WASHINGTON - After Taylor Heinicke led the Washington Commanders to yet another win, coach Ron Rivera made the announcement that had become inevitable: Heinicke is no longer the backup to Carson Wentz.
Heinicke threw for 191 yards to improve to 4-1 as a starter, Kendall Fuller returned an interception for a touchdown, and the Commanders rolled to a 23-10 win over the hapless Houston Texans on Sunday.
Heinicke, thrust into the starting role when Wentz fractured a finger, had another solid performance to help the Commanders (6-5) build on Monday night's victory over previously unbeaten Philadelphia. Washington has won five of six and is above .500 for the first time since Week 1.
"We are going to go with Taylor, and we’ll work Carson back in and see where Carson is in terms of when he’s ready to be the backup," Rivera said. "Then, we’ll go from there."
Asked why he made the decision, Rivera was succinct.
"Winning," he said. "That’s the truth. That’s where we are."
HOUSTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 20: Taylor Heinicke #4 of the Washington Commanders passes as he takes a hit from Desmond King II #25 of the Houston Texans in the second quarter at NRG Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandat
Heinicke was out of football two years ago before Washington signed him as its quarantine quarterback.
"Being a starting quarterback in the NFL, it’s every kid’s dream," he said. "It means a lot to me. It’s very special to me. I just want to keep this thing rolling."
Davis Mills threw two interceptions and Houston mustered a season-low 148 yards of offense as the Texans (1-8-1) lost their fifth straight and remained the NFL’s only one-win team.
"There’s not a whole lot that we’re doing well," coach Lovie Smith said. "We’re building. We’re not quite there yet. We’re not a good football team right now."
Washington led 20-0 at halftime behind Fuller's pick-6, a TD run by Curtis Samuel and a historically bad first half by Houston’s offense.
The Texans were outgained 246-5 in the first half, their fewest net yards in a half franchise history. Their previous worst was 8 in the first half of a 40-0 loss to the Bills last season.
It was the fewest yards by a team in a half since the Raiders had minus-12 in a win over the Broncos in 2015. Mills had minus-1 yard passing in the first half as he was sacked three times before the break.
Smith became defensive when peppered with questions about whether he's considered benching Mills and scoffed at the notion that he'd make a decision like that immediately after a game.
"You say it starts with quarterback," he said. "But no, it starts up front. ... And today with that type of pressure, I don’t know how many quarterbacks could have had success."
The Commanders scored only a field goal after halftime, but their dominant first half was plenty.
The crowd had so many Commanders fans that chants of "defense, defense" could be heard on a couple of possessions when Houston had the ball. About the only reactions from Texans fans were boos, except for the cheers that came when third baseman Alex Bregman of the World Series champion Houston Astros was shown on the big screens in the first half.
Montez Sweat and Jonathan Allen had two sacks apiece and combined for six quarterback hits to lead a Washington defense that hurried and harassed Mills all day.
"To see your DBs come out strong like that, you know it’s going to be a good game," Allen said. "Especially with a younger quarterback, for him to throw a pick-6 on the second or third play of the game, we know it would affect him a little bit. Probably hold a little bit longer than he was naturally going to."
Houston rookie Dameon Pierce, who entered the game ranked fifth in the NFL with 772 yards rushing, had 10 carries for a season-low 8 yards.
The Commanders took an early lead when Fuller stepped in front of a pass intended for Brandin Cooks, grabbed the ball and returned it 37 yards to the end zone on Houston’s second offensive play.
Washington made it 14-0 when Samuel scored on a 10-yard run early in the second quarter.
The Texans finally found some offense on their first drive of the third quarter when Cooks grabbed a 41-yard reception. Mills scrambled for 4 yards on fourth-and-3 from the 15 to keep that drive going.
Rookie John Ridgeway got an unnecessary roughness penalty for upending Pierce and throwing him to the ground on the next play to give Houston a first down at the 5. But the Texans settled for a field goal to make it 20-3 after Mills was sacked on third down.
Mills' second interception came in the fourth quarter when Benjamin St-Juste made a diving catch on a long throw to give Washington the ball on its 3.
Mills scrambled for a 4-yard touchdown with about three minutes left.
Commanders: There was a chance early in the week that DE Chase Young, who has missed more than a year since tearing the ACL in his right knee, could return. But he remained out Sunday. ... St-Juste left in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury.
Texans: CB Derek Stingley, the third overall pick in this year’s draft, missed the game with a hamstring injury.
Rivera and TE Logan Thomas wore Virginia T-shirts before the game to pay tribute to three of the school’s football players who were shot dead last weekend as they returned from a field trip. Rivera wore his T-shirt on the field during pre-game warmups and Thomas donned his as he arrived at the stadium to honor Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler.
"They’re our neighbors and a part of our community," Rivera said. "We’re very sad for them. We just wanted to at least give them a shoutout to let them know that we are thinking about them and they’re in our thoughts and prayers."
Commanders: Host Atlanta next Sunday.
Texans: Visit Miami next Sunday.
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