‘The fan base is tired of losing’: crowd boos Wentz, Commanders eliminated in loss to Browns

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LANDOVER —  As Jonathan Allen writhed in pain on the ground during Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns, Washington Commanders defensive end Montez Sweat made a quieting gesture to the fans at FedEx Field. 

He wanted them to stop chanting for Taylor Heinicke. 

“I don’t think the crowd really gave Carson (Wentz) much of a chance today, honestly,” Sweat said. “(But) that’s the name of the game. I understand the fan base is tired of losing.” 

Indeed, they are. 

Over the course of Sunday’s 24-10 loss to Cleveland — a defeat that shattered the Commanders’ playoff hopes — Washington’s fans repeatedly chanted “HEINICKE!” “HEINICKE!” in hopes that coach Ron Rivera would bench Wentz and turn to the crowd-favorite backup. The calls went unanswered. 

Rivera made the decision last week to re-insert Wentz as the team’s starter, telling reporters he was searching for a “spark” to jolt the Commanders. Instead, the move proved akin to sticking a key in an electric socket. There was still a spark — just not in the one Rivera intended.

Against the Browns, Wentz completed 57.1% of his passes for 143 yards and tossed three interceptions. The 30-year-old, making his first start since breaking his ring finger in October, displayed many of the same flaws that helped fuel Washington’s 2-4 start to the season. He missed checkdowns, struggled under pressure and killed Washington with turnovers. 

Wentz, booed coming off the field after the loss, might have been the most unpopular quarterback at the stadium. And that was with Deshaun Watson standing on the opposite sideline. 

“I’ve seen a lot in my 7 years and I’ve experienced a lot,” Wentz said. “I get it. I didn’t have my best day today, and I wish it would’ve went differently.”

Later in the day, the Commanders were eliminated from the playoffs when the Green Bay Packers demolished the Minnesota Vikings. 

Washington’s loss to Cleveland and a dominant Detroit Lions’ win over the Chicago Bears meant, ironically, that the Commanders’ playoff hopes had come down to former starter Kirk Cousins leading the Vikings to victory. But the Packers led most of the entire contest, and Cousins couldn’t muster another comeback. 

Now, where do the Commanders go from here? In Rivera’s third season, Washington is 7-8-1. That record is hardly the leap that Rivera envisioned when he predicted his team would make noticeable improvements in his third season. Just weeks ago, that prediction looked to be coming true as Washington had won six of seven to put them in the playoff hunt.

That prospect ended with Sunday’s loss.

Rivera declined to say if Wentz, Heinicke or even rookie Sam Howell would start the team’s season finale against the Dallas Cowboys next weekend. A Week 18 game with little on the line, in theory, would present the perfect opportunity to evaluate Howell, but Rivera indicated that he was unaware that the Commanders faced elimination if the Packers won. 

“We can be eliminated?” asked Rivera, who later clarified to reporters that he was frustrated by the question and focused only on the possibilities of Washington winning. 

No matter who starts against Dallas, the Commanders will now likely be in the quarterback market again this offseason. Heinicke will be a free agent, while the team can easily cut Wentz to get out of his contract at no cost. 

Under Rivera, the Commanders have been unable to solve that position. The Commanders traded multiple draft picks for Wentz in hopes that he would become their long-term solution, but his performance against the Browns was the latest reminder that no longer seems viable. 

Throughout the contest, Washington’s crowd had little to no patience with Wentz. When the quarterback threw an interception on the third play of the Commanders’ first drive — on a throw that Wentz said he tried to force to wideout Terry McLaurin — fans started chanting for Heinicke. 

The chants picked up again after Wentz’s second interception and in an extended break when Allen — who suffered a hyperextended knee and did not return — went down early in the second. 

Wentz said he tried to ignore the frustrated home crowd, adding he felt like was able to just focus on the game. And for a portion of the game, Wentz responded to the adversity. He led Washington on a lengthy 11-minute, 21-play, 96-yard drive that ended with the quarterback leaping across the goal line for the Commanders’ lone touchdown. The score gave Washington a 7-3 lead into halftime. 

But the Commanders’ defense — down Allen and key members in the secondary with safety Kam Curl and cornerback Benjamin St-Juste, who were inactive with ankle injuries — fell apart in the second half. Watson (169 yards on 9 of 18 passing) threw all three of his touchdowns in the final two quarters.

Wentz led a nine-play drive that ended with a 43-yard field goal.

But with Washington down 17-10, Deshaun Watson helped preserve the win with a 33-yard touchdown to wideout Amari Cooper. 

In the second half, Wentz completed just 10 of 18 passes for 81 yards. He was sacked twice. 

“It’s hard to say it didn’t,” Sweat told The Washington Times when asked if he thought the cheers for Heinicke affected Wentz. “I feel like he’s been through a lot as a player, so he should be able to resist things — he’s tough. But I think it’s tough to hear that.” 

Perhaps one of the more crushing elements of this loss for the Commanders is that, even with Wentz’s struggles, Washington was still able to play the way that Rivera and Co. envisioned. The Commanders held the ball for more than 33 minutes of game time and had 37 rushing attempts. On defense, the unit played stout enough to sack Watson five times and hold him to a 50% completion percentage. 

But the Commanders scored just 10 points.

Asked if he considered switching to Heinicke at any point, Rivera admitted he mulled a change until the Browns led by 14. He figured Washington would need to push the ball downfield, admittedly not Heinicke’s strength. 

So Rivera stuck with Wentz, who tossed a third pick on a deep shot with just more than three minutes left in the game. By that point, the chants for Heinicke had stopped. Most of the crowd — a season-low 50,827 — had made their way for the exits minutes earlier. 

The ones who stuck around booed Wentz on his way to the locker room.

“I have high expectations for myself and this team,” Wentz said. “And we underperformed.” 

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