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Commanders to start Sam Howell vs. Cowboys; Carson Wentz benched again

Washington was eliminated from playoff contention in Week 17.

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The Washington Commanders are benching quarterback Carson Wentz once again.

The team will start fifth-round rookie quarterback Sam Howell against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday and utilize Taylor Heinicke at backup, head coach Ron Rivera told reporters on Wednesday.

The decision gives Washington a chance to evaluate the young quarterback before next season. “If Sam ever gets the opportunity to be a starter, this would be the chance. Why not get it over with now and go from there?” Rivera said.

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Washington was initially expected to start Heinicke and also give some snaps to Howell, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

However, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Washington had not actually settled on a starter for Sunday, an idea supported by the fact that Howell was seen taking first-team reps over Heinicke at practice on Wednesday.

Both reports agreed that Wentz would be benched.

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Jan 1, 2023; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz (11) before the game against the Cleveland Browns at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz will be supporting from the sidelines on Sunday. (Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

Carson Wentz’s season at a glance

The Commanders, who were eliminated from playoff contention in Week 17, have turned to and from Wentz at quarterback in recent weeks.

Following Washington’s 24-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns with Wentz back at the helm, head coach Ron Rivera expressed surprise that the Commanders could be eliminated from playoff contention.

Similarly, the move to revisit Wentz resulted in an outcome that likely only came as a shock to the Commanders.

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Wentz opened the season as the team’s starter. Six games in that role, he led the Commanders to a 2-4 record and sustained a finger injury that required surgery.

That’s when the team turned to Taylor Heinicke.

The backup quarterback led the Commanders to wins in three of their next four games. The team decided to stick with him even after Wentz was cleared to return.

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He was gracious about the decision. “I get it,” Wentz said, via ESPN. “It’s part of the business. I understand where we are as a team.”

Heinicke went on to start for five more games, until he was benched after consecutive turnovers during a Week 16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

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With two games left on the schedule, the team turned back to Wentz in hopes he could lead the Commanders to the final playoff spot in the NFC.

He could not.

In fact, fans turned on Wentz just three plays into the loss to Cleveland.

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Lack of fan support aside, his demotion raises questions about his future with the Commanders.

In eight appearances, Wentz threw for 1,755 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Will the Commanders deem that performance worth the $53.4 million remaining on this contract?

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