Facing a good Buffalo Bills defense while playing behind a shaky offensive line had something to do with that. So did just an all-around mediocre showing by Howell in his first loss as a starter in the pros.
Wins and losses are not the best — nor the fairest — way to evaluate a QB, but after all of the praise Howell received before this disaster of a 41.5-rating game, he certainly deserved at least a share of the blame, and acknowledged as much, for the way things went awry in Washington’s 37-3 loss to Buffalo.
“It starts with me,” Howell said no fewer than four times during his news conference. “But the good thing is: The sun’ll come up tomorrow.”
He entered the rainy afternoon with a 95.0 rating this season, having thrown for 501 yards and three TDs with just one interception. He also owned victories in all three of his pro starts since being drafted in the fifth round out of North Carolina in 2022: the last game last season, and the first two this season.
Tack on a win against the Bills, and he would become just the second quarterback to go 4-0 in his first four starts in Washington, joining Billy Kilmer in 1971.
Instead, Howell kept throwing the ball into the wrong hands — including a pick-6 by A.J. Epenesa in the fourth quarter — and came within a last-minute field goal of becoming the franchise’s first QB to oversee a shutout since Case Keenum ran the show during a 9-0 loss against the San Francisco 49ers in October 2019.
Howell ended up 19 for 29 for 170 yards, with all of those turnovers and all of those sacks.
In the Super Bowl era, he is just the sixth QB with at least four interceptions and nine sacks in a game; the most recent had been Warren Moon in 1995.
“It was a tough day for all of us. It’s not just on him,” receiver Terry McLaurin said. “But I just wanted to let him know that we’ve got his back. You’re going to have tough days at the office — some uglier than others.”
This one was rather ugly, considering all of the many flaws exposed by Buffalo (2-1).
Washington (2-1) was trying to start a season 3-0 for the first time since 2005, which was also the last season it won a playoff game. That, of course, was under the failed ownership of Dan Snyder, who recently sold the team to a group led by Josh Harris, prompting the first hint of joy and optimism for the fanbase in quite a long while.
The addition of offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy under head coach Ron Rivera was also part of an era of good feelings around the nation’s capital — only amplified by a 35-point outburst against the Denver Broncos last week.
But this game came oh-so-close to producing the first shutout for Bieniemy as an O.C. since he got that title with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018. And, naturally, it was the first NFL loss for Harris.
After a briefly auspicious start Sunday, pretty much everything went wrong for Washington.
On its initial offensive possession, Howell brought the home team down the field without a hitch until a first-and-10 at the Buffalo 25. That’s when the bumbling began.
Washington's next drive was a three-and-out. And the following one led to a first-and-goal at the 6, before the Commanders ended up going for it on fourth down from the 2. Under pressure, Howell threw incomplete, turning over the ball on downs.
Never got any better for the QB or the club.
“I was disappointed,” Rivera said. “When you get the ball down into scoring position twice in the first half, you should score. You’ve got to score.”
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