Hours after John Wolford‘s initial playoff start, Washington will opt to use its young backup in its postseason opener.
Taylor Heinicke will start for Washington in its home game against Tampa Bay tonight. Alex Smith will be inactive. Heinicke will be the fourth quarterback to start for Washington this season, following Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen and Smith.
With tonight’s game featuring a Heinicke-Tom Brady matchup, it will mark the biggest postseason experience disparity in NFL history. Brady has made 41 playoff starts; Heinicke has made one career regular-season start, doing so for the 2018 Panthers. He replaced an ineffective Haskins in Washington’s Week 16 loss to Carolina, completing 12 of 19 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown.
Although Smith returned from a calf injury to start in Washington’s Week 17 game, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes the 16th-year veteran struggled to loosen up the injured muscle this week in practice and did not make much progress (Twitter link). Not that anyone would question Smith’s desire to play after what he’s overcome to return to action, but Rapoport describes this as a functionality issue — rather than a pain-tolerance matter — that will keep Smith out tonight (Twitter link).
Smith is essentially a lock to earn Comeback Player of the Year honors. The 36-year-old passer is signed through 2022, though Washington can entertain the notion of moving on from the former No. 1 overall pick without significant cap implications for the first time this coming offseason.