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Washington Commanders QB situation is a hot mess with NFL Playoffs on the line

No one really expected the Washington Commanders to hang with a red-hot San Francisco 49ers team on the road Christmas Eve.

Taylor Heinicke got the start under center once again for Ron Rivera’s squad, only to struggle with mistakes throughout his appearance. With Washington down multiple scores in the fourth quarter, Rivera turned to struggling veteran Carson Wentz who performed pretty well against a 49ers defense that went soft with the game out of hand.

In the end, Washington fell by the score of 37-20. It represented the team’s second consecutive loss and moved the Commanders to 7-7-1 on the season. Washington still finds itself in playoff positioning, but it’s a tight race with the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions breathing down their necks.

Heading into Week 17 against the Cleveland Browns, Rivera has yet to commit to a starter for that important New Year’s Day game. But at this point, it really doesn’t matter who starts. If Washington makes the playoffs, it will be in spite of its quarterback play. Here’s why.

Related: Washington Commanders standing in Sportsnaut’s NFL power rankings

Carson Wentz is not the answer for the Washington Commanders

NFL: Washington Commanders at San Francisco 49ers
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Making his first appearance since suffering a finger injury back on Oct. 13, Wentz put up some good numbers against the NFL’s best defense on Saturday. He complated 12-of-16 passes for 123 yards with a touchdown and zero interceptions.

However, it must be noted that Wentz did this with San Francisco’s defense in prevent mode and the game out of hand. He replaced an ineffective Heinicke with Washington down 30-14 roughly midway through the fourth quarter.

As for Wentz’s entire body of work this season, it has not been great. Washington lost four of his six starts prior to the aforementioned injury. He had thrown a mere 11 touchdowns during that span, leading the Commanders to a total of 47 points in his past four starts. Wentz is not the solution. It’s that simple.

Related: Washington Commanders schedule and game-by-game predictions

Taylor Heinicke comes up small against elite defenses

NFL: Washington Commanders at San Francisco 49ers
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

This former undrafted free agent threw an interception and lost a fumble on consecutive drives Saturday as Washington looked to come back against the top-ranked defense in the NFL. It’s just the latest example of Heinicke struggling against good competition.

In five games against teams who currently have winning records, the Commanders are 1-3-1 with Heinicke starting. That’s the definition of a quarterback struggling against good teams.

With games coming up against the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys to conclude the regular season, Washington will be facing difficult defenses. There can’t be much confidence that Heinicke will suddenly turn it around.

Washington Commanders will be in search of quarterback this offseason

NFL: Washington Commanders at San Francisco 49ers
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

This all leads to one final point. Neither Wentz or Heinicke will be the Commanders’ starting quarterback next season.

Wentz is playing under a four-year, $128 million deal. Washington will save $26.18 million against the cap without a dead cap hit if the team releases him ahead of free agency opening in March. That seems to be a no-brainer.

As for Heinicke, he’s slated to become a free agent. At this point, the veteran is nothing more than a backup. Washington must recognize that.

The good news? There’s some options for Washington in both free agency and via the trade market. That includes Jimmy Garoppolo of the aforementioned 49ers in free agency. Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr could also be had on the trade market.

Either way, the Commanders will be looking for a quarterback come spring time regardless of how the remainder of the season plays out.