Taylor Heinicke retains Commander’s QB job after winning 4 of 5

HOUSTON – Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera only needed one word to describe why he’s sticking with it Taylor Heinicke at the quarterback.

“Win,” Rivera said after Washington’s 23-10 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Rivera made official what had been reported before the game: even if Carson Wentz returns and is ready to play next week, Heinicke will continue to compete. The Commanders (6-5) have won five of their last six games and are 4-1 with Heinicke in the starting XI.

How long that lasts remains to be seen. But Heinicke will definitely start against the Atlanta Falcons next week.

“He doesn’t have to play well. He just has to play. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing,” Rivera said. “I’m not trying to pull anyone. … This is not a competition in the sense of a controversy. That’s the last thing on my mind. So we talked about doing it one game at a time.”

Heinicke called it a “dream come true” to earn the job the way he has it by leading his team to victories. He said his mindset will not change now.

“I take every opportunity I can get and have fun doing it,” said Heinicke. “Things can change in two weeks and he’ll be back. Who knows? But this week I’ll have fun with it, go out there and hopefully win. I feel like I’m doing my best.”

Heinicke completed 15 of 27 passes for 191 yards, zero touchdowns and zero interceptions in Sunday’s win over the Texans (1-8-1).

The stats weren’t terrific, but Heinicke helped Washington get back into playoff contention. Heinicke has been more consistent, Rivera said, although his daring ways resurface at times.

“Every now and then he does something that makes you hold your breath,” Rivera said. “[But] I see what he’s doing. He systematically leads us into the field, we score and do what we have to do.”

Rivera said he spoke to Wentz and that he was “very good” with the decision.

Wentz remains on injured reserve because of a sprained right ring finger in an Oct. 13 win in Chicago. He was eligible to leave IR last week but Washington didn’t feel ready.

Last week, Rivera said he would consider the mood in the locker room when deciding who would start at quarterback. Washington’s players have shown how much they enjoy Heinicke.

“There’s an underdog mentality that people appreciate,” Rivera said. “You appreciate the way he did things. Whether he’s the backup or the starter, he’s all-in. That is what makes him so viable and why it was important for us to bring him here.”

It’s also possible for Wentz to return to the starting XI sooner rather than later – but only if Heinicke and the offensive fight and the Commanders lose again.

“I just want to keep the thing going,” said Heinicke. “The biggest thing for me is trying to be a clean quarterback, getting the ball in the hands of these playmakers and letting them do their thing.”

Washington made a solid investment in acquiring Wentz, trading a third-round pick and a conditional third-round pick in 2023 to the Indianapolis Colts last April, along with a second-round pick swap. Wentz is counting on $28.294 million against Washington’s salary cap.

The decision to start Heinicke could affect the conditional pick for Indianapolis. If Wentz plays at least 70% of Washington’s snaps this season, the Commanders would owe the Colts a second-round pick. Wentz has currently played 59.1% of the team’s offensive games. At Washington’s current pace, if Heinicke starts another game, the Colts would only get a third-round pick.

Wentz has thrown 10 touchdown passes and six interceptions while playing on a new offensive system for the first time in his seven seasons. He was sacked 23 times, a result of that learning curve, inconsistent pass protection and a loss of mobility due to knee and back injuries. Wentz has a 32.5 QBR and the Commanders have only scored 47 points in his last four starts.

Heinicke, who has spent part of five seasons on this offensive, has helped with his mobility as well as his penchant for connecting with top wide receivers Terry McLaurin. In six games with Wentz, McLaurin had 36 goals and 22 receptions; In four games with Heinicke, he has 44 goals and 28 catches.

“He doesn’t have to play well. He just has to play. We just have to keep doing the things we do. I don’t want to drag anyone. … This is not a competition, it’s a controversy. It’s the last thing on my mind. That’s why we talked about making one game at a time.

Commanders coaches Ron Rivera as he launches Taylor Heinicke over Carson Wentz

Heinicke has thrown five touchdowns and four interceptions but has only been sacked nine times in five starts. Last year he threw 15 interceptions (to 20 touchdowns).

“Last year I took these shots in unnecessary situations and there were interceptions that cost us points,” said Heinicke. “This year I’m trying to be a lot smarter with the ball, especially when our defense is playing the way it is.”

He also said Wentz was supportive.

“It must be hard for him and I understand it,” said Heinicke. “He didn’t do anything wrong. It’s a strange circumstance, but he did a great job. In every meeting he helped me in every way he could. He’s in my ear when I come to the sidelines. He’s a great leader for this team. I don’t see that faltering.”

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