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Commanders QB Jacoby Brissett named starter over Sam Howell for Week 17

Sam Howell's benching will carry over into Week 17.

Washington is proceeding with Jacoby Brissett as its starting quarterback for the Commanders' New Year's Eve game against San Francisco, head coach Ron Rivera announced Wednesday.

Brissett replaced Howell for a second time in as many weeks during the third quarter of the Commanders' 30-28 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday, and almost immediately injected life into an otherwise moribund Washington offense. With Brissett at the controls, the Commanders pieced together three straight touchdown drives, erasing New York's 20-point lead and gaining a one-point lead with less than five minutes left to play in regulation.

Washington ended up falling in narrow fashion, but the wild turn of events sent a signal that Rivera could no longer ignore: Howell wasn't his best quarterback anymore.

"Thing hadn't gone as well for the last few weeks, so we just think this is a good opportunity for (Howell) to watch," Rivera said. "Jacoby -- being the professional he is and really playing the way he has -- is really going to give Sam an opportunity to see some things, see how the offense goes, and I think it'll help him."

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Brissett -- a veteran with stops in New England, Indianapolis and Cleveland under his belt -- will likely keep the Commanders afloat against a stingy 49ers defense that might have sent a turnover-prone Howell toward a disaster zone Sunday. After watching Howell struggle to protect the ball in recent weeks, Rivera seemingly acknowledged this reality when making the decision, accepting that his chosen quarterback of the future could benefit from a sabbatical.

That's what it is in Rivera's eyes: a break.

"Part of it, too, may be the fact he's played a lot of football this year," Rivera said. "And it's been hard, tough football. This is an opportunity for him to take a breath."

Rivera has uncharacteristically tied himself to Howell in 2023, going as far as naming Howell the top option entering camp and never deviating from the expectation Howell would prove him correct. Rivera has looked wise at times in 2023, a season in which Howell has shown plenty of flashes of great potential, and has doubled down on his belief that Howell can be the future in Washington.

But recent struggles have thrown such lofty projections into doubt. Rivera admitted Wednesday that Howell has had bright moments and has also "taken some lumps."

Still, he sees an optimistic outlook for the quarterback. His verbiage did change slightly, though, which might just be a sign of the change most everyone believes will be coming to the Commanders in a couple of weeks.

"He's a resilient player and a solid young man who I think has a bright future in this league," Rivera said of Howell. "I really do. He's a guy who can play quarterback in the NFL, and do it well, and do it at a high level."

Whether that future takes place in Washington -- or with Rivera -- remains to be seen. But for at least one Sunday, Howell will return to the bench for a breather.

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