Rivera: Heinicke to start for Washington if Smith can't

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Washington Football Team

Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera expressed optimism that quarterback Alex Smith will be under center next week against the Eagles in Philadelphia in a game that will decide the NFC East champion.

However, if Smith misses his third straight game with a right calf injury, Rivera said Monday that he'd turn to Taylor Heinicke with the season on the line.

Heinicke would be the team's only option with NFL experience after Washington released former first-round pick Dwayne Haskins on Monday.

Haskins, who was stripped of his captaincy last week after breaking COVID-19 protocols, started on Sunday before being benched in the fourth quarter. He threw two interceptions and lost a fumble in a 20-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers -- a game in which Smith wasn't quite ready to play.

"I thought (Smith) had an exceptional day on Friday, but it's always about how that person feels the next day and he felt it was still grabbing him a little bit," Rivera said, via The Washington Post. "This week, I'm optimistic about the opportunity."

Steven Montez, an undrafted rookie from Colorado who was promoted from the practice squad last week, now is the third quarterback on the Washington roster. He would back up Heinicke if Smith is unable to play.

Smith, 36, is 4-1 since taking over as the starter in Week 10. After missing all of 2019 recovering from a leg injury and a life-threatening infection, he has completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 1,420 yards with four touchdowns and six picks in seven appearances this season.

Heinicke replaced an ineffective Haskins in the fourth quarter and completed 12 of 19 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers.

"I thought there are a lot of positives to (Heinicke's play)," Rivera said. "I think he showed what I was hoping to see when he got his opportunity, that it wasn't too big."

Washington (6-9) can win the NFC East by beating Philadelphia.

Dallas (6-9) would need to defeat the New York Giants and have the Eagles emerge victorious to advance.

If both Washington and Dallas lose, they will be tied with the Giants at 6-10. In that case, the Giants would win the NFC East because of tiebreakers.

-Field Level Media