Commander falls to 49ers as Tyler Hynek benches Carson Wentz


SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Taylor Heinicke slams his helmet off and paces the sidelines. It was all he could do after seeing his pass fly into the arms of a San Francisco 49ers guard, ending in a second straight turnover.

The Washington Commander quarterback knew what was coming.

“I get it,” he said after the 37-20 loss. “I got hit there and the last two tee shots were two turnovers. So I get it.”

Carson Wentz knows this too. He immediately began to practice spikes with center Wes Schweitzer on the bench.

After Hynek led Washington to the playoffs at 5-2-1, his game came to a screeching halt Saturday afternoon when a turnover and a free throw knocked down the Commander. Despite an efficient three-quarter performance, he was benched by Wentz midway through the fourth quarter.

The starters for next week’s game against Cleveland are yet to be determined.

Four takeaways from the Commanders’ loss to the 49ers

“We’re going to evaluate the tape and discuss those things and I’ll make a decision next week,” coach Ron Rivera said. “I’m also going to come early because whoever starts first gets the job.”

With losses to the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks earlier in the day, Washington (7-7-1) remains seventh in the NFC and still in control of its playoff fate. The Commanders’ most likely path to the playoffs is to win their final two games against the Browns and Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field.

Things started to get cloudy at quarterback after the Commanders’ Week 15 loss to the New York Giants, in which Hynek made two fumbles in the red zone, robbing the team of its best chance for a playoff berth.

He was on a very short leash in Santa Clara. very short. Even after making the change, Rivera admitted the lapse wasn’t solely Hynek’s fault.

“It’s really hard to put all of that on him,” Rivera said. “Those weren’t his problems. There are some things we could have done better.”

Heinicke went 13-for-18 for 166 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a fumble that wrecked the stats. He finished the first half with a 126.7 grade on 11 passes for 8 shots in the first half and a nice touchdown pass to rookie wideout Jahan Dotson in the corner of the end zone. But Washington failed to score on the fourth and 1-yard line of the second quarter, and after a fourth-quarter turnover, Wentz took over and led the Commanders on an 82-yard score.

Heinicke was the first to congratulate Wentz as he trotted off the field after throwing a 20-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel, acknowledging his performance immediately after the game.

“I think we played well there, about 3½ quarters,” Heinicke said. “Obviously, that’s not how you want to start the fourth quarter. But they decided to play Carson, and I think he’s doing a good job and passing the ball well. Cool, it’s the first time he’s played in a while Game, he went down on his first drive and scored a touchdown. He was ready for his moment.”

Wentz’s scoring pass cut the 49ers’ lead to just 10 points. The Commanders have already hurt themselves too much: free throws (6, 51 yards lost), turnovers (2) and big moves allowed by a previously solid defense — many of the same problems that hampered the start of the season.

Heading into the game, the commanders said they wanted to emphasize the run, especially after Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner complained about minimal contact from rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. The priority Saturday will be getting him on the ball early and often and keeping him focused.

But against the 49ers’ league-leading defense, Washington’s commitment failed to pay off. On 24 carries in the first half, the Commander totaled just 52 yards, an average of 2.2 yards per carry. Robinson completed for 58 yards on 22 carries and the team had 79 yards on the ground.

After two 3-out strikes to start the game, the Commanders’ offense found some semblance of rhythm on their third down, racking up 84 net yards across 17 plays before stalling at the 1-yard line. Forward, unable to convert on fourth down when Antonio Gibson made a sudden stop.

“I thought we passed the ball well in the first half,” Hynek said. “We just keep shooting ourselves in the foot.”

On the other side of the ball, defensive end Chase Young made his season debut after a long absence with a knee injury. The plan was to limit him to 12 to 16 snaps, but that plan was scrapped in the second half after he settled in. Young looked active in his first game back, recording a hit pass and a few tackles.

“The best part, though, is his physicality,” Rivera said. . . . We told him he had to be honest, we gotta trust him, and when we got to the fourth quarter, they asked us if we were going to suspend him, and I went up and talked to him directly, and he told me, “Coach, I really feel good. ’ . . . so we moved on.”

But the Commanders are dealing with another injury to a key defender: Versatile safety Kam Curl, who missed the game with an ankle problem — said he was close to playing but felt he couldn’t do what he needed to after pregame testing The thing — Rivera turned to Jeremy Reeves to make amends. While he held on, something else malfunctioned.

In the second quarter, Washington’s run defense was broken on Ray McLeod III’s 71-yard touchdown drive, which broke the right line and found a wide fairway.

In the third quarter, 49ers rookie signal-caller Brock Purdy found tight end George Kittle open at midfield after coverage collapsed. Safety Darrick Forrest caught Purdy in the second quarter and gave Dotson a touchdown, but he ran deep and failed to track Kittle, who sprinted past him on the seam route for a 33-yard touchdown.

“I had to do better,” Forrest said. “As soon as I saw him I knew it was my fault.”

Rivera, still fiery over the commander’s call against the Giants, had another lengthy conversation with officials Saturday. In the third quarter, the commanders called a quarterback to sneak into the fourth quarter and another in their own territory, but after pulling out the chains to take measurements, officials ruled them a few inches short. Rivera slapped the officials, then watched from the sidelines as Purdy found Kittle again for a quick score.

Commander’s response: Give Terry McLaughlin a chance. a big one.

With about three minutes left in the third quarter, Hynek initiated a 51-yard pass from his own 43-yard line to his favorite receiver. With two defenders around him, McLaughlin dived to catch the ball on the San Francisco 6.

“We finally had a chance to get the matchup we wanted, and we shot up the court,” McLaughlin said. “Taylor did a great job of giving me a trackball opportunity and I just wanted to take it at that moment.”

The Commanders trailed by just seven points entering the fourth quarter, with Hynek playing well, but a back-to-back offense in the offense put the quarterback on the bench.

First, Nick Bosa hit Hynek as he retracted the pitch, knocking the ball into the arms of Jordan Willis at Washington’s 11-yard line. The 49ers turned the ball into a mid-range shot to extend their lead to 27-14.

On Washington’s ensuing drive, Hynek was intercepted by cornerback Jimmy Ward on a short pass on the 25th hole, a short pass set for Robinson. The defensive hero forced a drive to make it 30-14.

Rivera turned to Wentz for the remainder of the quarter, giving him his first steal since Week 6, when he injured his finger and was placed on injured reserve.

Heads down, another loss, the Commanders trudged off the field, possibly with a different starting quarterback and dwindling chances of returning to the playoffs.

“It’s definitely weird, not going to lie,” Wentz said. “I also sympathize with Taylor. I think he played really well. So it’s kind of weird overall, unfortunately we didn’t finish.”

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