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Ryan Fitzpatrick will miss at least three games with hip injury; Taylor Heinicke to start

Washington quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is heading to injured reserve. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a partial dislocation of his right hip during the Washington Football Team’s season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Chargers and will be placed on injured reserve, Coach Ron Rivera said Monday.

Fitzpatrick will miss at least three weeks but probably more, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. In his absence, Taylor Heinicke will be Washington’s starting quarterback and Kyle Allen his backup.

“We want to make sure we get as good an answer as to what’s going on so we know how to handle everything going forward,” Rivera said of the injury, also known as a subluxation. “… It is frustrating, but hopefully with the situation we have right now, we can go forward. … We like the guys that we have, we’ve had them play for us, they’ve done some good things for us.”

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Fitzpatrick, 38, was taken down on a pass play with nine minutes remaining in the second quarter of Sunday’s game when Chargers edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu slipped past left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and slammed the quarterback to the ground. Fitzpatrick lay motionless for a bit before trying to stand, only to sit back down, grimacing in pain as trainers came onto the field. He was ruled out of the remainder of the game shortly after walking gingerly back to the locker room with trainers. Fitzpatrick played only 16 snaps and completed 3 of 6 passes for 13 yards.

The injury is a disappointing setback for Fitzpatrick — a 17-year journeyman who signed a one-year contract as a free agent this offseason — and Washington, which is again being forced to overcome an injury to its starting quarterback after years of instability at the position.

The team will have to regroup quickly as it prepares for a divisional game against the New York Giants on Thursday night at FedEx Field.

Washington signed Kyle Shurmur to the practice squad Monday morning, giving it a third quarterback who could be elevated to the active roster, if needed. The former Vanderbilt quarterback and son of Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Kyle Shurmur went undrafted in 2019 and has since bounced on and off the practice squads of the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals. But his only NFL experience is in the preseason, and he’ll have had only one full practice with Washington before Thursday’s game.

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The focus going forward is on Heinicke, who re-signed in the offseason after an impressive outing against the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round of the playoffs. Although Rivera preached competition in camp, Fitzpatrick was always the intended starter, largely because of his extensive NFL experience.

Yet Heinicke’s ability to step in midgame and energize the offense Sunday was reminiscent of his performance in the playoffs; his mobility and knack for adjusting on the fly have kept drives alive, and his confidence in the huddle has earned him the respect of his teammates. Plus, he knows Washington’s coaches and offensive system well; offensive coordinator Scott Turner was his quarterbacks coach with Minnesota and Carolina before they reunited in Washington.

“Our guys will rally around him,” Rivera said. “It’s just one of those things that some guys have an innate ability to create some enthusiasm, some excitement, and that’s what Taylor is because of the way he plays. He plays a little bit like his hair is on fire, plays a little bit like a gunslinger.”

But whether Heinicke can start as long as Washington needs him is unknown. He has only started two games in his career, and he suffered injuries in both. He has never played more than six games in a season (2018 with the Carolina Panthers).

Heinicke joins a lengthy, and growing, list of quarterbacks who have started for Washington in recent years. Since 2010, the team has had 14 signal-callers start at least one game, including Heinicke’s postseason nod. And no Washington quarterback has started a full season since Kirk Cousins in 2017.

“It’s the nature of the game, though,” Rivera said. “First of all, it’s the most important position on your team. Secondly, the nature of the game is it’s a physical game and it’s going to happen. Unfortunately, it’s happened to us more than we need to have it in the last season and a game. You just hope that we can get a streak where we can keep guys on the field for a long time and benefit from their abilities.”

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Rivera said that, for now, Washington doesn’t plan to pursue any quarterbacks in free agency. Its options are limited, though they do include one familiar to Washington’s coaching staff: Cam Newton, who was cut by the New England Patriots in August. Rivera declined to sign Newton in 2020, when he was a free agent.

For Fitzpatrick, the injury creates uncertainty about his future.

Unlike a dislocation, where the ball joint comes completely out of the hip socket, a subluxation means the hip starts to come out but never fully dislocates and eventually goes back in on its own, said William R. Volk, an orthopedic surgeon at the Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics in Bethesda, Md.

Fitzpatrick’s recovery is dependent on the extent of his injury, specifically if surrounding tissues or bone were damaged when the hip subluxed.

“If it is a simple subluxation with no significant cartilage or ligament damage, the best treatment is usually a period of rest, followed by medications — standard pain relievers and anti-inflammatories — and then usually physical therapy is necessary to strengthen the core muscles and the muscles around the hip itself,” said Volk, who is not involved in Fitzpatrick’s treatment.

“For a dedicated professional athlete whose entire job is to do their rehabilitation, I have a very positive outlook on that.”

For more severe injuries, where cartilage or ligaments are damaged or bone is fractured, surgery may be necessary, extending a player’s timetable.

“The ball and socket is a very stable, constrained joint, and so the amount of force that is necessary to get the hip to sublux or dislocate is significant,” Volk said.

"... You can see when [Fitzpatrick] is being tackled, his right knee plants into the ground and the player on the back of him [Nwosu] forces his body onto his thigh bone and onto his knee,” Volk added. “That would be akin to, if you can imagine, driving and hitting the car in front of you, and the dashboard hits your knee and drives your leg back.”

Fitzpatrick signed with Washington in March, believing the team’s need for an experienced quarterback provided the optimal setup for him after years of serving as a backup or fill-in starter. But he’ll be 39 in November, and if Heinicke plays well in his absence, the team will face the decision of whether to stick with Heinicke or return to Fitzpatrick.

But for now, Rivera said the team’s focus is on Thursday night.

“I’m not worried about Taylor as far as the reps preparation, because he’s a very bright young man, he’s a smart guy,” he said. “He knows what we do, and he’s been in the system before. So that really shouldn’t be something that affects him.

“What I am thankful for is that we’re able to get this bad taste out of our mouth from [Sunday] and start moving forward and focusing in on the Giants.”

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