Fans can sometimes latch on to a player and create unreal expectations for that player before they even take a snap. It happens every year with every NFL team. It often happens with quarterbacks for the Washington Commanders.
Look no further than Taylor Heinicke. Because the Washington fan base has been starved for a franchise quarterback for decades, Heinicke’s first career start in the playoff loss against Tampa Bay two years made him an instant legend.
That’s not to discredit Heinicke, who has been the best quarterback in Ron Rivera’s three years, but fans often overlook Heinicke’s limitations by proclaiming he doesn’t get a fair shake.
That leads us to rookie quarterback Sam Howell.
Howell will make his first career NFL start against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 18. Fans are ready to proclaim Howell the starter in 2023 if he has a good outing against the Cowboys.
Pump the brakes.
There are lots of reasons to be excited about Howell. He possesses some of the same traits as Heinicke, but with a much better arm and is also a better athlete. But there will be a learning curve. Howell looked good in the preseason. Yet, the fundamentals needed work. And Howell played in a vastly different offense in college. There is also the game speed.
Head coach Ron Rivera was asked about Howell being a contender to start in 2023 if he has a positive performance vs. Dallas.
“We’re gonna step back,” Rivera said. “You don’t want to make a quick rash decision, but you do most certainly want to talk about, especially if he does those things that we’re looking at, we’re talking about. It could be one of those things that, yeah, you could say this, this is where we’re gonna come in starting off looking at this and seeing how it all works out. But we also have to be realistic about what’s coming up with free agency in the draft. So, we’ll go through the entire process.”
That’s a perfectly reasonable answer. Even if Howell had all of Washington’s starters active Sunday, you can’t evaluate him based on one game. Good or bad. You can’t draw conclusions about a young quarterback because of one or two games.
What is Rivera looking for Sunday?
“Consistency,” Rivera answered. “Is he doing things the right way? Is he getting the ball out on time? Decision-making? Is he going where he needs to be going? Those are the things that you gotta look at. I mean, you want him to be as successful as possible. We’ll see how it goes.”
It’s always the little things that the fans don’t often see.
Now, if Howell goes out there and passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns, with multiple big runs, fans are going to go wild with speculation throughout the offseason. But Sunday’s game should not alter Washington’s offseason plan.