Backup or starter, Taylor Heinicke comfortable with either role for Commanders

Heinicke ready for either QB1 or backup role moving forward originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Washington Commanders pulled off an epic upset victory over the previously undefeated Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night, the club’s third victory in four games with Taylor Heinicke at the helm.

However, just minutes after the Commanders’ fifth win of the season concluded, head coach Ron Rivera was noncommital whether Heinicke or Carson Wentz, who is eligible to return from IR on Tuesday, will be the team’s starting quarterback moving forward.

“I’ll talk to you guys [on Tuesday],” Rivera told reporters following the game. “We’ll talk about that then.”

When it became Heinicke’s turn to take the podium, the quarterback reiterated a point he made during the offseason regarding his role on the team.

“I said it back in OTAs: we brought Carson in to be the starter and if my number was called, I’d be ready to go in,” Heinicke said. “Whatever decision they want to make, let’s go. If I’m backing up Carson next week, great. I’ll help him any way I can to get ready for the Texans game. The biggest thing for me, let’s just go win, let’s keep winning, whether it’s me playing or not.”

Heinicke has been more than ready to go ever since Wentz went down. In his four starts, three Washington victories, the Commanders have averaged 22.3 points per game. For comparison, the Commanders averaged just 17 points per outing over the first six weeks with Wentz under center.

Heinicke said postgame he feels “a lot more comfortable out there” this season than he did in 2021, his first year as an NFL starter. Victories like Monday night will only help that confidence grow.

“I just understand what I need to do and what not to do in order to win games,” Heinicke said. “To get a win like this, it’s a huge confidence booster for our team and we’re excited to keep it going.”

Rivera, along with several of Heinicke’s teammates, referenced the quarterback’s underdog mentality as one reason for his success. Star wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who turned in an eight-catch, 128-yard performance against one of the NFL’s best secondaries, gave a glowing endorsement of No. 4 following the game, too.

“He’s been great for us since he got here, honestly,” McLaurin said. “… I know I’ve said it time and time again, but he really plays like every play is his last. He plays with no fear, man. Everything is not pretty, but he’s going to continue to give us chances to make plays down the field and on the perimeter. He’s going to extend plays with his legs and get the tough yards. He’s going to get us in the right situations. You just feel confident with a guy back there like that.”

Heinicke’s wild football journey is well documented, but Monday’s victory over Philadelphia holds a special place in the quarterback’s NFL voyage.

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“I’d probably say it’s the biggest win of my career,” Heinicke said. “It’s a division opponent, undefeated, their place [on] Monday night, it can’t get much better than that.”

Heinicke was far from perfect on Monday night; the 29-year-old completed 17-of-29 passes for 211 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Statistics don’t tell the full story of Heinicke’s effort in Philadelphia, though, as he made multiple clutch throws, several on third down, to extend drives and keep Washington in control of the football.

“A lot of people want to measure his height, his arm and all those things,” McLaurin said. “But you can’t measure what’s inside of his chest. I think we all realize that and it’s just been great to see him have success and put us in position to win games.”

The Commanders have a decision to make between Heinicke and Wentz, but some think it’s an easy choice. ESPN broadcasters Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were strongly pushing for Heinicke to remain Washington’s QB1 following the game, with Buck even saying “I can’t even imagine there is a decision to be made.” Legendary Washington signal-caller Joe Theismann tweeted “they should stay with Taylor.”

Whether Heinicke remains the Commanders’ starter or not, his effort over the past four weeks have only increased his already high popularity in Washington’s locker room even more.

“I think it’s really big when your quarterback, your leader, he’s a guy who’s galvanizing the team,” McLaurin said. “You just see it in his eyes. No game is over, no drive is dead when he’s back there.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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