize on wins, bounce back from losses and make the playoffs.
“If we’re 3-0, 2-1, whatever it is, we want to make it to the tournament,” Bost told The Hoya. “Bottom line: let’s get in the tournament.”