The Washington Commanders will stick with Taylor Heinicke at quarterback — for now. But coach Ron Rivera said Monday that he’ll consider making a change to Carson Wentz if they don’t “get back on track.”
Heinicke has started the past eight games after Wentz suffered a broken right ring finger Oct. 13. Washington has gone 5-2-1 with Heinicke starting, but the offense has struggled. Wentz was active Sunday for the first time since his injury.
After Sunday night’s 20-12 loss to the New York Giants, the Commanders (7-6-1) dropped to the seventh and final playoff spot with an upcoming road trip at the San Francisco 49ers (10-4) on Saturday. Washington leads the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions by half a game, so it’s likely the Commanders will have to win two games to clinch a playoff spot.
“The biggest thing is sticking with Taylor and with what we’re trying to establish,” Rivera said. “[But] it is something, to be quite frank, that I do have to think about at some point. But if we can play the way we’ve played and do the things we’ve done, then we’ll stick where we are.”
Washington’s offense has not fared well most of the season after scoring a combined 55 points the first two games. Under Heinicke, Washington ranks 13th in total yards, but 25th in scoring, 25th in the red zone and 27th on third down. Washington’s offense has scored more than 23 points only once in the past 12 weeks and has scored 19 or fewer in four of the past seven games. The Commanders have relied on their run game and defense to go from 1-4 to their current mark.
On Sunday, Heinicke completed seven of 13 passes for 55 yards in the first half. He lost a fumble on a blindside hit by defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux inside the 5-yard line. Thibodeaux recovered and scored.
Rivera said he did not consider switching quarterbacks at halftime. In the second half, Heinicke completed 10 of 16 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown. He also fumbled at the New York 5-yard line late in the game when he failed to secure the ball on a scramble.
“I thought he responded very well,” Rivera said of Heinicke’s second half. “We continued to move the ball up and down the field. We have to be aware of our ball security.”
Both quarterbacks have thrown 10 touchdown passes; Wentz had six passes intercepted over his six starts, Heinicke had five. But Heinicke’s mobility and ability to elude the rush remain attractive, especially when facing San Francisco, one of the NFL’s best pass-rush units.
Rivera made it clear he still believes in Heinicke, telling him so in a postgame meeting in his office.
“My conversation was, ‘Hey, look, we had some really good moments during this game, we did some really good things but we’ve got to build on it and we’ve got to finish in the red zone,'” Rivera said.
Washington traded for Wentz this past offseason, sending two picks to the Indianapolis Colts and absorbing his $28 million cap hit. The Commanders will end up having surrendered two third-round picks for Wentz. He does not have any guaranteed money remaining on his contract, so the team could cut him after the season with no cap penalty. Heinicke will be a free agent after the season.