Leaders down to 49 as Taylor Hynecke benches Carson Wentz


Santa Clara, Calif. – Taylor Heinecke slammed his helmet and walked over the touchline. It was all he could do after watching his passes sail into the arms of a San Francisco 49ers defender, ending their second straight drive with a turnover.

Washington’s chief of staff knew what was coming.

“I get it,” he said after the 37-20 loss. “I was so freaked out there, and the last two drives were two turns. So I get it.”

Carson Wentz knew that, too. He immediately began practicing shots with center Weiss Schweitzer next to the bench.

After Heinicke led Washington in a stretch 5-2-1 and into the playoff game, his career came to a grinding halt on Saturday afternoon as hits and penalties fell to the leaders. Despite performing effectively for three quarters, he was benched with Wentz midway through the fourth quarter.

Next week’s game will start against Cleveland.

Four takeaways from losing the leaders to the 49ers

“We’re going to evaluate the tape and talk about this stuff, and I’ll make a decision next week,” said coach Ron Rivera. “I’m going to do it early, too, because whoever starts gets a chance to work.”

Washington (7-7-1) is still seventh in the NFC thanks to losses earlier in the day by the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks and is still in control of its own destiny. The captain’s most likely path to the postseason is by winning his last two games, against the Browns and Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field.

The quarterback situation began to become cloudy after the Commander’s Week 15 loss to the New York Giants in which Henke fumbled twice in the red zone, costing the team its best chance of securing a playoff berth.

His bond at Santa Clara was brief. So short. Even after making the change, Rivera conceded that the fault with the shifts wasn’t just Heinicke’s.

“Sticking them all into it would be really tough,” Rivera said. “Those weren’t his issues. There were some things we could have done better.”

Heinicke went 13-for-18 for 166 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and one fumble, a base line marred by those turnovers. He finished the first half 8-for-11 with a passing rating of 126.7 and a touchdown pass to rookie wide Jahan Dotson in the corner of the end zone. But Washington failed to score a fourth and one from the 1-yard line in the second quarter, and after the ups and downs of the fourth quarter, Wentz took over and drove the leaders on an 82-yard run.

Heinicke was the first to congratulate Wentz as he jogged off the field after his 20-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel, and promptly acknowledged the post-play play.

“I felt we were playing well there, why, three-quarters,” Henke said. “Obviously, not how you want to start the fourth quarter. But they made the decision to put Carson on the court, and I thought he did a great job and moved the ball around really well. It’s great that this is his first game in a while now, his first drive going down and scoring a touchdown.” He was ready for the moment.”

Wentz’s scoring pass closed the 49ers’ lead to 10. There was already plenty of self-damage to the leaders: penalties (six, for a loss of 51 yards), turnovers (2) and big plays allowed by a previously strong defense—many of the same problems that hampered the start of the season.

Coming into the game, the Chiefs said they wanted to focus on running, especially after Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner bemoaned the minimal touches of rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. Saturday.

But against a league-leading running defense, Washington’s commitment failed to pay dividends. On 24 first-half carries, the Leaders totaled just 52 yards for an average of 2.2 per round. Robinson finished with 22 carries for 58 yards, and the team had 79 yards on the ground.

After a pair of three-and-outs to start the game, the Chiefs’ offense found some rhythm on their third drive, passing 84 yards on 17 plays before stopping at the 1-yard line, unable to convert on fourth down when Antonio Gibson was stopped.

“I thought we moved the ball really well there in the first half,” Henke said. “We keep shooting ourselves in the foot.”

On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Chase Young made his first appearance of the season after a long absence to recover from a knee injury. The plan was to limit it to 12 to 16 shots, but that was scrapped in the second half when it settled. Young appeared at his guts in his first game, recording a hit and two tackles.

“The best thing, though, is conditioning it,” Rivera said. . . . we told him he’d have to be honest, we’re going to trust him, and when we got into the fourth quarter, they asked us if we wanted to shut it down, and I went and talked directly to him, and he said to me, ‘Coach, I feel really good.’ . . . So we kept moving forward.”

But the captains were dealing with another injury to a key defender: Cam Curll was sidelined with an ankle problem – he said he was close to playing but felt he couldn’t do what he needed to after being tested before the game. — and to compensate, Rivera basically turned to Jeremy Reeves. Although it held, the breakdowns occurred elsewhere.

In the second quarter, Washington’s defense was held back by a 71-yard touchdown run by Ray-Ray McCloud III, who cut into the right side of the line and found a wide pass.

In the third quarter, 49ers rookie signal caller Brock Purdy found tight end George Kittle wide open in the middle of field after a coverage collapse. Safety Darrick Forrest, who kicked off Purdy in the second quarter to set up a touchdown by Dotson, was deep and failed to track Kettle, who passed him on a touchdown run for a 33-yard touchdown.

“I have to be better than that,” Forrest said. “I knew as soon as I saw it, it was my fault.”

Rivera, still hot from calls made against the leaders against the Giants, had lengthy talks with the officials again Saturday. In the third quarter, the Chiefs called a quarterback sneak on a fourth-and-out in their territory, but after the chains were brought out for measurement, the officials ruled it was inches short. Rivera gave the officials a hard nod, then watched from the sidelines as Purdy again found Kettle for a quick score.

Leaders response: Give Terry McLaurin a chance. big one.

From his own 43-yard line with about three minutes left in the third, Heinicke launched a 51-yard pass down the middle to his favorite receiver. With two defenders around him, McLaurin dipped to catch the San Francisco 6.

“We finally got the chance to get the game we wanted, and we took a shot at the field,” said McLaurin. “Taylor did a great job of giving me a chance to track the ball, and I just wanted to catch it in that moment.”

The Chiefs entered the fourth quarter trailing by only seven points with Heinicke performing well, but a regression in consecutive drives from offense sent the quarterback to the bench.

First, Nick Bosa hit Heinicke just as he pulled back to punt, slamming the ball into the arms of Jordan Willis at the Washington 11-yard line. The 49ers converted it into a field goal that increased their lead to 27-14.

On Washington’s subsequent drive, cornerback Jimmy Ward intercepted Henick at the 25 on a short pass intended for Robinson. The defense held and forced a field goal that moved the score to 30-14.

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

The Leaders, heading downhill, walked off the field with another loss, perhaps a different starting quarterback and a diminished chance of returning to the postseason.

“It was definitely weird, and he’s not going to lie,” Wentz said. “I feel for Taylor too. I thought he played really well. So it’s just kind of weird in general, and unfortunately we didn’t get it done.”

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