LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Fans booed Carson Wentz and chanted for Taylor Heinicke to no avail while it was becoming abundantly clear Ron Rivera's quarterback change backfired on the Washington Commanders.
It snowballed so badly, it turned into a loss and the end of their playoff chances.
Wentz threw three interceptions after getting the starting job back, defensive miscues added up and the Commanders lost in embarrassing fashion Sunday, 24-10 to the Cleveland Browns, who had nothing to play for. Green Bay beating Minnesota eliminated Washington from playoff contention, something Rivera did not know was possible.
“We can be eliminated?” Rivera asked in his postgame news conference. “(If it happens), it'll be disappointing.”
It has been a disappointing run to say the least for the Commanders (7-8-1), who are winless in their past four games after Wentz's latest late-season letdown.
“I have high expectations for myself and this team, and we underperformed — I did, myself, as well,” said Wentz, who was 16 of 28 for 143 yards. “That’s not what I had in mind and what we had in mind as a team. Not the performance I envisioned. A lot of stuff I want back. Yeah, that was a tough one.”
The offense gained just 260 yards — 96 on Washington's only touchdown drive — not exactly the spark Rivera was hoping for when he went back to Wentz. Fans making up the sparse crowd booed and chanted early on for Heinicke multiple times after Wentz missed open receivers or lobbed the ball into the hands of a Cleveland defender.
“I tried to be aggressive, tried to force a couple throws early, obviously, and kind of put us in a hole,” said Wentz, who similarly melted down with Indianapolis at this point last season when the Colts needed to win to get into the playoffs. “Then the rest of the way just didn’t make enough plays personally, as a team — the whole nine yards. I’m definitely kicking myself over some."
Fans chanting, “Heinicke! Heinicke!” did not get their wish: Wentz remained in the game and struggled to move the ball beyond handing it to rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr., who rushed for 87 yards on 24 carries. Rivera said he contemplating going to Heinicke but decided against it once his team fell behind by 14 and he knew some downfield throws would be necessary.
“Yeah, I thought we might (see Heinicke) just because he was available and the other quarterback was struggling a little bit, but they stuck with him,” said Browns safety Grant Delpit, who had two of the interceptions. “We had a good game plan for him, and it worked out.”
The Commanders' fourth-ranked defense allowed a handful of big plays, including a 46-yard pass from Deshaun Watson to Amari Cooper that became a touchdown when top cornerback Kendall Fuller missed an open-field tackle.
“We missed a couple of tackles,” Rivera said. “We missed a couple of them completely. You can’t miss tackles on good players.”
Watson also connected with Cooper on a 33-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter that sent fans to the exits.
The Browns (7-9) were already out of the race in the AFC but made good on tight end David Njoku's expectation they'd “give the Commanders hell.” Cooper had three catches for 105 yards, Nick Chubb ran 14 times for 104 yards and Watson finished 9 of 18 for 169 yards and the TD passes to Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones.
"That was definitely the potential of what the future can hold," Watson said.
Washington's highlight of the game was the 96-yard drive on 21 plays that chewed up 11:27 of clock in the second quarter. It's one of just five 21-play drives in the NFL over the past decade.
GONE TO THE HOGS
The “Hogs” who paved the way to Washington's three Super Bowl titles were honored before the game, with Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs and others from the franchise's glory days in attendance. The Commanders also unveiled their new mascot, a hog named “Major Tuddy.”
The team said he is “a muscular 6-foot-5, 230-pound male hog with exaggerated features that are anatomically similar to the animal, including a large belly, snout and cloven hooves.”
Browns: RT Jack Conklin left in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. ... Coach Kevin Stefanski said CB Denzel Ward, who had the other interception off Wentz, had a shoulder injury.
Commanders: Pro Bowl DT Jonathan Allen went down with a knee injury in the second quarter and did not return. Rivera said Allen hyperextended the knee and would be evaluated further Monday. ... CB Benjamin St-Juste and S Kam Curl were each inactive because of ankle injuries.
Browns: Visit the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday.
Commanders: Host the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday.
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