Aug 20, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) throws a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Taylor Heinicke announced as Commanders starting QB

Washington coach Ron Rivera on Tuesday anointed Taylor Heinicke the starting quarterback for the Commanders’ Week 7 game against the Green Bay Packers.

Rookie Sam Howell will be the backup.

Heinicke replaces Carson Wentz, who underwent surgery Monday on his fractured finger. Wentz is expected to be sidelined 4 to 6 weeks.

“Taylor right now gives us the best chance,” Rivera said Tuesday.

Rivera was asked if any consideration was given to tabbing Howell as the starter.

“We didn’t want to put Sam in this situation this early in his career,” Rivera said. “I think Sam is still learning what we do and how we do it … we think he’s on track.”

Wentz fractured the ring finger of his throwing hand in last week’s win over the Chicago Bears. He underwent successful surgery Monday in Los Angeles, the Commanders said in a statement. Hand specialist Dr. Steven Shin performed the surgery. Rivera said a decision on whether to place Wentz on injured reserve would come later this week.

The Commanders selected Howell in the fifth round of this year’s draft.

Wentz sustained the injury late in the first half of Thursday’s win when his hand hit Bears defensive lineman Justin Jones on his follow-through. He remained in the game and played the entirety of the contest.

Wentz finished 12-of-22 passing for 99 yards. He has 1,489 yards passing on the season with 10 touchdowns against six interceptions.

Heinicke went 7-8 as Washington’s starter in 2021. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,419 yards and 20 TDs against 15 INTs.

The Commanders (2-4) host the Green Bay Packers (3-3) this Sunday.

–Field Level Media

Oct 13, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Washington Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz (11) looks to pass against the Chicago Bears during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Commanders QB Carson Wentz has fractured finger

Washington Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz’s availability is in question after he sustained a fractured finger on his throwing hand in Thursday’s victory over the Chicago Bears, NFL Network reported Saturday.

Per the report, Wentz is headed to Los Angeles to see a hand specialist to assess the situation.

Wentz completed 12 of 22 passes for 99 yards without a touchdown or interception in Washington’s 12-7 win over Chicago on Thursday night.

Taylor Heinicke serves as the backup and rookie Sam Howell is the third-string quarterback for the Commanders (2-4), who return to action against the visiting Green Bay Packers on Oct. 23.

Wentz, 29, has thrown for 1,489 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions in six games this season.

He has completed 62.6 percent of his passes with 150 touchdowns and 63 picks in 91 career games with the Eagles (2016-20), Indianapolis Colts (2021) and Commanders since being selected by Philadelphia with the second overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft.

–Field Level Media

Mar 3, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell (QB07) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Commanders end Sam Howell’s long wait in draft’s fifth round

Odds were very slim that Sam Howell would hear his name called on the initial day of the NFL draft, but it seemed certain he would be selected on the second.

Instead, it took until Day Three and the first pick of the fifth round for the North Carolina quarterback to be picked. The Washington Commanders ended his long agonizing wait by choosing him with the 144th overall selection.

“I had no expectations coming into the draft,” Howell said. “Obviously everyone wants to be a first-round pick. I just want to get on a good team. I’m super blessed.”

The final four rounds of the draft were held Saturday in Las Vegas and Howell’s plunge was one of the biggest surprises of the festivities.

Most draft prognosticators pegged Howell as a second-round pick. Nobody was forecasting he’d last until the fifth round.

Pitt’s Kenny Pickett was the lone quarterback to go in Thursday’s first round as the No. 20 overall pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

No quarterbacks were tabbed in the second round. Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder went in the third round (No. 74 overall) to the Atlanta Falcons, Liberty’s Malik Willis was chosen 86th by the Tennessee Titans and Matt Corral of Ole Miss was No. 94 by the Carolina Panthers.

Howell wasn’t even the first quarterback drafted on Saturday: Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe went to the New England Patriots in the fourth round (No. 137 overall).

Meanwhile, Howell was in wait-and-see mode while watching the draft in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., with family and friends. Not an easy situation for someone who set North Carolina records of 10,283 career passing yards and 92 touchdown tosses.

“It was a little stressful, but at the same time I was trusting God,” Howell said. “I was waiting for a call, and I’m so glad it was Washington that called. This is a perfect spot for me. It’s a team I wanted to play for all along, so I’m fired up.”

Howell may not see the field much this season as the Commanders traded for Carson Wentz earlier this offseason.

The Patriots’ pick of Zappe was interesting as the club selected Mac Jones in the first round of the 2021 draft.

Zappe spent four college seasons at Houston Baptist before transferring to Western Kentucky. He passed for 5,967 yards, 62 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his one season with the Hilltoppers. The yardage and touchdowns led the nation.

Zappe was Conference USA’s Most Valuable Player but the pinball-type season didn’t overwhelm many NFL scouts. Not that Zappe cares.

“I don’t really worry about the naysayers and the critics,” Zappe said. “The Patriots believe in me. … Those are the people that I’m going to try to prove right.”

It’s not often that a punter gets drafted lower than his reputation but that occurred Saturday when San Diego State’s Matt Araiza went with the first pick of the sixth round to the Buffalo Bills and was just the third punter selected.

Araiza set an NCAA record with a 51.19 average last season and earned the nickname “Punt God” for his booming efforts. He won the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter and had six punts of at least 70 yards — including boots of 86 and 81 yards.

Araiza was a unanimous first-team All-American. The only other San Diego State player to sweep the first-team honors was legendary runner Marshall Faulk, who did it in 1992 and 1993.

Penn State’s Jordan Stout was the first punter off the board. He went in the fourth round (No. 130 overall) to the Baltimore Ravens. Three picks later, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers chose Georgia’s Jake Camarda.

“I’ll have a lot of motivation to dominate this season,” Araiza told Buffalo reporters.

–Field Level Media

Dec 5, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels running back Michael Carter (8) celebrates with quarterback Sam Howell (7) and wide receiver Dyami Brown (2) after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

No. 17 North Carolina trounces Western Carolina

Michael Carter scored three touchdowns and No. 17 North Carolina breezed to a victory in its only nonconference game of the season, whipping visiting Western Carolina 49-9 on Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Sam Howell threw for two touchdowns, completing 20 of 23 passes for 287 yards — all in the first half.

Moving the ball was much easier for the Tar Heels (7-3) in their home finale than in their previous game — a loss to undefeated Notre Dame.

This concluded an abbreviated fall season for Western Carolina (0-3), which competes in the Football Championship Subdivision. The Catamounts were held to 253 yards of total offense compared to the Tar Heels’ 540.

North Carolina had a trio of first-quarter touchdowns, with Carter running in from 17 and 22 yards out and Antoine Green making his first catch of the year for a 22-yard scoring play. Carter added a 5-yard touchdown run with 1:36 left in the second quarter before Howell’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Dazz Newsome with 49 seconds to play in the half.

Western Carolina scored in the first quarter for the first time this year when Paxton Robertson connected on a 40-yard field goal, trimming the deficit to 7-3 at the time. The Catamounts were unsuccessful on a fake field goal in the third quarter.

Western Carolina’s Nigel Manns scored on a 42-yard fumble return in the fourth quarter.

Javonte Williams and D.J. Jones also had touchdown runs for the Tar Heels.

North Carolina, with a matchup against Top 10 foe Miami next week, was playing the middle game of a three-game stretch that began with last week’s 31-17 setback to No. 2 Notre Dame.

The Catamounts are set to launch a spring-semester Southern Conference schedule beginning in February. They also met nationally ranked Liberty this season.

This Western Carolina-North Carolina game wasn’t on original schedules. It was added this fall as the Tar Heels’ lone nonconference game after a Charlotte-North Carolina game was wiped off the September schedule because of Charlotte’s coronavirus issues.

–Field Level Media