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Ron Rivera says he'll consider rotating Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke on Sunday
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Ron Rivera says he'll consider rotating Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke on Sunday

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Washington’s playoff hopes may come down to whether the coach feels comfortable replacing his star quarterback in a key situation.

No, this isn’t 2012 and Robert Griffin III. This time, the quarterback is Alex Smith, who is dealing with a right calf injury that left him clearly short of full strength on Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Washington coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday he will consider a rotation system on Saturday night when the team faces the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a playoff game.

Smith is the only quarterback who has enjoyed sustained success for Washington this season, with the team 5-1 in games he’s played.

But he missed two of the team’s final three games with the calf injury and struggled to escape the pocket against Philadephia — the Eagles responded by blitzing him and rendering him largely ineffective in the second half.

“I thought he had his moments,” Rivera said. “The first drive was what we were looking for. The drive before halftime was excellent. There were a couple things that happened, that unfortunately you say you wish he could have stepped away from that.”

The team’s fourth quarterback, Taylor Heinicke, would be the other option on Saturday. Heinicke was out of the NFL for most of the season and was taking math classes to finish his degree at Old Dominion University when Washington called in early December.

Heinicke has been with Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner in the past, though.

“That’s why we brought Taylor in a few weeks back, because he’s a guy who had been in the system a few times,” Rivera said.

Heinicke played the final eight minutes of Washington’s loss to Carolina and was effective, though the game was out of reach at the time and the Panthers’ defense played accordingly.

A rotation would allow Smith longer rest between appearances, while potentially keeping the defense on its toes.

“I think what we have to do at the end of the day is play the guy who gives us the best chance to win,” Rivera said.

He added, “It’s going to have to be something that comes up in the moment of the game.”

Rivera declined to update Smith’s injury status or how he might participate in practices this week. Washington will have its first practice of the week on Wednesday.

mphillips@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6546

Twitter: @michaelpRTD

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