ASHBURN — The conversation between coach Ron Rivera and Carson Wentz was short and to the point: The Commanders, Rivera told his former starter, were sticking with Taylor Heinicke at quarterback.
Wentz didn’t need much more explanation, even though the decision meant he’d be benched when he returned from a fractured finger.
“It was fine,” Wentz said. “I get it. I get it. This is part of the business, and I totally understand where we’re at as a team and everything else.”
Wentz returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since breaking his finger in an Oct. 13 win over the Chicago Bears. He did so as the third-string quarterback, with Wentz taking reps behind Heinicke and rookie Sam Howell as he works his way back from injury. Wentz has yet to be formally activated to the roster from injured reserve, though Rivera has said the starting job belongs to Heinicke after the team went 4-1 in Wentz’s absence.
Speaking for the first time since undergoing surgery for the injury, Wentz told reporters that he’ll do everything he can to help Heinicke and be prepared in the event that he needs to play again.
“As a competitor, you want to be out there — I’d be lying if I said otherwise, you come to work you want to play, this is what you sign up for,” Wentz said. “But at the same time, I have a great relationship with Taylor and all the guys.
“I’ve been happy to see him succeed and what he’s been able to do. I’m going to do what I can to help and support him and be a part of this and stay ready to go because this league’s crazy. Things happen.”
“Things” certainly happened to Wentz. The quarterback said he tried not to worry about whether he’d lose his starting job as Heinicke led Washington on its recent surge. But this isn’t the outcome he could have predicted when the Commanders acquired him for multiple draft picks this past spring in a big offseason trade with the Indianapolis Colts. The Commanders expected Wentz to be their solution to years-long instability at the position, but Wentz’s lack of on-field results — he struggled en route to a 2-4 start — paved the way for Heinicke to unseat him.
Heinicke and various teammates praised Wentz for how he has handled the situation. An example: Despite the benching, Wentz still invited a handful of teammates over for Thanksgiving — including Heinicke.
Wentz downplayed the significance — the gathering was being planned by his wife, he said — but the quarterback said he tries not to circumstances change his approach.
Wentz’s acceptance of his demotion appears to differ from how he reacted to the last time he was benched. Two years ago in Philadelphia, the Eagles sat a struggling Wentz for Jalen Hurts and within a week of that benching, ESPN reported that Wentz asked for a trade. The request was later granted. “I think the way the way things ended, (a split) was best for both sides,” Wentz told The Athletic last year.
“You have to give credit for how he’s handled himself in the way he supports Taylor and the other quarterbacks,” wide receiver Terry McLaurin said. “When he was a starter and how he is now, he hasn’t come in and been mopey or anything like that. Him and I still talk about plays and still converse. It’s great to have a guy like that, if anything happens … he could be right back in there.”
Rivera has left open the possibility that Wentz could return to the lineup if the Commanders start to falter again. He said the team would be evaluated on a game-by-game basis, though has noted he does not want Heinicke looking over his shoulder.
But first, Wentz must fully get healthy. The Commanders technically have 21 days to activate him to the roster after designating him to return to practice Wednesday. Wentz told reporters that his finger feels “really good,” adding he’s been throwing for the last two weeks.
Rivera said for Sunday’s game against the Falcons, Howell would remain the primary backup.
“I try not to play all those games in my head because you can drive yourself mad,” Wentz said when asked if he thinks he has a chance to recapture the starting job, later adding, “Next week will take care of itself. I’m just present in this moment.”