ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Commanders will start Jacoby Brissett at quarterback against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, benching Sam Howell after he started all 15 games this season and calling into question his future with the organization.
Washington coach Ron Rivera said he still believes Howell can be a quality quarterback.
“This is part of the growth,” Rivera said. “We’re all culpable in this situation, too. This is not an indictment on Sam or how my feelings toward Sam have changed. I really do think this guy can be a really good quarterback in this league, I really do. I also think sometimes when things get tough and get hard … this has been a long year for everybody. This is a chance for him to take a breath.”
Washington benched Howell in each of the last two games, with Brissett rallying the Commanders in each game. In Brissett’s first five drives in those games, Washington finished with touchdowns. Under Brissett, the Commanders rallied from a 28-7 fourth-quarter deficit against the Los Angeles Rams in a 28-20 loss on Dec. 17. Last week, Brissett entered down 27-7 against the New York Jets and guided a 21-0 run only to see Washington lose on a late field goal.
In two games, Brissett completed 78.3% of his passes for 224 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He wasn’t sacked. He’s the ninth starting quarterback in Rivera’s four seasons in Washington.
Rivera did not commit to also starting Brissett in the finale against the Dallas Cowboys, but said, “Jacoby has proven he’s a very viable player in this league. Having him around has been excellent for Sam. He stood by Sam and helped Sam out a lot. This is another way for him to help Sam continue his growth.”
For the season, Howell has thrown 19 touchdown passes but also an NFL-high 17 interceptions. He ranks 11th in total passing yards with 3,624.
From Weeks 4-10, Howell threw 14 touchdown passes to four interceptions. He led the NFL during that stretch with 2,112 passing yards (having thrown 50 more passes than any other quarterback). Howell also tied the Buffalo Bills‘ Josh Allen and Cowboys’ Dak Prescott for most touchdown passes in those seven games.
But in the last five games Howell has thrown eight interceptions and only two touchdowns.
Howell has been sacked an NFL-high 60 times, with 40 coming in the first seven games combined.
“This is about Sam’s continued development,” Rivera said. “Things haven’t gone as well as we would have liked the last few weeks. It’s an opportunity for him to watch. With Jacoby being the professional he is and playing the way he has will really give Sam an opportunity to see some things and see how the offense goes. It will help him.”
Rivera informed the quarterbacks of his decision before practice Wednesday. He also said he spoke with owner Josh Harris, letting him know of the switch.
Rivera said last offseason that Howell would get the first shot to win the starting job. Washington drafted him in the fifth round in 2022, though the team projected him to be drafted in either the second or third round. One source said at the time Washington would have drafted him higher had it not already traded for quarterback Carson Wentz.
Howell is also playing on a rookie contract, an appealing aspect to a team still trying to build. He still has two years remaining on his rookie deal.
“He’s had some pretty good opportunities and some pretty good moments and moments where he’s learned a lot and moments where he’s taken some lumps,” Rivera said. “He’s a resilient player, a solid young man who has a bright future in this league. He’s a guy who can play quarterback in the NFL and do it at a high level.”