Ron Rivera announces Taylor Heinicke as Commanders’ QB1 moving forward

Taylor Heinicke will remain the Washington Commanders’ starting quarterback moving forward, head coach Ron Rivera told reporters present postgame following the club’s 23-10 victory over the Houston Texans.

“We’re going to go with Taylor,” Rivera said. We’ll work Carson [Wentz] back in and see where Carson is in terms if he’s ready to be the backup. Then we’ll go from there.”

Heinicke entered the lineup for the Commanders in Week 7 after Wentz, the team’s Week 1 starter, suffered a fractured finger the week prior. Washington has won four of Heinicke’s five starts since, including an impressive victory over the previously undefeated Philadelphia Eagles this past Monday night.

“It’s a special moment. It’s something I’ve been working for my whole life,” Heinicke said postgame on being named the starter. “To be a starting quarterback in the NFL, it’s every kid’s dream. It means a lot to me, it’s very special to me. I just want to keep this thing rolling.”

Rivera stressed postgame that Heinicke isn’t on a short leash moving forward.

“I’m not looking to pull anyone out. I’m not looking to yank anybody,” Rivera said. “What I’m looking for is for us to continue to do is to play well and do things we’re supposed to. This is not a competition as far as a controversy. That’s the last thing that’s on my mind. … The most important thing as far as the quarterbacks are concerned is Taylor will start as we get ready to play Atlanta.”

For the second time in as many years, Heinicke is now Washington’s QB1 after the start of the season as the club’s backup. In 2021, Heinicke replaced Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 1 and started 15 of the team’s final 16 contests, his lone absence being due to a coronavirus outbreak.

This time around, Heinicke — who admitted he feels a lot more comfortable with a year of starting experience under his belt — took control of Washington’s starting QB job, providing a bolt of energy into the Commanders’ offense when the group badly needed it. .

“He’s continued to bring great energy to the building, great energy to this offense,” running back Brian Robinson Jr. said. He’s a high-energy person and someone we can easily get behind. [He’s] someone that can easily motivate us. We’re excited to have him and expect to continue to have success.”

After beginning the season 1-4, the Commanders now sit at 6-5 — the first time Washington has been over .500 this late in the season since 2018. Washington’s success with Heinicke under center is the main reason the Commanders are sticking with him at quarterback.

“Winning. That’s the truth of the matter,” Rivera said. “That’s where we are right now.”

Heinicke didn’t have his best individual performance on Sunday in Houston. The quarterback completed 15-of-27 passes for 191 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. For a second straight week, Heinicke failed to throw a touchdown pass.

And even though the Commanders controlled Sunday’s game in Houston from start to finish, Heinicke feels the offense left a lot to be desired.

“I think we left a lot of points on the field,” Heinicke said. We’ve got to play a lot cleaner, but a win is a win. It’s hard to win in this league. I’m proud of the guys but there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

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Statistics don’t tell the full story, of course, but the numbers do show that Washington’s offense has been more productive with Heinicke under center. The running game, behind the duo of Robinson and Antonio Gibson, has really come into form in the past couple of weeks. Terry McLaurin, the team’s top wide receiver, has been targeted at a much higher rate (and contributed a lot more) with Heinicke, too.

In 2021, Heinicke didn’t have nearly as many talented skill players around him as he does this season. McLaurin and Gibson have proven what they can do with the football, but this year’s additions of Robinson, first-round wideout Jahan Dotson and a healthy Curtis Samuel have been just as significant for the Commanders’ offense.

“This is a team you want to be on, be a quarterback on for sure,” Heinicke said. “With all the weapons we’ve got, with the offensive line playing the way they are right now and the defense we have. … For me, it’s just trying to get better every day.”

Heinicke, who has grown close with Wentz since the latter joined the team this offseason, admitted that the whole situation is likely a difficult one for Washington’s former QB1. Heinicke had plenty of positive things to say about how Wentz has handled everything the past five weeks.

“It’s gotta be tough for him. I get it. It’s nothing he did wrong. It’s a weird circumstance,” Heinicke said. “He’s done a great job. He’s in every meeting helping me out in any way he can. He’s in my ear when I get back on the sideline. He’s trying to help me out. He’s a great leader for this team. And I don ‘t see that faltering with what Ron just said. He’s a great teammate, a great person and someone you want in the locker room.’

Heinicke’s wild football journey has been well documented, from the XFL to sleeping on his sister’s couch to becoming an NFL starting quarterback once again. If anyone knows how quickly things can change in the league, it’s Heinicke.

Now with another opportunity to prove himself, Heinicke is ready to take the Commanders’ starting gig in stride.

“I’ve said this before: I take every opportunity I get and have fun with it,” Heinicke said. “Something may change in two weeks and he’s back in there, who knows? So this week I’m going to have fun with it, go out there and do my best and hopefully get a win. That’s how I’ll go about it and I feel like I play my best doing that.”

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