ASHBURN — For months, Ron Rivera rejected the notion he could bench Taylor Heinicke for Kyle Allen — saying he didn’t want Heinicke to look over his shoulder. But these days, with the team’s playoff hopes all but dead, the Washington coach isn’t as firm in his commitment.
“The biggest thing more than anything else, if the situation presents itself, if it allows for it, Kyle will play,” Rivera said. “If it doesn’t, we’ll stick with Taylor. It’s not necessarily about having to evaluate these guys. It’s just about having to play if the opportunity arises. And we’ll see. Like I said, Taylor’s the starter. And he’ll play. And if the situation calls for it, we’ll give Kyle the opportunity to play as well. “
Rivera did not expand on what it would take for the switch, but in recent weeks, the coach has shown a willingness to replace Heinicke — with Allen making an appearance in two of the last three games. On Dec. 12, Allen finished the team’s 27-20 loss to the Cowboys when Heinicke got hurt in the fourth quarter and did not return. Then, this past Sunday, Allen took over in the fourth amid the team’s blowout loss in Dallas.
Against the Cowboys, Heinicke struggled in both outings — completing less than 40% of his passes and failing to deal with the pressure of Dallas’ dominant defensive front. He said the losses reminded him that he has a “lot of room to improve.”
If a switch does happen, Rivera told reporters the move would not be “an indictment” of Heinicke. He added Wednesday that he and Heinicke have talked, and the coach said they are on the same page. “He understands me, I understand him,” Rivera said.
“It is what it is,” Heinicke said. “I come in every day and I just try and get better and do my job the best I can. If I feel like I do that, everything else takes care of itself. And if he feels like Kyle‘s a better option at that point then yeah, that’s what it is.”
Washington has played four quarterbacks this season — the same number that took the field in 2020, Rivera’s first year with the franchise. The Burgundy and Gold haven’t used fewer than three quarterbacks during the regular season since Kirk Cousins started all 16 games in 2017, his last year with the team.
Heinicke has provided stability at the position for most of the season — starting all but two games so far. Yes, the team went into 2021 with Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter, but when the journeyman went down in Week 1, Heinicke has largely been available — outside a COVID-19-related absence in Week 15.
Remember, Washington traded a fifth-round pick to the Carolina Panthers for Allen last year — and the 25-year-old started four games in 2020 before breaking his ankle. Allen’s contract is also set to expire after the season, and the team will need to make a decision on whether to pursue him as a restricted free agent.
In two games, Allen has completed 12 of 19 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. He fumbled the ball late in the first meeting against Dallas, costing Washington a chance to possibly take the lead.
“He’s not afraid to give his guys opportunities, which I really appreciate about him,” wide receiver Terry McLaurin said of Allen. “No matter what the score is, he does a really good job of moving the football. There’s a calm when he’s back there. Taylor gives us the same thing, but Kyle has done a really good job of his opportunities when he comes in.”
• Matthew Paras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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