After Taylor Heinicke led the Washington Commanders to another win, coach Ron Rivera made the inevitable announcement: Heinicke is no longer Carson Wentz’s replacement.
Heinicke threw for 191 yards to make it 4-1 as a starter, Kendall Fuller returned an interception for a touchdown, and the Commanders picked up a 23-10 win over the hapless Houston Texans on Sunday.
Heinicke, thrust into the starting role when Wentz fractured a finger, put on another solid performance to help the Commanders (6-5) build on Monday night’s victory over previously undefeated Philadelphia. Washington has won five of six and is above .500 for the first time since Week 1.
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“We’re going to go with Taylor, and we’ll get Carson back and see where Carson is at in terms of when he’s ready to be the backup,” Rivera said. “So, we’ll go from there.”
When asked why he made that decision, Rivera was succinct.
“Winning,” he said. “That’s the truth. That’s where we are.”
Heinicke was out of football two years ago before Washington signed him as a midlife quarterback.
“Being a starting quarterback in the NFL is every kid’s dream,” he said. “It means a lot to me. It’s very special to me. I just want it to continue.”
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Davis Mills threw two interceptions and Houston had a season-low 148 rushing yards as the Texans (1-8-1) lost their fifth in a row and remained the only team within a win of the NFL.
“There’s not a whole lot we’re doing well,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We are building. We are not there yet. We are not a good football team at the moment.”
Washington led 20-0 at halftime behind Fuller’s choice-6, a TD led by Curtis Samuel and a historically poor first half by Houston’s offense.
The Texans were down 246-5 in the first half, their fewest one-half yardage in franchise history. Their previous worst was eight in the first half of a 40-0 loss to the Bills last season.
It was the fewest yards by a team in a half since the Raiders were minus 12 in a win over the Broncos in 2015. Mills was minus 1 yard per pass in the first half as he was sacked three times before the break.
Smith got defensive when he was peppered with questions about whether he was considering benching Mills and scoffed at the idea that he would make a decision like that immediately after a game.
“You say it starts with the quarterback,” he said. “But no, it starts in front. … And today with that kind of pressure, I don’t know how many quarterbacks could have been successful.”
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The Commanders only scored one field goal after halftime, but their dominant first half was plenty.
The crowd had so many Commanders fans that chants of “defense, defense” could be heard on a few possessions when Houston had the ball. Pretty much the only reactions from Texans fans were boos, save for the cheers that came when World Series champion Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman was shown on the big screens in the first half. time.
Montez Sweat and Jonathan Allen had two sacks apiece and combined six quarterback hits to lead a Washington defense that pressed and harassed Mills all day.
“To see your DBs come out strong like that, you know it’s going to be a good game,” Allen said. “Especially with a younger quarterback, for him to throw a pick-6 on the second or third play of the game, we know that would affect him a bit, probably hold out a bit longer than he would. naturally.”
Houston rookie Dameon Pierce, who entered the game fifth in the NFL with 772 rushing yards, had 10 carries for a low of eight yards.
Commanders took an early lead when Fuller came forward past a pass intended for Brandin Cooks, grabbed the ball and sent it 37 yards into the end zone on Houston’s second offensive play.
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Washington went 14-0 when Samuel scored on a 10-yard run at the start of the second trimester.
The Texans finally found some offense on their first drive of the third quarter when Cooks grabbed a 41-yard reception. Mills ran for four yards on 4th-and-3 of 15 to keep that drive going.
Rookie John Ridgeway received an unnecessary roughness penalty for knocking Pierce down and knocking him to the ground on the next play to give Houston a first down at 5. But the Texans settled for a field goal to carry the score at 20-3 after Mills was sacked. third down.
Mills’ second interception came in the fourth quarter when Benjamin St-Juste made a diving catch on a long throw to give Washington the ball on his 3.
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Mills rushed for a 4-yard touchdown with about three minutes left.