Rivera will be Washington’s 10th quarterback change since being hired in 2020, and it feels very familiar as Heinicke will once again fill the backup role.
“It’s tough,” Heinicke said after Saturday’s loss. “I’ve said this before: I try not to look at it. I try to roll with the punches. If I start, I give it my all. If I don’t, I try to be the best backup. I’m going to continue to do that.”
Heinicke led the Commanders to a 5-3-1 run this season, turning around their poor start and putting them in a playoff position. During that stretch, he completed 62.2 percent of his passes for an average of 206.6 yards, a 2.0 touchdown-to-interception ratio and an 89.6 passer rating.
Through three quarters against the 49ers, Heinicke played efficiently, completing 13 of 17 passes for 166 yards, zero turnovers, two touchdowns and a 145.7 passer rating. But two turnovers to start the fourth quarter, two failed fourth-and-one attempts earlier in the game and two red-zone turnovers in Week 15 against the New York Giants combined to prompt Rivera’s late conversion against the 49ers.
Wentz took over with just over nine minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Commanders trailed 30-14. Washington went without an interception, and Wentz completed 10 of 11 plays on his first drive, including a 20-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel.
Although the rally came up short, the minimal playing time both highlighted Wentz’s strengths and raised questions about Washington’s program moving forward. With Heinicke, the team switched to a Run-first sign, relies heavily on production by Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson. It remains to be seen if Washington takes a similar approach with Wentz as the starter or slips back into an offense that makes the passing game the focal point.
“The identity has obviously evolved throughout the year, which is cool to watch and cool to see guys fall into their own identity within this offense,” Wentz said Saturday. “When I was there, all bets were off. We had to score.
Wentz’s second shot as a starter also gives him a chance to do what he couldn’t do last season. The Colts ended their season with two losses that eliminated them from the playoffs and eventually led to the trade of Wentz to Washington. Now, with the Browns and Dallas Cowboys waiting, the Commanders need to win out to have the best chance of making the playoffs.
“It’s nice to still be in control of our destiny; You know the old cliché,” Wentz said. “But it’s real. It’s real. Obviously, being a couple tough, close, tough, but at the same time, controlling our destiny is where we started this year and everything we’ve been through as a team.
This story is developing and will be updated.