LANDOVER, Md. — Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith will be inactive for Saturday night’s wild-card game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a source told ESPN, leaving the team’s playoff fate in the hands of Taylor Heinicke.
Washington had hoped Smith’s strained right calf would be good enough to allow him to play, but he was unable to move the way he needed. The injury is on the same leg Smith broke in 2018.
That means Washington’s active quarterbacks will be Heinicke, who has one career NFL start and has played just one quarter in two years, and undrafted free-agent rookie Steven Montez, who has yet to appear in an NFL game but has been with the team all season. Heinicke was signed to Washington’s practice squad on Dec. 8.
Heinicke, 27, has appeared in eight NFL games, including in the fourth quarter of a 20-13 loss to Carolina in Week 16. He replaced an ineffective Dwayne Haskins for Washington’s final two series; Heinicke completed 12 of 19 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. Another touchdown pass was negated by a holding penalty.
Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady has played in more Super Bowls than Heinicke has played in NFL games. Heinicke spent three weeks on New England’s practice squad in 2017.
Washington waited until Smith had a chance to work out ahead of the game before finalizing its decision. Smith suffered the injury in a Dec. 13 win over San Francisco. It sidelined him for two weeks, but he returned to help beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17, clinching the NFC East.
But he was limited in practice throughout the week. Washington coach Ron Rivera said that Smith was still sore later in the week, and the coach even contemplated using a rotation system. He valued Smith’s experience — a combined 174 career regular-season and playoff starts — but while Smith felt better Friday, the calf remained a concern throughout the day.
Washington likes that Heinicke knows the offense well, having been a part of this system for two years in Minnesota and one in Carolina. He was an undrafted free agent out of Old Dominion University in 2015. In college, he threw for 14,959 yards and 132 touchdowns. But the only coach who visited him in Virginia before the draft was current Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner when he was a quarterbacks coach in Minnesota.
“We’re not going to baby him,” Turner said earlier this week when asked about the possibility of him playing. “We’re not going to play scared. We’re going to play to win. Everybody on this team deserves that. He’s capable of it. He’s got to raise himself up to the challenge, and he will. I’ve spent a lot of time with him. I’ve seen him play in preseason games; I’ve seen him play in practice. I’ve got a lot of confidence and belief in him. He knows that.”