The Washington Commanders have named Carson Wentz as the starting quarterback for their Week 17 home game against the Cleveland Browns.
Wentz, who the Commanders acquired via trade from the Indianapolis Colts in March, replaced Taylor Heinicke in the fourth quarter of the team's Christmas Eve game against the San Francisco 49ers and completed 12 of his 16 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. It was the first time he had appeared in a game since Week 6 against the Chicago Bears.
"It was good to be back out there," Wentz said after Washington's 37-20 loss to the 49ers, but coming in as a backup was a new experience for him. After breaking his finger during the Bears game, Wentz went through successful surgery and was on Injured Reserve for the next five weeks before being designated to return to practice.
Washington then went on a run that included a 6-1-1 stretch, putting the team two games above .500 and in the thick of the playoff picture. Heinicke, who was named the starter for at least the time until Wentz's hand was well enough to throw, was doing enough to keep Washington in games and often delivered in clutch moments. That led to Rivera deciding to keep Heinicke as the starter even though Wentz returned to the active roster on Dec. 12.
As the primary backup, Wentz took the decision in stride and did whatever he could to help Heinicke succeed.
"I have a great relationship with Taylor and with all the guys," Wentz said. "I've been happy to see him succeed and what he's been able to do."
At the same time, Wentz prepared as if he could play at any moment, and that time came with nine minutes left to play against the 49ers. Wentz did much of what Washington hoped he would when it traded for him by completing seven of his 10 passes on the 11-play, 82-yard drive and capped things off with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel. He also spread the ball around to the offense's weapons, as four different pass-catchers were targeted on the drive.
"I thought he had pretty good command of what we were doing," Rivera said. "I thought he stood tall in the pocket. He made a couple of quick decisions, got the ball out quickly a couple times, and he threw some good balls."
Washington, which controls its playoff destiny in the final two games of the season, has a chance to earn a playoff berth if it wins out. Thanks to the tie against the New York Giants in Week 13, it has a half-game lead over teams like the Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers.
"Obviously coming off a couple tough ones, close ones, it's tough," Wentz said. "But at the same time, to still have control of our destiny, it means a lot. Especially with where we started this year and everything we've gone through as a team."
The Commanders can clinch a playoff spot in Week 17 if they beat the Browns plus the Lions, Seahawks and Packers all lose.
"We're still in the same situation we were in going into this," Rivera said. "We control our destiny. If we win the next two, we give ourselves a chance and we're in it. So that's up to us."