SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Back-to-back losses haven’t knocked Washington out of playoff position just yet.
The question is which quarterback coach Ron Rivera will turn to to get the Commanders into the postseason.
Taylor Heinicke was replaced by Carson Wentz after two turnovers in the fourth quarter and the Commanders lost 37-20 to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, putting the question about the starting quarterback in doubt heading into the most important part of the season.
“I’ll make a decision next week,” Rivera said after the game. “I’ll make it early, too, because whoever’s going to start is going to get the chance to work.”
Washington (7-7-1) is winless in its last three games, but remains in seventh place in the NFC with a half-game lead over Detroit and Seattle for the final wild-card spot.
Washington won five of its first six games after Heinicke took over for an injured Wentz in Week 7 to get into contention in the NFC.
But the offense has stagnated the last few weeks. Heinicke threw two TD passes to keep the Commanders in the game until the fourth quarter before his fumble and interception led to the game getting out of hand.
“I thought he played pretty good,” Rivera said. “I mean, a lot of those things that happened aren’t necessarily his fault. We were trying run the ball and we’ve got to be more effective, but you’ve got to give them credit, though. That’s a pretty stout defensive front.”
Washington averaged just 2.4 yards per carry for the game and Rivera decided to make the switch at quarterback to get a look at Wentz for the first time in months and to keep San Francisco from teeing off on Heinicke.
Wentz led a TD drive on his first of two possessions as he played for the first time since Oct. 13. It was his first relief outing in the NFL after 91 career starts.
“It was definitely weird, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “It’s a new experience for me at this level, but it just was good to be back out there.”
Washington struggled to move the ball for much of the game, going three-and-out on the first two drives and getting stopped on fourth down from the 1 on the third possession.
Heinicke threw a TD pass to Jahan Dotson late in the first half and another to Terry McLaurin in the third quarter, but Washington failed to generate a first down on six of 10 possessions with Heinicke in the game.
The game got out of hand when Heinicke lost a fumble on a strip sack by Nick Bosa and was intercepted by Jimmie Ward in a span of three plays early in the fourth quarter.
“I felt like we were playing good there for what, 3½ quarters,” Heinicke said. “The start of the fourth, obviously that’s not how you want to start the fourth quarter. But they made the decision to put Carson in, I felt he did a great job, moved the ball well, and it’s pretty cool, that’s the first game he’s seen for a while.
“And then on the first drive, he goes down and scores a touchdown. He was ready for the moment and thought he did a good job.”
Whether Wentz showed enough on his two late drives to regain the starting role he had at the beginning of the season remains an open question.
“It definitely it would mean a lot,” Wentz said. “But at the same time, there’s a lot that’s out of our control, so we’re both going to prepare, we’re going to show up, we’re going to work our tails off and not change because of the circumstances and whatever happens happens.”