The Commanders are making yet another QB change, naming rookie Sam Howell as the starter against the visiting Cowboys, but it doesn't change the mission of Dallas' defense in Week 18
FRISCO, TX — The NFL, as a whole, continues to wait with bated breath for the most positive outcome possible for Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who has shown some signs of improvement after going into cardiac arrest after making a routine tackle on Monday night but who also remains in critical condition, and that includes the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Commanders on Sunday, Jan. 8.
The league has announced there are currently no changes to the Week 18 schedule of games, however, and that means clubs must walk the delicate line of balancing the mental and emotional health of players and coaches with preparing for the regular season finale.
As the Cowboys do so, it's not Carson Wentz or Taylor Heinicke they'll see take the starting role at quarterback on Sunday, because head coach Ron Rivera is awarding the honor to rookie fifth-round pick Sam Howell only one week after benching Heinicke for Wentz in a decision that led to their elimination from playoff contention.
"Obviously, we don't have a lot of looks on [Howell]," said First-Team All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons on Wednesday. "Watching him when he was at North Carolina, being in the same draft class, I understand he has a great arm talent and deep ball. He and [wide receiver Dyami Brown] already have a connection [from the time together at UNC]. That's something to look out for. I thought he was a pretty good quarterback coming out and that he would go a lot earlier than expected."
None of this changes how Parsons and the Cowboys pass rush will approach the game, though.
"This is our matchup, but it doesn't change the fact we've gotta get to the quarterback and make plays," he added.
DeMarcus Lawrence agrees, with added reasoning.
"It's about them as the Washington Commanders football team," said the three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher. "I don't think a coaching staff can change the whole playbook in one game because of the quarterback. I feel like whatever they were running, beforehand, Sam Howell will be there to run the same thing."
A lot has been said about the topic of possibly resting players following the loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but not inside the building.
There was never a moment when head coach Mike McCarthy even remotely considered doing so and, thanks to the pedal remaining to the floor in Dallas and the Philadelphia Eagles losing two straight in the absence of Jalen Hurts, the Cowboys still have a chance to move up from the No. 5 seed this weekend.
They'll need help to do it, but they understand winning this matchup and sweeping the Commanders is mandatory to keep that hope alive if only for a few more hours on Sunday; but there's also their goal of going into the playoffs on a three-game win streak that's fueling them.
"We're approaching this like any other game — we're looking to get a win," said two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott. "We're looking to build some confidence, to build some momentum for these playoffs. We definitely wanted to have an opportunity to improve our seeding and to win our division, so we want to handle our business and do what we need to do to make sure we're putting our best foot forward."
It's with a heavy heart that the Cowboys and collective league attempts to focus on the football to come while simultaneously waiting for additional news on the prognosis of Hamlin.
Aiding in that effort, however, is the intangible strength of what can only be described as a brotherhood within the building — everyone locking arms in appreciation of Hamlin and each other to power forward.
"It's good to be back in the building, back around guys you love," said Parsons. "Because that's what it's all about — the guys in this room."