His up-and-down rookie season — the first-round draft pick out of Mississippi State was the NCAA’s career leader in pick-sixes but got benched five weeks into the season before earning the start Sunday — has mirrored much of the past four seasons for the Commanders under Coach Ron Rivera: early optimism followed by disappointment before a late push renews hope. Sprinkle in some close wins and even closer losses, add a few questionable play calls, then rinse and repeat.
Washington’s 29-26 loss at Lumen Field, clinched on Jason Myers’s 43-yard field goal as time expired, was, as usual, filled with as many memorable plays as mind-boggling ones.
The Commanders arrived needing just one win to get to .500 — no small feat after they fell to 3-5 and then dealt away their top two pass rushers at the trade deadline — but instead fell to 4-6 as Seattle (6-3) answered a late tying touchdown drive, Washington’s second of the fourth quarter.
As in many of their games in recent years, the Commanders helped beat themselves. Bad mistakes at critical moments left them close but not close enough.
“We have to be better there,” Rivera said. “… We didn’t get it done.”
Washington’s offense was one-dimensional, relying almost entirely on the pass. But a heavy dose of the screen game and some creative play calls turned its running backs into its leading targets, and another sound outing by quarterback Sam Howell kept the Commanders in it.
Brian Robinson Jr. (119 receiving yards, 38 rushing yards) and Antonio Gibson (42 receiving, 13 rushing) were the leading targets after running the ball just five times in the first half, Washington’s fewest carries in a first half in three years. Each had a receiving touchdown.
Howell finished 29 for 44 for 312 yards, three touchdowns and a 103.9 rating. He added 17 rushing yards and took three sacks.
He got Washington off to a strong start, needing less than two minutes to help his team get on the board. On the fourth play from scrimmage, Howell dropped back on second and eight to find Seahawks safety Jamal Adams barreling toward him. Adams managed to hit Howell, but the quarterback turned left, scrambled upfield and dumped off the ball to Robinson in the flat. Robinson turned upfield and ran 51 yards for the score, the longest catch-and-run by a Washington running back in more than two years.
Joey Slye’s extra-point attempt hit the left upright, but Washington’s defense held the Seahawks to a Myers field goal on their first drive — even after Forbes’s hit on Lockett granted them a free first down and 15 yards.
Another field goal by each team put Howell in control of a critical drive in the second quarter, with a chance to guide his team to another score or give Seattle a chance to claim the lead. The drive resulted in a loss of four yards after Howell took his first sack on third and four. Center Tyler Larsen was knocked back after linebacker Bobby Wagner used a spin move, and defensive end Leonard Williams beat guard Chris Paul inside to gain a clear lane to the quarterback. Myers kicked a field goal later to leave the score tied at 9 at halftime.
Washington altered its line three weeks ago to account for an injury to left guard Saahdiq Charles (Paul replaced him) and five sacks allowed by previous starting center Nick Gates. For two weeks, the change made all the difference: Howell appeared more comfortable stepping up and finding ways to move the pocket, and he took a total of four sacks in those games, a marked decrease from his average of about six over the first seven games.
But on Sunday, his sacks essentially ended three drives; Tress Way punted after two of them, and the Commanders settled for a field goal after the other.
And the defense was dealt a blow when defensive end James Smith-Williams, a starter after the trades of Montez Sweat and Chase Young, suffered a hamstring injury late in the second quarter and didn’t return. That left the team without key starters on all three levels of the defense: Forbes was in the locker room, Smith-Williams was on the bench, and linebacker Cody Barton (ankle) was on injured reserve.
Yet Washington held firm, notching as many notable plays as it did regrettable ones. Rookie end Andre Jones Jr. was credited with two pass deflections. The defense held the Seahawks to a 1-for-2 showing in the red zone and allowed them to convert just 4 of 14 third downs.
But in sticking to its familiar script, Washington let the game slip away in the second half.
Howell lost a fumble on a designed run in the third quarter, then later in the period Seattle running back Kenneth Walker III scored a go-ahead touchdown, taking a short pass 64 yards to pay dirt. He’s the second back in as many weeks (joining New England’s Rhamondre Stevenson) to score a 64-yard touchdown against Washington. This one put Seattle up 16-12.
After another Seattle field goal, Robinson collected another big play, a 48-yard catch-and-run, and Gibson added a 19-yard receiving touchdown to tie it at 19.
Washington quickly let Seattle get back in front. The defense committed three penalties — pass interference on fourth down and a face mask by cornerback Benjamin St-Juste, plus a flag for too many men on the field — to help the Seahawks move the ball 75 yards and score another go-ahead touchdown. Quarterback Geno Smith found Lockett for a five-yard touchdown pass to give Seattle a 26-19 lead with 3:47 remaining.
That left plenty of time for the Commanders to claw their way back. It wasn’t pretty, but they got it done. Jamison Crowder and Jahan Dotson dropped passes, and Howell was nearly intercepted before he threw a dart to wideout Dyami Brown for a 35-yard touchdown with 52 seconds remaining. Slye nailed the extra point to tie it.
But that left plenty of time for Seattle to drive the field once more and boot the winning field goal. Smith found DK Metcalf for two deep passes — a 17-yarder on third down and a 27-yard completion after rookie Quan Martin missed a tackle.
Smith spiked the ball to stop the clock with three seconds left before Myers nailed his kick to seal another close-but-not-close-enough finish for the Commanders.