More significant: Starting quarterback Sam Howell put on a show, giving hope that maybe, just maybe, he can develop into the quarterback Washington has been seeking for years.
“There’s a lot of pressure, obviously, and we know how important the quarterback position is in the league and how important it is in this area,” Coach Ron Rivera said. “We’ve been looking for one, and we have an opportunity to have a guy that has a chance to be a really good football player for us.”
The bad news? Terry McLaurin suffered an injury.
Here are five takeaways from the Commanders’ second preseason game.
Washington’s leading wide receiver was ruled out with a toe injury after he hobbled off the field late in the second quarter following a 13-yard reception over the middle. Rivera said X-rays were negative and McLaurin will be “treated day-by-day.”
McLaurin’s foot appeared to bend awkwardly as Ravens linebacker Kristian Welch tackled him. He grimaced as he got to his feet, then limped off the field and threw his right shoe in frustration. Trainers examined him behind the bench before he walked back to the locker room.
The Commanders sat almost all of their defensive starters for Monday’s game but played their offensive starters, save for left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and tight end Logan Thomas (calf), for the entire first half.
The second preseason game is typically when starters play the most, although some teams, including Baltimore, have benched many of their starters to avoid injuries.
Howell impressed in the preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns, and he showed even more Monday night against Baltimore.
In 43 snaps (four drives), he completed 19 of 25 passes for 188 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 123.4 passer rating. He also took two sacks and ran for 17 yards on three carries.
Howell showed his range with a mix of deep throws and quick passes, scrambles for first downs and a touchdown in a two-minute drill.
“I thought Sam did exactly what we were expecting him to do,” Rivera said. “He went out, executed, took control of the offense, took control of the huddle, did a good job at the line of scrimmage.”
It wasn’t flawless; Howell told Rivera he was at fault for the sacks.
“I got to do a better job with that stuff,” Howell said. “We’ll clean it up, but we made some plays. … There was a lot of good to come out of tonight.”
Howell took the first sack early in the Commanders’ opening drive and bounced back to complete one of his most impressive throws yet, a 16-yard dart to tight end Cole Turner. Howell then hit McLaurin with a pair of 13-yard passes to put Washington in the red zone. The drive sputtered at the 3-yard line, but Slye booted a 21-yard field goal.
It only got better from there.
On the Commanders’ third drive, Howell connected on six consecutive passes, including a 16-yard completion to Jahan Dotson on fourth and three. Three plays later, with less than two minutes left in the half, Antonio Gibson caught a short pass and muscled his way into the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown to put Washington ahead, 10-7.
Howell’s final drive opened with the second sack — the Ravens sent just four rushers, but linebacker Jeremiah Moon sped across the line untouched on the right side — but he again bounced back to put the Commanders in position to score. His scramble on second and 17, combined with a Ravens holding penalty, picked up a first down. Howell followed with a 13-yard completion to McLaurin that resulted in the receiver’s injury.
“Obviously, the sack was bad, it was my fault, but I knew we had another opportunity in the next play,” Howell said. “So I tried to do everything — we tried to do everything — I could to make up for it.”
Without McLaurin, Howell went to his No. 2 receiver — again and again and again. He completed passes of 16, 17 and 21 yards to Dotson before throwing a perfect ball to Dyami Brown in the corner of the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left in the half.
Against Cleveland, Washington’s offensive line was flagged for two holding penalties, including one that resulted in a safety.
Against Baltimore, the starting line was solid — even without Leno on the left side. Cornelius Lucas started in his place, and Saahdiq Charles, who did not play in the preseason opener, started at left guard.
The group was penalty-free and mistake-free in the first quarter. Charles picked up a holding penalty in the second and, despite Howell’s assumption of fault, it’s unclear who truly deserved blame for that second sack. But the front five otherwise held up to help the offense collect 16 first downs, convert four third downs (57.1 percent) and log 221 net yards in the first half.
If Emmanuel Forbes’s run stuff on the Commanders’ goal-line stand in Cleveland wasn’t enough, his tackle of running back Melvin Gordon III in the first quarter Monday night should quash any remaining doubts about his size. Forbes read the play and sprinted across the line to grab Gordon’s legs for no gain on third and one.
“I saw the receiver crack and the two pulling guards, so my guy [Jeremy] Reaves, he set the edge, and I just shot the gap,” Forbes explained.
Fellow rookie Quan Martin, who had a rough go in the preseason opener, picked off a pass by Josh Johnson in the end zone and ran it back 59 yards.
Harris and limited partners Mitchell Rales and Mark Ein were in attendance to take in the first preseason game at FedEx Field under their watch.
The energy was unlike any preseason game in recent years. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) hugged Ein and team president Jason Wright on the sideline before the game. The CEO of Verizon, Hans Vestberg, was there, too, mingling with his newest partners. Rapper Wale and Commanders alumni were also on the field.
Harris joined ESPN’s broadcast with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the first half and lauded Howell.
“I’m watching. I’m learning,” Harris them. “Obviously Ron and the crew have done a great job of getting this team right there, right by the playoffs. It’s a long season. But we’re optimistic. … I have a lot of faith in Sam and the team, so we’ll see.”
POST AUTHOR: Nicki Jhabvala