It is a rare situation for a playoff contender to make a quarterback change in the midst of a postseason push, but that is the one the Washington Commanders found themselves in after their loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Three days after Taylor Heinicke, who led the team to a 5-3-1 stretch, was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of Carson Wentz, coach Ron Rivera elected to place the veteran back in as the starter for the Week 17 game against the Cleveland Browns.
There were several factors that played into the decision, but it came down to the belief that Wentz could provide the offense with a spark because of his increased comfort level directing the offense.
"He's more comfortable with what we're doing," Rivera said during his Wednesday press conference. "That was evident in the [49ers] game. In spite of the fact that we knew we were gonna throw it, they kept coming, and I thought he handled those situations very, very well."
Wentz may have missed substantial time on the field, but he was not absent from the team. He was still in every meeting trying to learn and grow as much as he could within the Commanders' offense. While Wentz admitted that he does not have everything figured out, there are some areas where it is clear to Rivera that he has a better understanding of the system.
Wentz's ability to target and get the ball quickly to the hot routes has stood out the most. Against the Chicago Bears -- the last game in which Wentz played -- there was a backside blitz on the Commanders' first third down of the game that resulted in a sack, but had Wentz recognized it quicker, he could have dumped off the pass to an open receiver.
Now, things are happening at a quicker rate for Wentz. He connected on seven of his 10 throws on his 11-play, 82-yard touchdown drive. He avoided pressure from the 49ers, which Wentz is not normally how the unit operates, and delivered a 20-yard shot to Curtis Samuel on a crossing route.
"It's all understanding to get it out, when to get it out and who to get it out to," Rivera said.
Nothing was perfect during the two drives that he was on the field, Wentz said, which, given that he had not played in a game scenario in more than two months, is understandable, but it did feel good to be back on the field and being able to get the ball out quickly.
"I've always tried to have that be my M.O.," Wentz said. "Obviously, there's moments I'm kicking myself [because] I should have got the ball out quicker. There's moments you're trying to make plays and do different things …I don't want to go down with the ball in my hand back there. Just get it to the playmakers, and I'm gonna continue to try and keep doing that.
As for being a "spark" for the Commanders' offense, Wentz is not focused on that. At this point, all he wants to do is help the Commanders get back to winning and secure a postseason berth.
"I try to just play the play every single snap," Wentz said. "I think we have a really solid group of guys, and I think that we've shown we're capable of being explosive in a variety of ways offensively. So, for me, it's come in, do my job, and when the play is there, try and make it."