Being out of playoff contention is not changing Ron Rivera's usual pattern of when he names his starting quarterback.
Rivera on Monday would not to commit to a starter for the Washington Commanders' regular-season finale against Dallas. Rookie Sam Howell could make his NFL debut with the organization now eyeing the future.
"We’re going to continue to evaluate, look at things," Rivera said. “Guys, I’m not going to tell you anything about what we’re going to do until it’s time.”
Their coach said the Commanders are “playing to win” after their loss to Cleveland and Green Bay's win over Minnesota eliminated them from the NFC wild-card race. The Cowboys are still playing for the division title and would get it with a win and an Eagles' loss to the Giants.
Avoiding a sixth consecutive losing season by getting to 8-8-1 in Rivera's third season is one motivating factor, but figuring out what Howell might be able to do in the pros is arguably the most important part of Week 18 for Washington. Once projected to be a high first-round draft pick, the former North Carolina star fell to the fifth round and has spent the season developing behind Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke.
Rivera said the toughest part of his tenure has been finding a stable No. 1 QB. “That’s the one position that we’ve got to solidify going forward,” he said.
It does not seem like Wentz is the player for that job, either Sunday against Dallas or next season, after throwing three interceptions in a 24-10 loss to Cleveland that contributed to the Commanders getting eliminated. Heinicke would be the other option to start, but he already has shown what he can do with extended playing time.
The Commanders have found their running back of the present and future in rookie Brian Robinson Jr., who rushed for 87 yards on 24 carries in the absence of injured Antonio Gibson. Robinson took a few games get up to speed after missing time while recovering from gunshot wounds suffered in an attempted robbery, but he showed he can handle a big workload and pick up tough yards running up the middle.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Washington's defense gave up more than 300 yards for the fourth time in five games. Injuries have piled up and siphoned a lot of the Commanders' depth at linebacker and in the secondary, and Rivera blamed missed tackles for allowing big plays like Amari Cooper's 44-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
Rivera took ownership of what he acknowledged was a “gaffe” in not knowing Sunday after losing to the Browns that his team could mathematically be eliminated if the Packers beat the Vikings.
“To be honest with you, I never thought we would lose,” Rivera said. “I was anticipating winning."
Wentz could be released and relegated to a backup job somewhere else next season after again faltering in a key game late in the season with the playoffs at stake. The Indianapolis Colts chose to move on from Wentz after he struggled and they missed the posteason, and now Washington could do the same.
But Rivera said he did not regret going to Wentz and away from Heinicke against Cleveland.
“To me, it was always about winning,” he said. “The decision was made because I thought we needed a little something after going that stretch of games being 0-2-1.”
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jonathan Allen injured his left knee in the game against the Browns. The Commanders also were without two key members of their secondary because of ankle injuries: cornerback Benjamin St-Juste and safety Kam Curl.
0 — Teams that have won the week after playing the San Francisco 49ers this season, with Washington becoming the 14th to lose.
Evaluating for next year goes beyond Howell. The Commanders might also want to see more of what they have in a few other 2022 draft picks: cornerback Christian Holmes, safety Percy Butler and guard Chris Paul. No better time than now.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL