The Washington Commanders have the coveted motto “control their own destiny” in play to reach the 2022 playoffs, needing only to defeat the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys for admission.
And at least for a week, the Commanders have opted to bench former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Taylor Heinicke in favor of veteran Carson Wentz.
Wentz was Washington’s QB1 to start the season, fell injured, and never recovered his job — until now. The Commanders fired up a 5-3-1 record with Heinicke but have lost two straight and tied with the New York Giants the week before.
Former Vikings QB Benched in Washington
Head coach Ron Rivera is presumably searching for a spark and evidently believes the maligned Wentz could be the guy. Before the injury, Washington was 2-4 with Wentz at the helm, while he tossed 11 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. If there was ever a time for the Commanders to salvage their offseason trade for Wentz with the Indianapolis Colts, that is now.
To a degree, the writing was on the wall, as Rivera benched Heinicke last weekend for Wentz. The Commanders lost to the San Francisco 49ers 37-20 but not before Wentz hopped into the lineup for a look. In relief of Heinicke, Wentz completed 12 of 16 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. Some would call the statline classic “garbage time.”
Heinicke’s relegation to the bench is yet another chapter in his topsy-turvy saga. The Vikings discovered Heinicke in 2015 as an undrafted free agent. He later won the QB3 job behind Teddy Bridgewater and Shaun Hill, staying with the Vikings until September 2017. After his Vikings adventure, Heinicke landed with the Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers, and Commanders. He also had a pit stop in the XFL in 2020 with the St. Louis BattleHawks.
Known for his grit and likeability, Heinicke won over oodles of Commanders fans with the team’s winning record on his watch. But in the grand scheme of the NFL, Heinicke’s individual performance is somewhat dreadful, ranking near the bottom of the NFL per quarterback efficiency. The numbers suggest Heinicke is about as efficient as Davis Mills and Matt Ryan in 2022 — not good comps.
If the Commanders falter in Week 16 or Week 17 with Wentz in charge, they’ll miss out on the postseason, granting access to the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, or Seattle Seahawks. The Packers particularly need just one Commanders loss, plus two wins of their own, to enter the postseason after a poor 4-8 start to the season.
Finally, the pivot to Wentz is a mega deal for him personally. This is probably his last best chance to prove his QB1 mettle. If he struggles or the Commanders lose against the Browns, it is doubtful that the Commanders would sign on for his unabashed QB1 services in 2023. A quiet end to 2022 could mandate QB2 duties for Wentz going forward.
Heinicke has accounted for 13 touchdowns, 7 fumbles, and 6 picks in 2022.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).