Ron Rivera declines to name starting QB after benching Taylor Heinicke

Rivera declines to name starting QB after benching Heinicke originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera declined to name a starting quarterback moving forward following Saturday afternoon’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers, a contest in which starter Taylor Heinicke was benched in favor of Carson Wentz.

“We’re going to evaluate the tape, we’ll talk about those things and I’ll make a decision next week,” Rivera told reporters in San Francisco when asked if Wentz will be the team’s QB1 for the rest of the season.

“I’ll make [the decision] early, too, because whoever is going to start is going to get the chance to work,” the head coach added.

Rivera later emphasized that while his decision will come quickly, it will still be a long, thought-out choice that he makes.

“It’s not going to be a knee-jerk [decision],” he said. “It’s going to be something, at the end of the day, I really do believe gives us the best chance to win football games, get into the playoffs and see what happens.”

The head coach made the move to Wentz midway through the fourth quarter with the Commanders trailing by 16 points after Heinicke’s last two drives ended with a fumble and an interception, respectively.

Wentz, albeit facing soft coverage from the 49ers, led Washington on an 11-play, 82-yard touchdown drive in his first action since Week 6. The seventh-year veteran finished 12-of-16 for 123 yards and a touchdown on the day.

“I thought he had pretty good command of what we were doing,” Rivera said of Wentz’s play. “He stood tall in the pocket, made a couple of quick decisions, got the ball out quickly a couple times and he threw some good balls.”

Heinicke, visibly frustrated after being taken out of the game, was one of the first players to congratulate Wentz following his touchdown drive and continued to show support for his teammate when speaking after the game.

“No one felt like there was going to be any drop off when he [came] in. He showed it,” Heinicke said. “He came in and put together a great drive and hits a nice ball to Curtis [Samuel] for a touchdown. Carson’s a great player and he’s shown it in the past. I think he’s going to continue to do so.”

Heinicke said he wasn’t surprised that he was pulled from the contest, citing the numerous hits he took throughout the afternoon and that his final two possessions running the offense ended in turnovers. “I get it,” he said.

Initially, Heinicke excelled. He was in control of the offense in the first half and the Commanders dominated time of possession over that span. Heinicke’s effort over the first 30 minutes — 8-of-11, 89 yards, 1 TD — was among his best halves of the season.

“I thought he played pretty good,” Rivera said. “A lot of things that happened weren’t necessarily his fault. We were trying to run the ball and we have to be a little bit more effective. … We can run the ball better. When we did ask him to throw, he was pretty good.”

Wentz said after the game that he thought Heinicke played well, too, and that he felt for his teammate in the moment. 

“This league is crazy,” Wentz added. “Thankfully Taylor and I have an awesome relationship. I’ve been supporting the heck out of him and he’s done the same for me all year. A lot of things are out of our control.”

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Rivera said part of the reason Heinicke was taken out was they didn’t want San Francisco to “just tee off” on the quarterback in what were obvious passing scenarios. By putting in Wentz, the coaching staff also got its first chance in over two months to evaluate him in real, live action against another team.

“It was an opportunity for us to see where Carson was,” Rivera said. “Carson did a nice job, drove us down and threw a touchdown pass. We’re in a pretty good situation right now.”

When Rivera named Heinicke the team’s starter following Washington’s Week 11 win in Houston, much of the reasoning had to do with the fact that Washington was winning games. The Commanders went 5-1 in Heinicke’s first six starts, but have since gone 0-2-1 over the past month.

The decision to move back to Wentz at quarterback first seemed like a possibility last week against the New York Giants, the first matchup Wentz suited up for since injuring his finger. However, Heinicke ended up playing the entire contest and turned in mixed results in Washington’s 20-12 loss to their division rivals.

With Rivera declining to name a starter moving forward, both quarterbacks were kept in limbo about the team’s plan for the position to finish the year. They’re each prepared for whatever direction Rivera chooses.

“We’ll both be ready for whatever comes our way,” Wentz said. “We’ll both prepare and be ready for whatever and have each other’s back at the same time.”

Heinicke admitted the week-to-week process has been tough but remains focused on controlling “what I can control.”

“I just try to roll with the punches,” he said. “If I’m starting, I’ll give it my all. If I’m not, I’ll try to be the best backup I can be. I’m going to continue that and see what happens next week.”

Despite the Commanders’ loss, the franchise still controls its playoff destiny with two weeks to play. Washington holds the No. 7 seed in the NFC after both Detroit (7-8) and Seattle (7-8) lost on Saturday, too. The Green Bay Packers (6-8) can enter the playoff race with a win on Sunday over Miami.

“To still have control of our destiny means a lot, especially where we started this year and everything we’ve gone through as a team,” Wentz said. “To still have a chance, in control of our destiny, means a lot with two left. I think we’re excited about it.”

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