Brissett to start for Commanders against 49ers
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Jacoby Brissett is set to start at quarterback for the Washington Commanders on Sunday when they host the NFC-leading San Francisco 49ers, a decision coach Ron Rivera framed as a chance for Sam Howell to get a breather late in a long season with the team long out of playoff contention.
Brissett takes over after Howell was pulled from each of the past two games, most recently a 30-28 loss at the New York Jets in which he was 6 of 22 with two interceptions. The 31-year-old journeyman is on track to be the 13th different QB to start for Washington since 2018, and at least one more could be coming next season when new ownership puts another regime in charge.
For now, it's the abandonment of Rivera's nearly yearlong plan to see if Howell could be the future of the franchise at football's most important position, which included bringing in Eric Bieniemy to be offensive coordinator and spanned the sale of the team.
“I think this is probably a good opportunity for Sam to take a break," Rivera said Wednesday before practice. “This is about Sam’s continued development, and things hadn’t gone as well as we would have liked for him the last few weeks, so we just think this is a good opportunity for him to watch.”
Howell started the first 15 games of the season, and he leads the league with 17 interceptions. The 2022 fifth-round pick out of North Carolina has been sacked a league-high 60 times and has thrown 557 passes, second only to Patrick Mahomes.
The Commanders have lost six in a row to fall to 4-11. The 49ers opened as 13 1/2-point favorites on FanDuel Sportsbook coming off their home loss to Baltimore, before the shift to Brissett made them 12 1/2-point favorites.
“He’s going to give us a chance to really be successful,” receiver Terry McLaurin said. “He’s pretty much seen it all at this point in his career, so we’re excited to get out there and play with him.”
Rivera said he let owners know about his decision, adding: "The big thing everybody has to understand is that they have been very supportive of everything that we have done so far.”
Howell said he was disappointed to learn he lost the starting job.
"It is what it is,” Howell said. “Just going to try to do whatever I can to continue to get better these last two weeks and try to learn as much as I can, watch Jacoby play, support him and try to be a good teammate.”
After four seasons running Washington's football operations, Rivera and much of the front office and coaching staff are expected to be fired next month as Josh Harris' group puts its stamp on the team it paid $6.05 billion to buy from former owner Dan Snyder.
Brissett, a 31-year-old journeyman who signed a $10 million contract for this season to back up and mentor Howell, was 18 of 23 for 224 yards and three touchdowns in relief over the past two games.
“Jacoby’s proven that he’s a very, very viable player in this league,” Rivera said. “It’s amazing to watch the professionalism with which Jacoby does things.”
This is set to be Brissett's 49th NFL start and first since Nov. 27, 2022, with Cleveland.
Brissett is on the verge of joining Howell, Taylor Heinicke, Carson Wentz, Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Allen, Garrett Gilbert, Case Keenum, Colt McCoy, Josh Johnson and Mark Sanchez as QBs to start for Washington since the start of the 2018 season — the year after Kirk Cousins left for Minnesota. He's the ninth since Rivera took over.
“It’s going to be a challenge, for sure, but I’m up for the challenge,” Brissett said. “I wouldn't be in this situation if I didn't think I could handle it.”
Howell, still on an affordable rookie contract, could also return, though defensive tackle Jonathan Allen acknowledged his younger teammate “has a battle ahead of him.”
While Rivera's not expected to be the one deciding who plays Week 1 in 2024, the veteran coach who guided Carolina to the Super Bowl nearly a decade ago believes Howell could still be an NFL starter.
“There’s been some good moments where he’s learned a lot, and I think there’s some moments where he’s had to take a couple lumps,” Rivera said. “But he’s a resilient player, a solid young man who I think has a bright future in this league. I really do. I think he’s a guy who can play quarterback in the NFL and do it well and do it at a high level.”
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