The interceptions are on Howell, and the second-year pro could probably get rid of the ball quicker. But the Washington Commanders' biggest issue coming off a 37-3 loss to Buffalo is their remade offensive line protecting Howell better after giving up an NFL-high 19 sacks through three games — especially with the fierce front of the Philadelphia Eagles up next.
“Sam's a great quarterback and a tough kid," right tackle Andrew Wylie said. “As an offensive lineman, that’s on our unit. We take that personally. We've got to do a better job of keeping him upright and getting him that extra tick.”
Maybe a tick or two or even an extra second. Howell showed Week 2 at Denver the kind of throws he could make when given time, and it allowed the Commanders to start the season with two victories.
They could be back even at 2-2 if the defending NFC champion Eagles get to Howell as often as the Bills did.
Or even as much as the Cardinals or Broncos did: Washington's 19 sacks allowed are six more than the next-closest team entering Monday's games.
“You got to learn from it,” coach Ron Rivera said. "That’s how it’s going to get corrected. If you don’t learn from it, it’s going to happen again. So, we’ll coach it up, we’ll try and learn from it and we’ll see what happens.”
Against Buffalo? Not much. Big picture? Washington banked two wins early and has a favorable schedule coming up with Chicago at home, at Atlanta and the New York Giants sandwiched between games against Philadelphia.
Cornerback Benjamin St-Juste acknowledged it wasn't going to be a “Cinderella story” of going 17-0 and wants he and his teammates to figure out how to handle adversity.
“How can we bounce back from this? Can we recover? Can we fix the issue like we made today and not repeat it next week?” St-Just said. "People are going to try to exploit the mistakes we (made against Buffalo) and then see if we fix it next week, and that’s what we need to do.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Beyond the offensive line — and the offense in general after what was a shutout until a 51-yard field goal in the final minute — the defense struggled for the first time in a long time on third down. The Bills converted on nine of 15 third downs.
That shattered Washington's streak of nine consecutive games holding its opponent to four or fewer third-down conversions. The defensive line of Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat and Chase Young was ineffective, not sacking Josh Allen once.
Antonio Gibson the kick returner is doing his best to give the Commanders good starting field position. He had a 28-yard return against the Bills.
Gibson the runner and receiver is again on the hotseat after losing a second fumble in three games. Washington was still within two scores early in the fourth quarter when Gibson fumbled after making a catch, and the Bills needed just six plays to score another touchdown and put the game out of reach.
With Brian Robinson Jr. around and looking more reliable, Gibson's carries and share in the offense could shrink. Robinson averaged 7 yards a carry to get to 70 against the Bills, which would be nice to keep going if the Commanders don't again fall behind as they have in each of the first three games.
The Commanders have been largely healthy early, except for tight end Logan Thomas' concussion from a helmet-to-helmet hit on his touchdown in Week 2 at Denver. They hope to have Thomas back Sunday at Philadelphia.
1 — Third-down conversion Washington got in 11 opportunities against Buffalo, a rate of 11.1%.
Hope the Eagles struggle to recover from the short week after visiting Tampa Bay on Monday night. Still, it won't be an easy task. Philadelphia opened as a 7-point favorite on FanDuel Sportsbook.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl