- The Washington Times
Monday, November 1, 2021

Ron Rivera during the bye plans to review Washington’s first eight games of the season. But the Washington Football Team coach has already made up his mind in one key area: Taylor Heinicke is the team’s starting quarterback.

Rivera backed Heinicke a day after Washington, now losers of four straight, fell to 2-6 on the season, losing 17-10 in Denver to the Broncos. Instead of making a change at quarterback, Rivera indicated he’s hopeful the offense will improve when a number of players get healthy after a week off.

Washington went into Sunday’s game missing six offensive starters and two key reserves. A seventh starter — guard Ereck Flowers — exited the loss late with an injury, though the severity is not yet known. 

As he sat in his office Monday for an online news conference, Rivera rattled off a list of players he hoped would return for Washington‘s Nov. 14 date with the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Wide receiver Curtis Samuel (groin), guard Brandon Scherff (knee), tackle Sam Cosmi (ankle), tight end Logan Thomas (hamstring) and wide receiver Dyami Brown (knee). 

He also cited two banged-up defensive players who are getting healthier: cornerbacks William Jackson (knee) and Darryl Roberts (quad). 

“It sounds like it’s a possibility,” Rivera said. “To me, that could help make a difference for us.”

A name that Rivera did not rattle off? Ryan Fitzpatrick. Asked about the 37-year-old quarterback’s status, Rivera said Fitzpatrick would receive an MRI next week and that would give the team a better indication about whether he could possibly play again this season. Fitzpatrick, of course, entered the year Washington’s starter only to go down in the team’s first game. 

At first, Washington’s offense was better than anticipated when Heinicke took over for the journeyman. Through four games, when Washington was 2-2, the team was averaging 25.3 points and 342 yards per game.

But the offense has fizzled in recent weeks. Most notably, Washington has failed to get into the end zone — scoring only 33 points in its last three contests. In that span, the Burgundy and Gold have been able to move the ball — they’ve averaged 349.3 yards per game, eighth-most in the league  — but the team has gone 0-for-6 in the red zone. 

The team’s touchdowns have come on passes of 39 (Chiefs), 40 (Packers) and 20 (Broncos) yards.

“I’m not disappointed in the yardage production obviously,” Rivera said. “I am disappointed that we haven’t put more points on the board because I believe we are capable of it.” 

Rivera acknowledged that Thomas’ return, in particular, could help in the red zone. Last year, the 6-foot-6 tight end’s size proved to be crucial in that area — with all six of his touchdowns coming within 15 yards or less. This year, he also scored two touchdowns in the red zone before going down with a hamstring injury in Week 4. 

But the coach said the return of other playmakers should also help. Samuel’s speed, for instance, would be a useful weapon. The 25-year-old, signed a three-year, $34.5 million contract in March but has played only 30 snaps, sidelined by a nagging groin injury that’s bothered him since June.

“I know what Samuel can do, we just got to get him back on the field,” Rivera said. 

The area that injuries might have impacted Washington the most lately, however, is upfront. Heinicke was sacked a season-high five times in Denver — including one that was the result of a dropped snap shortly after backup Tyler Larsen replaced Roullier at center. 

By the end of the game, four of the five spots differed from Washington’s Week 1 line — with only left tackle Charles Leno remaining. Third-stringer Saahdiq Charles, a fourth-rounder from 2020, got the start at right tackle with Cosmi and Cornelius Lucas (illness) out. 

Roullier, too, reportedly suffered a fractured fibula — putting the rest of his season in jeopardy. 

“The bye week came at a good time,” Leno said. 

Heinicke has now been sacked nine times over the last two games. Before that, he was sacked five times through the first six. 

“We haven’t had the guys on the field that we feel could really help us play better and hopefully win some football games,” Rivera said. “I think it’s going to be huge, being able to get Brandon and Sam back on the football field. I think it could be very helpful having a healthy Curtis and Logan out there working together with our offensive guys. … Coming out of this (bye week), we’ll see how we respond to it, especially if we do get those guys back on the football field.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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