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Commanders restore Carson Wentz as starting QB vs. Browns

ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Commanders have turned back to quarterback Carson Wentz in their fight for a playoff berth.

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 had started the first six games this season before breaking his right ring finger in an Oct. 13 win over the Chicago Bears. He was placed on injured reserve and did not return to the active roster until Dec. 17. Heinicke started nine games, leading the team to a 5-3-1 record.

However, Washington has gone 0-2-1 in its past three games. Though they moved the ball well with Heinicke, the Commanders have ranked 26th in red zone offense and 20th in points per game over his eight full starts.

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

“I thought Carson coming in and, haven’t played in a while, was a little rusty at first and then he started to sharpen up,” coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday. “He showed he made quick decisions, and so that was good to see. There’s still some things that he can continue to work on.”

Heinicke had provided a spark with his mobility and penchant for clutch throws and late-game drives. Those attributes led to wins over the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts while also resulting in a tie against the New York Giants. Heinicke has thrown 12 touchdowns to six interceptions while being sacked 19 times in his nine starts, with his ability to escape pressure enabling him to be sacked less.

But with the Commanders struggling to finish drives of late and a belief that Wentz’s increased familiarity with the offense could lead to quicker decisions, Washington opted for this move.

The Commanders loved Wentz’s arm strength and what it could do for the offense. His two drives against San Francisco showed them what they wanted to see.

“What he showed was that he’s fully healthy, he’s got fresh legs right now, and got a lively arm,” Rivera said Tuesday. “He made very quick decisions. He showed us that quick twitch that you look for in quarterbacks, and his decision-making seemed to be right on.”

Washington traded two third-round picks — one in 2022 and another in 2023 — and swapped second-round picks in April to acquire Wentz from Indianapolis. He entered the season as the clear starter, something even Heinicke acknowledged during a spring news conference.

Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in 2016, needed to learn a new offense for the first time in his career. He had played in the same system during 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, the Commanders managed only 47. He has thrown 11 touchdowns to six interceptions and has been sacked 23 times.

Wentz’s contract contains two more years but no more guaranteed money. If Washington opts to keep him around, it could restructure his deal or pay him $26.7 million in 2023. Heinicke is a free agent after the season.

Heinicke became a fan favorite after arriving in Washington in December 2020 as a fourth quarterback who could fill in if the other three were sidelined by COVID-19. Before then, he was living with his sister and taking classes to finish his degree at Old Dominion.

He ended up starting the team’s playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that season and won over 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 and went 7-8.

The Commanders have a 12-11-1 record under Heinicke the past two years. They are 2-6 under anyone else.

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