After a 37-20 loss to the 49ers which saw backup quarterback Carson Wentz come into the game late, Commanders head coach Ron Rivera said the team has a lot to think about before it decides whether it will start Wentz or Taylor Heinicke going forward.
"We're gonna evaluate the tape, we'll talk about those things and I'll make a decision next week," Rivera said in his post-game press conference. "And I'll make it early, too, because whoever's gonna start is gonna get the chance to work."
Heinicke took over as Washington's starter when Wentz went on injured reserve back in October, but played well enough to keep the job even after Wentz's broken finger had healed. But this Saturday against San Francisco, Rivera made the decision to bring Wentz back after the game started getting out of hand for the Commanders.
Heinicke had played rather well for most of the game at that point, keeping it close with the 49ers, but then he had a fumble and an interception on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter, both of which led to field goal-scoring drives and a 30-14 San Francisco lead. It was at that point Rivera decided to shake things up, saying after the game that the decision was more about not letting the game get away from them rather than a specific response to Heinicke's play.
"That was situational. I mean when the game got to where it was, the last thing you want to do is have them tee off on you. And not that I wanted to ... just throw Carson in there, but at the same time it was an opportunity to see where Carson was, and he did a nice job," Rivera said. "I thought he had pretty good command of what we were doing, he stood tall in the pocket, made a couple of quick decisions, got the ball out quickly a couple of times, and he threw some good balls."
In Wentz's first drive at the helm, he led the Commanders to a touchdown to slightly close the gap, appearing to do his job of providing a spark for the offense. Though Washington wasn't able to complete a comeback, Wentz finished 12-of-16 for 123 yards and a touchdown in just under a quarter of work. In contrast, Heinicke's three-plus quarters amounted to 166 yards, two TDs and an INT on 13-for-18 passing.
But while the numbers don't look great for Heinicke, Rivera was clear after the game that he thought not all of his quarterback's struggles were his fault alone, especially the turnovers.
"Well, I thought he played pretty good. A lot of those things that happened were not necessarily his fault," Rivera said. "The turnovers, to pin them all on him would be really tough. I'd like to think that those weren't his issues, there are some things that we could have done better."
The Commanders (7-7-1) are still in the thick of a playoff race, trying to find their way into one of the seven postseason spots available. While Saturday's quarterback change will lead to much discussion as to who should be the one to lead Washington in that effort over the last two weeks of the season, Rivera said he's confident that he and his staff will be able to make the right decision in the end.
"Well, it is about the whole picture, and so as we go through this we will go and talk about all these different things," Rivera said. "And there's a lot that will go into that, it's not going to be a knee-jerk decision, it's going to be something that I really do at the end of the day believe is going to give us the best chance to win football games and get us into the playoffs."
Washington hosts the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 on New Year's Day.