Rivera: Heinicke to start for Washington against Eagles if Smith can’t

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Washington Football Team
Taylor Heinicke (4) finished the game for Washington on Sunday against Carolina. He could start against the Eagles.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera expressed optimism that quarterback Alex Smith will be under center next week against the Eagles in Philadelphia in a game that will decide the NFC East champion.

However, if Smith misses his third-straight game with a right calf injury, Rivera said Monday that he’d turn to Taylor Heinicke with the season on the line.

“I thought [Smith] had an exceptional day on Friday, but it’s always about how that person feels the next day and he felt it was still grabbing him a little bit,” Rivera said, via The Washington Post. “This week, I’m optimistic about the opportunity.”

Smith, 36, is 4-1 since taking over as the starter in Week 10. After missing all of 2019 recovering from a leg injury and a life-threatening infection, he has completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 1,420 yards with four touchdowns and six picks in seven appearances this season.

On Sunday, Heinicke replaced an ineffective Dwayne Haskins in the fourth quarter and completed 12 of 19 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown in a 20-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Haskins was then released on Monday afternoon.

“I thought there are a lot of positives to [Heinicke’s play],” Rivera said. “I think he showed what I was hoping to see when he got his opportunity, that it wasn’t too big.”

For Haskins, it’s a major opportunity lost after he was given the reigns to the offense on Sunday against the Panthers, but he completed just 14-of-28 passes for 154 yards and two interceptions before getting benched.

This after he violated COVID-19 protocols yet again, attending his girlfriend’s birthday party that had over 10 people in attendance without a mask. He was fined $40,000 and stripped of his captaincy.

“Definitely the hardest week of my life. I just want to bounce back and move forward and pray and get my life together,” Haskins said after Sunday’s game. “I can’t really put into words how I’m feeling right now.”

Washington (6-9) can win the NFC East by beating Philadelphia.

Dallas (6-9) would need to defeat the New York Giants and have the Eagles emerge victorious to advance.

If both Washington and Dallas lose, they will be tied with the Giants at 6-10. In that case, the Giants would win the NFC East because of tiebreakers.

Additional reporting by Metro Philadelphia’s Joe Pantorno

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