Howell dazzles as Snyder era potentially closes with Commanders’ win over Cowboys

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LANDOVER —  If he was watching Sunday’s season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, you had to wonder what Dan Snyder was thinking. 

A team spokesperson declined to comment on whether the embattled billionaire was at FedEx Field for what was expected to be his last game as the Washington Commanders owner. But in just a few months, with Snyder exploring a sale, the Commanders could be sold if everything goes as planned. 

Against the Cowboys, perhaps Snyder had thoughts about the latest throngs of Cowboys fans to invade his stadium — in what has become an annual tradition through his 20-plus years of ownership. Maybe he was focused on the debut of Sam Howell, Washington’s rookie quarterback who played well enough to give the team’s disillusioned fans a sliver of hope for next season.

Or maybe, he was just hoping his childhood team would beat its hated rival one last time. 

That, it turned out, happened. 

The Commanders’ season ended with a 26-6 win over the Cowboys, the final, unexpected result in what has been a tumultuous year in a chaotic tenure of Snyder’s hold on the Burgundy and Gold. Washington improved to 8-8-1, and 163-220-1 with Snyder at the ultimate helm. 

The Commanders have made the playoffs just six times since Snyder purchased the team for $800 million in 1999. But they failed to do so this year. During a down-then-up-then-down-again season, the Commanders saw their playoff chances evaporate over the last few weeks. Washington, in a common theme of Snyder’s tenure, disappointed in do-or-die games. 

This year was particularly egregious. The Commanders were 7-5 before an 0-4-1 stretch eliminated them from the postseason. The last loss of that span — a 24-10 defeat to the Browns — saw coach Ron Rivera re-insert Carson Wentz into the starting lineup, a decision that backfired greatly as Wentz threw three interceptions and lost his job again the following week. Wentz, Washington’s high-profile acquisition, was inactive for Sunday’s finale. 

For a normal franchise, Washington’s late-season meltdown might have put Rivera’s job in jeopardy. But the Commanders are far from a normal franchise. With so much uncertainty regarding a possible change in ownership, Rivera is likely to be considered safe — barring a major surprise. 

Instead, the Commanders will spend the next few days and weeks in limbo. Rivera, scheduled to conduct a season-ending press conference Tuesday, will meet with players and evaluate if any significant changes are needed. Rivera’s front office will continue to search for an answer at quarterback. 

All that, however, figures to matter little in comparison to any potential ownership change.

But on Sunday, the Commanders’ ownership drama largely took a backseat to the action on the field. There were no “Sell the Team!” chants as there were in October when co-owner Tanya Snyder was shown on the team’s video board in a spot that promoted breast cancer awareness. 

Instead, the crowd became enamored with Howell — the Commanders’ fifth-round rookie who got the start this weekend with Washington out of the playoff picture. 

From Howell’s very first pass — a 16-yard touchdown to Terry McLaurin — the North Carolina product dazzled. By the end of the contest, the 22-year-old finished with 169 yards on 11 of 19 passing for one touchdown and an interception. Howell also added 35 rushing yards on five attempts, one of which resulted in a 9-yard score.

The rest of the Commanders’ supporting cast did their best to prop up the rookie, too. Despite missing a number of key players — defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, for instance, was ruled out with a knee injury — Washington jumped on the Cowboys with a dominant defense and a ferocious special teams. 

The latter forced two Dallas blunders in the first quarter. The Commanders blocked Dallas’ opening-series punt, giving the Commanders the ball inside the 20-yard line. That mistake led to Howell’s first touchdown on his first pass — creating a frenzy for the Commanders faithful who actually showed up. 

Shortly later, the Cowboys muffed a Tress Way punt — though this mistake wasn’t nearly as costly as Joey Slye missed a 31-yard field goal attempt. 

Slye had a wildly uneven performance that included three missed kicks (two field goals and one extra point attempt). But the Commanders made up for their errors. The defense held Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott to just 128 yards — and cornerback Kendall Fuller intercepted one of his throws for a 29-yard touchdown.

Dallas’ performance was especially confounding as the Cowboys entered the afternoon with the possibility that they could win the NFC East. But the closest that Dallas got to threatening Washington’s lead was when CeeDee Lamb scored a 15-yard touchdown just before halftime to cut the deficit to seven (13-6). 

Yet, the Commanders’ crowd was still buzzing. As most of the Cowboys’ fans headed to grab concessions at halftime, Washington’s contingent stuck around to watch the team retire Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen’s No. 9 jersey at halftime. 

During the ceremony, team president Jason Wright made remarks about what the legendary passer meant to the franchise — drawing applause. 

Snyder, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen. And it was unclear whether he even watched at all. 

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