Nothing can stir a quarterback debate quite like a big win.
Moments after the Commanders’ 32-21 win over the previously undefeated Philadelphia Eagles on Monday, former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann tweeted that the team should stick with backup Taylor Heinicke under center — even when Carson Wentz is healthy. A day later, analysts on shows such as ESPN’s “First Take” and “NFL Live” echoed the same.
But Ron Rivera isn’t about to tip his hand.
The Commanders coach said Tuesday that no decision has been made about who will be his team’s starting quarterback ahead of Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans. Wentz, who has missed the last month with a fractured finger, is now eligible to return from injured reserve, but Rivera did not indicate to reporters whether the 29-year-old is healthy enough yet to practice.
Rivera said he was still waiting for Wentz’s latest medical update, though the coach wouldn’t disclose who he plans to roll with if both are available.
The Commanders traded for Wentz this offseason, but Heinicke, last year’s starter, has led Washington to a 3-1 surge in the veteran’s absence. The Commanders had gone just 2-4 under Wentz.
“You have to look at the momentum, you have to look at what the mood of the team is obviously,” Rivera said. “There’s a lot of factors that go into it.”
Rivera preached patience in Tuesday’s press conference, telling reporters the team would also have to see how Wentz — who has begun “lightly” throwing, the coach said over the weekend — does in practice even after he’s cleared. “Let’s don’t get ahead of ourselves,” Rivera said.
Multiple reports indicated that Wentz was projected to have a recovery time of four to six weeks after breaking his ring finger in an Oct. 12 win over the Chicago Bears. Sunday’s contest in Houston would mark Wentz’s fifth straight missed game.
Still, with Wentz out, the momentum, as Rivera referred to, definitely appears to be on Heinicke’s side. The Commanders’ surge with Heinicke has led to several commentators, analysts and fans to advocate for the plucky underdog to keep the job.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said on Tuesday’s “First Take” that “Wentz doesn’t need to start over Taylor Heinicke,” with co-host Keyshawn Johnson agreeing. On “Pardon the Interruption,” host Tony Kornheiser said Heinicke should “100% be the starter,” while co-host Michael Wilbon said it was an “easy” decision. On 106.7 The Fan’s “B-Mitch and Finlay,” a local caller told the radio show that there would be a “riot” from the fanbase if Rivera went back to Wentz.
Coincidentally, Heinicke and Wentz threw for the same amount of yards this season against the Eagles: 211. But the performances dramatically differed with Wentz sacked a career-high nine times in Week 3, while on Monday, Heinicke was an effective game manager who relied on a strong running game. Each passer has different strengths and weaknesses, with Wentz holding the stronger arm and Heinicke the better improviser.
Heinicke said he wouldn’t be disappointed if Rivera went back to Wentz.
“We brought Carson in to be a starter,” Heinicke said. “If my number is called, I’ll be ready to go in. Whatever decision they want to make, let’s go. If I’m backing up Carson next week, great. I’m going to help him in any way that I can to get ready for that Texans game.
“The biggest thing for me is let’s just go win. Let’s keep winning whether it means playing or not.”
Rivera, meanwhile, said the quarterback decision doesn’t differ from any of the others he has had to make as a coach. During his first year in Washington in 2020, Rivera benched Dwayne Haskins for Kyle Allen and ultimately ended up using four signal-callers that season. Last year, the Commanders cycled through four different passers again with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Heinicke, Garrett Gilbert and Kyle Allen all taking snaps.
Rivera said when he makes a decision, he doesn’t want that passer looking over their shoulder. The plan, he said, will be to commit fully to the starter, whoever it is. But at the same time, Rivera acknowledged the NFL is a week-to-week league — and said the team “can’t get ahead of ourselves” whenever he makes a choice.
“You look at what is best for the team,” Rivera said. “And at the end of the day, that’s how it has to be.”