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Commanders restore Carson Wentz as starting QB vs. Browns

ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Commanders have returned to quarterback Carson Wentz in a battle for a playoff spot.

The team announced Wednesday that Wentz will start in place of Taylor Heinicke when the Commanders (7-7-1) host the Cleveland Browns (6-9) on Sunday.

Wentz started the first six games of the season, breaking his right ring finger on October 13 against the Chicago Bears. He was placed on the injured reserve and did not return to the active roster until December 17. Heinicke appeared in nine games and led the team to a 5-3-1 record.

However, Washington has been 0-2-1 in its last three games. They moved the ball well with Heinicke, but the Commanders ranked 26th in red zone offense and 20th in points per game with his eight full starts.

Wentz replaced Heinicke in Saturday’s fourth quarter loss to the San Francisco 49ers, 37-20. Wentz completed 12 of 16 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown.

Coach Ron Rivera said on Tuesday, “Carson came in and he hadn’t played in a while, so I thought he was a little rusty at first, but then he started to hone in.” There are still some things he can continue to work on.”

Heinicke was sparking with his maneuverability and propensity for clutch throws and late-game drives. These attributes have led to wins over the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts, as well as a draw with the New York Giants. Heinicke has 12 touchdowns with him tallying 6 interceptions and in 9 starts he has 19 sacks.

However, Washington chose the move as the Commanders were struggling to finish their recent drive and believed Wentz’s growing familiarity with the offense could lead to a quicker decision.

Commanders loved Wentz’s arm strength and what he could do on offense. His two drives against San Francisco showed what they wanted to see.

“What he’s shown is that he’s perfectly healthy, he has fresh legs now, he’s got lively arms.” He made a very quick decision. He showed the quickness that a quarterback should have, and it looks like he made the right decision.”

Washington traded two third-round picks, one each in 2022 and 2023, and traded second-round picks in April to acquire Wentz from Indianapolis. He entered the season as the clear starter, something even Heiniecke admitted at the spring press conference.

The No. 2 overall pick in 2016, Wentz had to learn a new offense for the first time in his career. He played the same system in 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 times the commander managed only 47 times. He threw 11 touchdowns and 6 interceptions and was sacked 23 times.

Wentz’s contract includes two more years, but no more security deposit. If Washington chooses to keep him, he could either restructure his contract or pay him $26.7 million in 2023. Heinicke will become a free agent after the season.

Heinicke became a fan favorite after arriving in Washington as the fourth quarterback in December 2020. Prior to that, he lived with his sister and took classes at Dominion for his degree.

He started the team’s playoff loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that season, winning teammates with his daring style of play and pylon-diving touchdown runs.

Washington signed Heinicke to a two-year extension that offseason. He started 15 games in 2021 after Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a season-ending hip injury in Week 1, going 7-8.

The Commanders have gone 12-11-1 in the last two seasons under Heinicke. They are two to six people below everyone else.