It seems the Washington Commanders are planning to make yet another change at quarterback following their elimination from playoff contention last week. Carson Wentz, who just returned to the starting lineup last week, is expected to return to the bench in favor of Taylor Heinicke when Washington hosts the Cowboys this week. But Heinicke isn’t the only quarterback that the Dallas defense will be facing on Sunday.
The #Commanders are expected to turn back to Taylor Heinicke as the starter for Sunday’s season finale vs. the #Cowboys, but rookie QB Sam Howell is also slated to play, marking the NFL debut for the fifth-round pick, per source. Barring change of plans, this will be the setup.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) January 4, 2023
The Commanders traded for Wentz in the offseason, hoping to finally shore up the quarterback position that many believe has kept the team from contention since Ron Rivera became the head coach. But Wentz suffered an injury to his throwing hand that landed him on the injured reserve after having led the Commanders to a 2-4 record behind some unimpressive offensive play.
Heinicke, who started 15 games for Washington a season ago, came in and provided an immediate spark. The Commanders won their first two games with Heinicke under center and ultimately posted a 5-3-1 record with him as the starter. However, Heinicke also tied the Giants and, two weeks later, lost to them. That led to his benching during a game against the 49ers; Wentz finished that game out, but the Commanders still lost.
That’s when Rivera went back to Wentz last week against the Browns. They ended up getting blown out, and then the results of the afternoon games officially eliminated Washington from playoff contention, something that Rivera apparently didn’t know was possible.
Here's the video.— Chad Ryan (@ChadwikoTWW) January 1, 2023
I am absolutely gobsmacked that Rivera didn't know that the Commanders could be eliminated today.
How does this happen in the modern NFL?
Did this impact his decision to start Wentz?
I'm so confused right now. pic.twitter.com/9BNCr26mxm
Now that the team has been eliminated, and with nothing to play for in Week 18 except for trying to spoil the Cowboys’ long shot bid for the NFC East and the top seed in the playoffs, it appears Rivera is simply trying to evaluate his two young quarterbacks, namely Howell.
Drafted in the fifth round this year, Howell was a three-year starter at North Carolina. He became the first true freshman to earn the starting quarterback job in program history, and his stellar freshman campaign helped jumpstart the program in their first year under fresh-out-of-retirement head coach Mack Brown.
Howell entered the 2021 season with a ton of hype that he ultimately failed to live up to, and the result was falling to the fifth round of a historically bad quarterback class. Now he’ll be making his NFL debut against Micah Parsons and one of the league’s fiercest pass rushes, as the Cowboys need to win this game (and get help from the Eagles and 49ers) to avoid playing on the road throughout the playoffs.
Update: 1:20pm ET
The Commanders announced on Wednesday that Sam Howell will start at quarterback on Sunday.
QB Sam Howell will start on Sunday pic.twitter.com/Ec7oYMKwtY— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) January 4, 2023
Taylor Heinicke will back him up. This is the second straight week that Dallas is getting a quarterback making their first career start (Josh Dobbs last week) and third in a row where they are making their first start of the season (Gardner Minshew in Week 16).