Watch Sam Howell stage epic comeback in Commanders preseason opener
By Jerry Trotta
What looked like a surefire loss for the Washington Commanders in their preseason opener against the Panthers on Saturday quickly turned into a thrilling comeback led by a quarterback who fell to the fifth round of this year’s draft.
When Sam Howell entered in the third quarter, Washington’s offense was stuck in neutral, mustering just six points while Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke combined to throw for less than 100 yards.
Enter Howell, who’s been restricted to a passing role at training camp as he familiarizes himself with the Commanders’ playbook and adapts to the talent of NFL defensive backs. On Saturday, though, Howell was free to showcase his full bag of tricks and the Panthers had no answers.
With the Commanders trailing 20-6, Howell ripped an electric touchdown run on a broken play in the red zone. All it took was a creative ball fake from the fifth-round pick to create the necessary running lane to the end zone.
Sam Howell stole the show in the Commanders’ near-comeback against the Panthers.
Howell’s dual-threat ability is no surprise. The former UNC standout set the ACC ablaze with his legs last season to the tune of 828 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 4.5 yards per carry. This is nothing new for Howell, but it was admittedly eye-opening he displayed such confidence as a runner in his first NFL action.
That drive alone was enough for Commanders fans to be satisfied with Howell’s preseason debut, but the former Tar Heel had other things on his mind … like staging an epic fourth quarter comeback to (nearly) lead his team to a victory. A 45-yard field goal in the final minute from Zane Gonzalez sealed that dream.
Give the defense some credit for pulling together and shutting down Carolina’s offense, which was humming early on. However, this comeback doesn’t happen without Howell, who capped a 13-play 67-yard drive that took nearly five minutes off the clock with a one-yard touchdown to nod things at 20 apiece.
The Commanders took the lead on the subsequent two-point conversation when Howell connected with Alex Erickson. The duo linked up for a 40-yard completion earlier in the drive on 3rd and 14.
Again, the Commanders ultimately fell short, but they wouldn’t have been in a position to win if not for Howell. While Heinicke, who tossed an ugly interception in the game, still owns the backup job, it’s not crazy to think Howell could leapfrog him on the depth chart if he continues to ball out in the preseason.
What a performance from the rookie.