Commanders Corner: What’s the return policy on a QB?

Sometimes, the sweater just doesn’t have the right fit.

Sunday’s 30-28 loss to the New York Jets on Christmas Eve was the second straight week where quarterback Sam Howell was benched in the second half, and the second straight week where backup Jacoby Brissett gave the team a second-half spark.

This week, tons of shoppers head back to stores with returns of things they didn’t want, things that didn’t fit or things they already had. Could the Commanders — after buying into Sam Howell as the future quarterback of the franchise — be thinking about returning the second-year pro before the warranty expires?

The good news about his less-than-awesome outings over the last month (documented below) is that the “you can’t take a QB in the first round because Howell is here” narrative is no more.

Head Coach Ron Rivera announced Wednesday that Jacoby Brissett will start in Week 17 against San Francisco. Will this be a bend in the road or the end of the road for No. 14? The next coach in Washington will hold that decision in his hands — as well as the receipt, if he chooses to make the return.

Howell About That? Sam Howell completed 6-22 passes for 56 yards and two interceptions while getting sacked once. Since throwing for 300 yards on Thanksgiving against Dallas, the second-year pro has completed 29-71 passes (41%) for 285 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions (passer rating of 34.1). Jacoby Brissett played well again in relief (10-13-100=1-0, rating of 123.9), setting up his elevation into the top spot against San Francisco.

Running Without Robinson: The hamstring injury suffered against Miami kept Brian Robinson on the bench again, and Chris Rodriguez made the most of his opportunity with 58 yards and two touchdowns rushing (he also caught a seven-yard pass). Antonio Gibson added 30 yards on the ground that included a TD run.

Pass Catch Fever: Terry McLaurin made three receptions for 50 yards (he’s 115 shy of 1,000 for the season) while Logan Thomas tallied five grabs for 36 yards and a touchdown. Jahan Dotson added a pair of catches while Curtis Samuel made one reception.

Third and Long Gone: Washington moved the chains on 3-12 attempts while the Jets responded by converting 4-16 third downs. Howell completed just 1-6 passes while getting sacked once. With Jacoby Brissett in the lineup, Washington went 3-5 on the money down, as Brissett completed 3-3 passes for two conversions. The top target was Terry McLaurin who had a pair of passes thrown his way (one catch and no conversions). Antonio Gibson carried twice on third down, scoring on a two-yard run and running for two yards on a 3rd & 10.

Yardage breakdown: 1-5 on short-yardage, 0-1 when needing four to six yards, 1-6 on third and long. It didn’t help Howell that five of his six first half third downs were for 7+ yards.

Defensive Difference: Khaleke Hudson made 15 tackles while Cody Barton added 10 stops, plus had a 52-yard interception return that set up the team’s first touchdown. But once again, the D coughed up 30 or more points for the ninth time this year — far too many for a unit, even after they traded away Chase Young and Montez Sweat. Sweat, meanwhile, has a chance to double dip by leading two teams in sacks this year (his 6.5 are tops with Washington, and Sweat’s six with the Bears lead that squad).

Special Situations: Tress Way averaged 42 yards on seven punts (three landing inside the Jets’ 20) while Joey Slye went 4-4 on extra points and didn’t attempt a field goal. Three of Slye’s kickoffs were returned for 25, 27 and 30 yards (he had two touchbacks). Byron Pringle had a six-yard kickoff return, while Jamison Crowder had punt returns of five, 14 and 24 yards (he lost a fumble on the 24-yarder). Punt coverage allowed one return for nine yards.

Flying Flags: Eight penalties for 68 yards (the Jets had 14 flags for 150) didn’t help things. Two were on offense (both false starts) and two were on defense (pass interference and holding) while four were on special teams (false start, illegal touching of a kick, encroachment, holding). Two more penalties (illegal formation and offsides) on the offense were declined. Benjamin St. Juste took over the team lead with his pass interference and hold, giving him nine flags on the year. The two false starts make that the most-called infraction against Washington with 16 (offensive/special teams holding is second with 14).

Sunday’s most costly foul? Encroachment on a fourth down that turned a Jets punting situation into a drive that helped give New York a 20-7 halftime lead.

Dissecting the Division: Philadelphia (11-4) moves into first place by snapping a three-game slide and beating the New York Giants 33-25 (Tommy DeVito and company covered, though). The Eagles currently hold the second seed in the NFC because of their loss to the Niners and a better strength of victory than Detroit. Dallas (10-5) has dropped consecutive road games to contenders, and while the Cowboys hang on to the top Wild Card and No. 5 seed, the last two weeks have shown enough to deliver plenty of concern to the Cowboys’ faithful.

The New York Giants (5-10) are one win or one Washington loss away from securing third place, while the Commanders (4-11) haven’t won since the week after Halloween.

Comparing Quartets & Conferences: The AFC North (38-22) is lapping the field and now has all four teams owning winning records with an outside chance to snatch all three Wild Card spots (Pittsburgh and Cincinnati need to win out while getting a Buffalo meltdown). At the other end of the spectrum is the NFC South (24-36) which might send a team with a losing record to the postseason. And somewhere in the middle is the NFC East (30-30) which might boast a pair of double-digit win teams but is a combined 4-10 in December. Sunday night’s win by the Ravens moves the AFC ahead of the NFC by the count of 44-34, with two more interconference games to be played this upcoming weekend.

In the Booth: Spero Dedes and Adam Archuleta called Sunday’s game on CBS, their first Commanders game since week two in Denver. Adam Amin and Mark Schlereth draw the game against San Francisco (Amin’s third and Schlereth’s fourth this year). One can only imagine who gets to call the season finale with Dallas.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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