In two weeks, Washington will be preparing for its Week 10 matchup against the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who defeated Washington in the first-round playoff game last season that propelled Heinicke to a bit of stardom.
When Fitzpatrick, 38, is deemed healthy enough to return to practice, the team will have a 21-day activation window in which it can add him to the 53-man roster or leave him on injured reserve for the rest of the season.
Fitzpatrick was initially expected to miss six to eight weeks after avoiding surgery, according to people close to the situation at the time. But the injury, a subluxation of his hip, is significant, and recovery times can vary depending on any damage to surrounding tissue.
“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,” said William R. Volk, an orthopedic surgeon at the Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics in Bethesda, Md., who is not involved with Fitzpatrick’s treatment.
“… You can see when [Fitzpatrick] is being tackled, his right knee plants into the ground and the player on the back of him [the Los Angeles Chargers’ Uchenna 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 was injured in the second quarter of Washington’s loss to the Chargers when Nwosu slammed him to the ground as he looked to throw. He was placed on injured reserve, and Washington turned to Heinicke as its starter.
Kyle Allen, who started four games in 2020 before suffering a season-ending ankle injury, is Heinicke’s backup and remains the only other quarterback on the active roster. Washington signed Kyle Shurmur to the practice squad after Fitzpatrick’s injury, but he has yet to play in a regular season game.
Whenever Fitzpatrick resumes practice, the team probably will ease him back in to avoid risking further injury. But other factors will have to be considered, too — namely the status of the team, which is 2-5 after losing to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, and the play of Heinicke.
The 28-year-old has led Washington to a pair of comeback victories, and his mobility and knack for extending plays have at times ignited the offense. But his inconsistency has often been a detriment.
“I think that shows his inexperience because there are a couple of things that when you watch some of the tape and you see some of the plays as they break down, you sit there and say, ‘Wow, now I think he’ll understand that he’s got to throw it this way,’ ” Rivera said. “… Some of his inexperience is showing. But I think obviously he has the skill set that you’re looking for, he does have the ability to lead, but he’s still young in terms of actual opportunities and experiences as a quarterback in the league so far.”
A noticeable trend in recent outings is Heinicke’s inaccuracy. Many passes come in high, either missing his receiver completely or putting him in harm’s way — such as his pass to running back J.D. McKissic on third down late in the second quarter of Sunday’s loss. McKissic ran a crossing route, and the ball was thrown slightly high, forcing him to leap to try to catch it just as a Packers safety dropped down for a bruising hit.
Rivera said he believes those misses are tied to Heinicke’s mechanics (specifically the transfer of weight from his back foot when he throws) and the quarterback overthinking and “trying to be too perfect.”
After the loss in Green Bay, Rivera described Heinicke’s play as “gutsy” and “courageous,” but he has stressed that he is looking for consistency from the entire team. With injuries piling up and the schedule expected to become increasingly difficult, Washington has 10 more games to try to get things right.
“Again, what I’m hoping for and looking for is for us to start playing consistent football, better football,” Rivera said. “I get it. I know the expectations were high coming into this year, and the truth of the matter is we haven’t lived up to those. The thing that we have to do more than anything else is continue to work hard, continue to prepare and take it one game at a time, focus in on that one game — and, quite honestly, win.”