SANTA CLARA — Could Carson Wentz come into today’s game and beat the host 49ers — for the third time in as many years for as many franchises?
That question became more pertinent Saturday morning when Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported that the Washington Commanders plan to bench Taylor Heinicke in favor of Wentz if Heinicke struggles against the 49ers, who merely have the No. 1-rated defense in the NFL.
Since Wentz exited with a fractured finger in mid-October, Heinicke has led the Commanders (7-6-1) into playoff contention by going 5-2-1 in his starts. They’ve averaged just 20.4 points per game in his starts, however.
In 2020, Wentz quarterbacked the Philadelphia Eagles to a 25-20 win here, throwing for just 193 yards with one touchdown and an interception. Last year, he won with the Indianapolis Colts, passing for 150 yards with two touchdowns in a 30-18 victory at Levi’s Stadium.
Two months ago, when Washington was 1-4, coach Ron Rivera was asked what separates his team from the rest of the NFC East, and he replied: “Quarterback.” Rivera apologized to Wentz the next day for singling him out.
The Commanders reportedly were close to trading for Jimmy Garoppolo from the 49ers before his March 8 shoulder surgery, and they instead acquired Wentz from the Indianapolis Colts as part of a package including multiple draft picks; Washington sent 2022 second- and third-round picks, plus a 2023 third-round choice that would be upgraded to a second-rounder if Wentz plays 75 percent of the snaps (he’s at 43 percent with three games to go).
Meanwhile, rookie Brock Purdy will make his third consecutive start for the 49ers, who are seeking their eighth straight win. Purdy’s backup remains Josh Johnson.
Jimmy Garoppolo, as first reported by this news organization Tuesday, is out of his hard cast and was seen riding a knee scooter as his right foot recovers from a Dec. 4 fracture. Garoppolo was not wearing an orthopedic support boot when seen Tuesday, but Fox Sports reported he’ll require such support for another week as he attempts to heal in time for the playoffs, presumably in a backup role if the 49ers keep winning with Purdy. Garoppolo is inactive for a third straight game.
DRAKE JACKSON INACTIVE
Defensive linemen Drake Jackson and Kerry Hyder Jr. are inactive for the first time this season. While Hyder’s been coping with an ankle injury, Jackson has not been on an injury report and is a healthy scratch, according to a team official.
Jackson, the 49ers’ top draft pick, had three sacks in his first six games but none since then while playing 34 percent of the defensive snaps this year.
That defensive line does welcome back defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, activated Friday off injured reserve. He will suit up for the first time since his surgically repaired right knee required rest after playing the season’s first three games. Defensive lineman Michael Dwumfour got activated off the practice squad Friday.
Other linemen active are Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Samson Ebukam, Jordan Willis, T.Y. McGill and Akeem Spence.
RUNNING BACK STATUS
Jordan Mason, Christian McCaffrey’s understudy at running back, is active after being listed as questionable because of a tight hamstring.
Also active is Ty Davis-Price, who has 16 carries this rookie season and none in the past two months.
McCaffrey on Wednesday got snubbed from the NFC’s three Pro Bowl spots for running backs. He is an alternate for what would be his second Pro Bowl berth.
#49ers GM John Lynch visiting pregame with ex-Stanford coach David Shaw and SJSU coach Brett Brennan pic.twitter.com/NJRRjaD6Re
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) December 24, 2022
CHASE YOUNG ACTIVE
The Commanders, meanwhile, welcome defensive end Chase Young back for his first game since tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in November 2021. He was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2020.
The 49ers also will not suit up Garoppolo, wide receiver Deebo Samuel (knee, ankle), defensive tackle Kevin Givens (knee), tight end Ross Dwelley, and guard Nick Zakelj.
Samuel jogged out onto the field in warmups in civilian clothes and looked spry, only two weeks after getting carted off this field.
Two weeks ago, #49ers Deebo Samuel got carted off this field. Looks like recovery from knee/ankle sprains going well and should be 👍 for playoffs pic.twitter.com/5Qrysehaxp
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) December 24, 2022
Commanders safety Kam Curl is inactive, as are quarterback Sam Howell, defensive tackle Daniel Wise and offensive lineman Chris Paul and Saahdiq Charles.
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