Washington’s leaders are back in the middle Carson Wentz in their battle for a playoff berth.
The team announced Wednesday that Wentz will start in his place Taylor Hynek When the Leaders (7-7-1) host the Cleveland Browns (6-9) on Sunday.
Wentz started the first six games of the season before breaking his right ring finger in an October 13 win over the Chicago Bears. He was placed on injured reserve and did not return to the active list until December 17. Heinicke started nine games, leading the team to a 5-3-1 record.
However, Washington has gone 0-2-1 in its past three games. Although they moved the ball well with Heinicke, the Leaders ranked 26th in red zone offense and 20th in points per game over his eight full starts.
Wentz replaced Henke in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Wentz completed 12 of 16 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought Carson came in and he hadn’t played in a while, and he was a little rusty at first and then he started getting better,” coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday of Wentz’s performance. “He’s shown that he makes quick decisions, and so that was nice to see. There are still some things he can continue to work on.”
Heinicke provided a spark, with his mobility and penchant for clutch throws and drives late in the game. These qualities led to wins over the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts while also leading to a tie against the New York Giants. Heinicke threw 12 touchdowns on six interceptions while sacking 19 times in his nine starts, with his ability to escape pressure enabling him to be sacked less frequently.
But with commanders struggling to end late flights and believing Wentz’s growing familiarity with offense might lead to faster decision-making, Washington opted for the move.
The captains liked Wentz’s arm strength and what he could do for offense. His drive over San Francisco showed them what they wanted to see.
“What he’s shown is that he’s healthy, he’s got really nice legs now, and his arms are very lively,” Rivera said Tuesday. “He made very quick decisions. He showed us that quick flick you look for in a quarterback, and it seemed like his decision making was right.”
Washington traded two third-round picks — one in 2022, one in 2023 — and traded two second-round picks in April for Wentz from Indianapolis. He entered the season as an obvious starter, something even Heinicke acknowledged during a press conference in the spring.
Ranked No. 2 overall in 2016, Wentz needed to learn a new offense for the first time in his career. He had played the same system during his first five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and last season with the Colts.
In his first two games, Washington scored a combined 55 points. But in the next four, the leaders managed only 47 runs. He has thrown 11 touchdowns on six interceptions and has been sacked 23 times.
Wentz’s contract has an additional two years but no more guaranteed money. If Washington chooses to keep him, they can restructure his deal or pay him $26.7 million in 2023. Heinicke is a free agent after the season.
Heinicke became a crowd favorite after arriving in Washington in December 2020 as the fourth quarterback he could fill in if the other three are sidelined due to COVID-19. Prior to that, he had been living with his sister and taking lessons to complete his degree at Old Dominion.
He ended up starting the team’s playoff loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that season and beat his teammates with his gritty playing style and pylon diving.
Washington signed Heinicke to a two-year extension this offseason. He started 15 games in 2021 after Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a season-ending hip injury in Week 1 and went 7-8.
The Leaders have a 12-11-1 record under Heinicke in the past two years. They are 2-6 under everyone else.
“Coffee ninja. Web fan. Hipster-friendly beer enthusiast. Professional creator.”