After the contact, Wentz, clearly in discomfort, bent over and shook his hand furiously to alleviate the pain. He did so repeatedly throughout the remainder of the game, but played its entirety without tape or a splint around his fingers. Wentz finished 12 of 22 for 99 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions and a 66.3 passer rating. He also took three sacks to reclaim the league lead with 23 this season.
“It’s a little sore. But I think I’ll be all right,” Wentz said afterward. “… The chilly conditions didn’t necessarily help the jammed fingers. But it was all right. I was doing everything right.
Wentz had landed on the injury report the week before because of a right shoulder injury that was later reported to be a strained biceps tendon. He insinuated at the time that the shoulder injury was minor, and he continued to practice ahead of Thursday’s game.
His Monday appointment will determine the severity and necessary recovery for Wentz. Should he have to miss time, Taylor Heinicke will take over at quarterback, a scenario all too familiar to Washington.
Heinicke arrived in Washington less than two years ago to be the team’s emergency quarterback during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, essentially serving as an insurance policy in case of an outbreak. A month later, he started in place of Alex Smith in Washington’s wild-card playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, earning a second contract with the team. He became the fill-in starter against last season when Ryan Fitzpatrick went down with a season-ending hip injury in last year’s opener.
An undrafted quarterback out of Old Dominion, Heinicke played for offensive coordinator Scott Turner in Minnesota, when Turner was the Vikings’ quarterbacks coach, and again in Carolina with the Panthers. Although he lacked starting experience, he was familiar with Washington’s system and much of its coaching staff.
In 2021, in taking over for Fitzpatrick, Heinicke led Washington to a 7-8 record as a starter and became a fan favorite for his gritty play and, especially, his pylon-dive touchdowns.
The team made it clear before the end of last season, however, that it would get another quarterback in the offseason in an attempt to stop its years-long cycle of starters. Washington traded for Wentz with the belief that his size, arm strength and experience would be a boon for the offense.
But through six games, the Commanders (2-4) have struggled, repeating many of the same mistakes of their past. Their offense ranks 30th in yards per play (4.83) and sits among the bottom 10 in the league in passing yards, rushing yards, third-down conversion rate and scoring, among other categories.
Although the win in Chicago snapped their losing streak, the game was riddled with errors and described by players as an “ugly” and “sloppy” victory.
“We all know that,” left tackle Charles Leno said. “A lot of the Thursday games have been ugly. But we got the ‘W.’ That’s all that matters.
Four takeaways from the Commanders’ 12-7 win over the Bears
Injuries have been partly to blame for the Commanders’ woes.
Washington has started four centers because of injuries to Chase Roullier and Wes Schweitzer. It didn’t have rookie receiver Jahan Dotson (hamstring) or starting tight end Logan Thomas (calf) for the last two games, is still without defensive end Chase Young (ACL), didn’t have safety Kam Curl for its first two games (thumb) and now is without starting right tackle Sam Cosmi because of a similar injury.
“Tremendous frustration,” Commanders Coach Ron Rivera said earlier this month about the team’s injuries. “Especially because again, like I said, when you start seeing some steps go forward and then all of a sudden you go backward, that’s a tough pill to swallow. It is because you feel good potentially about what could be headed in the right direction and then something comes up.”
As Washington has struggled, the pressure has mounted — on both players and coaches. Following the team’s Week 5 loss to the Tennessee Titans, Rivera was asked about the success of the NFC East and why Washington continued to lag. His answer — “quarterback” — led many to believe that he blamed Wentz entirely for the team’s losing. Rivera later apologized to his players and said his comments were “misconstrued.” It wasn’t the player so much as the circumstance, he tried to reason. The other quarterbacks in the division had been with their respective teams and in their systems for longer than Wentz.
Should the team have to start Heinicke, even temporarily, the change alone could be a needed jolt to the offense because of his mobility. Wentz’s injuries over the years, to his knee and back, have appeared to limit his ability to extend plays, which thereby limits the offense.
Although Heinicke lacks Wentz’s arm strength and size, he can move, and in past seasons it’s helped the Commanders keep drives and games alive.
As the Commanders await news of their quarterback situation, the team will get a short reprieve before returning to host the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 23, almost exactly a year after losing to them 24-10 at Lambeau Field with Heinicke at quarterback.