Carson Wentz is a seven-year NFL starter and former second overall pick. Listed at all of 6’1,” 210 pounds, Taylor Heinicke is an undrafted journeyman, who, as recently as two years ago, was a backup for the XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks. On paper, Wentz would seem to be far and away the more qualified quarterback and the easy choice to start for the Commanders when healthy.
But after winning three of four starts including Monday night’s upset of the rival Eagles—suffering their first loss in nearly 10 months—Heinicke is slowly but surely gaining support within the locker room, including from star receiver Terry McLaurin, who had this to say in his post-game interview with SportsCenter’s Scott Van Pelt after the Commanders 32-21 win over the Eagles.
“Taylor Heinicke is a guy who plays every play like it’s his last, man. He gives us a chance to win football games, just the way he wills, the way he plays. His toughness, he’s willing to fight for the extra yards,” said McLaurin, who erupted for 128 yards in the winning effort, his most since Week 15 of his debut 2019, also against Philadelphia. “I think we rally around him, honestly.”
In prefacing his question, Van Pelt made clear he wasn’t asking McLaurin to choose between Wentz and Heinicke. And while McLaurin was similarly careful not to show preference for one quarterback over the other, it’s not hard to read between the lines.
McLaurin’s impressive chemistry with Heinicke can’t be ignored, averaging 92.5 yards per game compared to just 61.2 the six times he’s shared a huddle with Wentz this season. The Commanders were 2-4 under Wentz, scoring a meager 17 points per game in that span.
Playing for his third team in as many seasons, it’s fair to wonder if Wentz’s days of being an NFL difference-maker are already in the rearview mirror. Having recently resumed throwing following a broken finger, Wentz could be activated from injured reserve as early as next week, presenting an interesting conundrum for coach Ron Rivera with Washington (5-5) suddenly entering the playoff picture with a month and change to go in the regular season.
Even after committing a costly turnover late in Monday night’s win (C.J. Gardner-Johnson added to his league-leading interception total on a pass intended for McLaurin), Redskins great Joe Theismann believes the Commanders should ride the hot hand with Heinicke, regardless of Wentz’s availability.
Nicknamed the Green Lizard (a reference to the famous Dutch beer and its signature green bottles), Heinicke isn’t the most polished or accurate quarterback, but his poise and confidence, particularly in the fourth quarter, has clearly won him respect among teammates and fans, making a compelling case for keeping his starting job, even with Wentz entering the final stretch of what has been a monthlong recovery.