Commanders get Carson Wentz back as QB vs. Browns

Ashburn, Va. — The Washington Commanders are back at quarterback Carson Wentz In their fight for a playoff chance.

The team announced Wednesday that Wentz will start in place Taylor Heinicke The Commanders (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 Oct. 13 win over the Chicago Bears. He was placed on injured reserve and did not return to the active roster until December 17. Heinicke started nine games, leading the team to a 5-3-1 record.

However, Washington is 0-2-1 in its last three games. Although they move the ball well with Heinicke, the Generals are 26th in red zone offense and 20th in points per game in his eight full starts.

Wentz replaced Heinicke 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 would come in, not play for a while, a little rusty at first, then he started to sharpen up,” coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday. “He showed that he made quick decisions, so that was good to see. There are still some things he can continue to work on.”

Heinicke provided a spark with his mobility and clutch throws and late-game drives. Those attributes led to wins over the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts, while drawing against the New York Giants. Heinicke has thrown 12 touchdowns to six interceptions while being sacked 19 times in his nine starts, and his ability to escape pressure has made him less effective.

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But with the Commanders struggling to finish drives late and the hope that the familiarity of Wentz’s offense would lead to quick results, Washington opted for the move.

Commanders liked Wentz’s arm strength and what it could do for the offense. His two drives against San Francisco showed what they wanted to see.

“He’s fully healthy, he’s got new legs now, and he’s got a lively arm,” Rivera said Tuesday. “He made very quick decisions. He showed us the quickness you expect from quarterbacks, and his decision making seemed to be right.”

Washington traded two third-round picks — one in 2022 and another in 2023 — and swapped second-round picks in April to get Wentz from Indianapolis. He entered the season as the clear-cut starter, something even Heinicke acknowledged during a spring news conference.

Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in 2016, had to learn a new offense for the first time in his career. He played the same way through his first five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and last season with the Colts.

In his first two starts, Washington scored a combined 55 points. But in the next four, the Commanders managed just 47. He has thrown 11 touchdowns to six interceptions and been sacked 23 times.

Wentz has two years left on his contract but no guaranteed money. If Washington wants to keep him around, it can renegotiate his contract or pay him $26.7 million in 2023. Heinicke is a free agent after the season.

Heinicke became a fan favorite after arriving in Washington in December 2020 as the fourth quarterback he could fill in if the other three were sidelined by Covid-19. Before that, he lived with his sister and took classes to finish his degree at Old Dominion.

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He started the team’s playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that season and won over teammates with his gutsy play and pylon-diving touchdown runs.

Washington signed Heinicke to a two-year extension. Ryan Fitzpatrick started 15 games in 2021 after suffering a groin injury in Week 1 and went 7-8.

The Commanders have a 12-11-1 record over the last two years under Heinicke. They are 2-6 under anyone else.

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