Commanders to start rookie Sam Howell at QB vs. Cowboys

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Sam Howell is expected to start at quarterback for the Washington Commanders in their season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, with the rookie set to make his NFL debut.

Coach Ron Rivera confirmed Wednesday he opted to go with Howell after initially considering giving Taylor Heinicke the nod and changing his mind after talking to players and members of his staff. Washington was eliminated from playoff contention after Carson Wentz threw three interceptions in a loss to Cleveland and Green Bay beat Minnesota last week.

Going back to Wentz was not something Rivera considered, he said, adding that Heinicke will be Howell's primary backup. Howell is starting so he can get his first taste of football in the pros.

“It really came down to finding out about the young man,” Rivera said.

Washington selected Howell in the fifth round of the draft, 144th overall, last year. The former University of North Carolina star, who was once considered a potential top-10 pick, has been practicing all season behind Wentz and Heinicke and spent a few games in uniform as the Commanders' backup.

While quarterbacking a team out of contention, Howell is set to face an opponent with plenty to play for. The Cowboys can win the NFC East with a win and a loss by the Philadelphia Eagles against the New York Giants.

“We want to win the game,” Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said. "You can’t go into the game and think you’re going to shift gears, I just think for the principle alone. We’re going to do everything we can to win this game.”

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AP Pro Football Writer Schuyler Dixon in Arlington, Texas, contributed.

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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press