- The Washington Times
Sunday, October 31, 2021

This time, Ron Rivera was in no mood to hand out firm commitments. Not to his quarterback, Taylor Heinicke, who once again couldn’t consistently convert steady drives to touchdowns. And certainly not to his kicker, Chris Blewitt, who had two blocked kicks.

Instead, the only guarantee the Washington coach could make after Sunday’s 17-10 loss to the Denver Broncos is that he would use the team’s upcoming bye week to reevaluate every player and position group from this season’s disappointing 2-6 start.  

And then he would look at the possibility of changes.

“This team is still trying to search and find itself,” Rivera said, “more than anything else.” 

So much of this latest defeat was deja vu all over again.

Like last week in Green Bay, Heinicke and the offense made multiple trips into scoring territory. Eight times, to be exact.

End result? 10 points. Washington hasn’t scored more than 14 points since Oct. 10, and the losing streak now sits at four games.

Against the Broncos, who with Sunday’s win snapped their own four-game losing streak, the Burgundy and Gold folded despite getting plenty of opportunities to steal a game.

Even late, Broncos running back Melvin Gordon inexplicably fumbled with 18 seconds left — giving Washington a chance to engineer a potential game-tying touchdown.

The four following plays look like this: Incomplete Heinicke pass, six-yard sack, two more incompletions.

Heinicke finished with 270 yards and a touchdown, but threw two desperation interceptions in the end zone. The first came on a Hail Mary attempt before halftime, the other came in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-19. 

Now, Rivera will decide if Heinicke is still the man moving forward or if he’ll turn to backup Kyle Allen, who started four games in 2020 before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Ryan Fitzpatrick, out with a hip injury, is at least multiple weeks away from returning.

“It’s not my decision,” Heinicke said when asked if he thought he’d done enough to retain his starting job. “I’m not really going to speak on that because it’s out of my hands. The biggest thing I do is I go in that facility every single day and I give it my all, and that’s all I can do.”

If there’s a team that can relate to Washington’s near-constant quarterback turmoil, it’s the Broncos. Starter Teddy Bridgewater is the Broncos’ 11th starting quarterback since Peyton Manning retired after the 2015 season. And on Sunday, Manning’s presence loomed large — he was inducted to Denver’s Ring of Fame before the game and there was another ceremony at halftime. 

But Bridgewater performed fine against Washington, throwing for 213 yards on 19 of 26 passing. His performance won’t quiet skeptics who felt Denver should have drafted a quarterback — say, Chicago’s Justin Fields — at No. 9 this offseason, but he was good enough to get the Broncos back to .500 at 4-4. 

Washington, likewise, faces second-guessing on its plans from the offseason at quarterback. The team chose to sign Fitzpatrick on a one-year, $10 million deal and bring back Heinicke as the backup rather than drafting a rookie signal-caller or being more aggressive in the trade market. 

“That’s hindsight,” Rivera said. “That’s easy to second guess.”

Rivera said he made a decision and will stick by it. He compared it to his handling of the kicking situation, which has only looked worse in the weeks after Washington waived an erratic Dustin Hopkins.

Blewitt is now 2 of 5 in two games since Hopkins’ release — with all three misses being blocked. Each miss against the Broncos cost Washington a chance to take the lead.

Hopkins, now with the Los Angeles Chargers, nailed his lone 48-yard attempt on Sunday in a loss to the New England Patriots. He was also 3-of-3 on extra-point attempts.

But neither of Rivera’s decisions — at quarterback or kicker — have arguably worked out. 

“We liked a couple of guys (at quarterback),” Rivera said. “We’re not going to mortgage the future because if we can put the pieces in place and then find the guy then we’ll feel better about that than having to give up some of the capital that people wanted from us.

“I wasn’t going to give up some of the players people wanted. I wasn’t going to give up some of the draft picks people wanted.” 

But if this season is showing Washington anything, it’s that the team still has many pieces missing. On defense, safety and linebacker remain needs. On offense, Washington’s supporting cast hasn’t been as impactful as the team’s brass perhaps envisioned — though injuries haven’t helped in that regard.

Washington lost two more starters to injury in Sunday’s loss. Center Chase Roullier went down with a serious-looking leg injury and guard Ereck Flowers was helped off late. They were the latest blows to a unit already missing names like guard Brandon Scherff (knee), tight end Logan Thomas (hamstring) and Curtis Samuel (groin). 

Players, though, have maintained Washington has enough to win. And in moments, those replacements look up to the task. The team’s lone touchdown came on a 20-yard strike in the third quarter when Heinicke found wideout DeAndre Carter with a perfectly placed ball to tie the game at 10. Both were backups to start the year.

Still, Washington hasn’t been able to respond when the game is on the line. After Blewitt’s second blocked kick — a 47-yard attempt — the Broncos marched down the field and scored on a seven-yard rushing touchdown from Gordon.

“We’ve got to stick together through this,” Carter said. “This is a rough time.” 

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

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