Resiliency, moxie, savvy. Those are words often used to describe the potential newfound future at quarterback for Washington in the form of Taylor Heinicke. A former FCS standout at Old Dominion turned NFL practice-squader turned XFL backup, Heinicke’s road to the spotlight has come via the path less traveled.
Thursday night was a perfect example of the type of player Heinicke has proven to be time and time again for Ron Rivera’s unit. Looked upon as a feel-good story following a magical performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in last year’s wild-card round, Heinicke’s name slid under the rug once Ryan Fitzpatrick put pen to paper. Despite earning himself job security in the form of a contract extension this offseason, Heinicke’s slot as QB2 wasn’t enough.
Washington’s 30-29 buzzer-beating win over the New York Giants, at times, was ugly. A defense expected by many to dominate a patchwork group for the Giants proved stagnant at times, allowing 391 yards of net offense to a Daniel Jones-led unit. Linebackers looked slow, corners looked out of place, miscommunications were common on the backend, the Giants had multiple moments to take over the football game, but the moment looked just a tad too big. I’m looking at you, Darius Slayton. And you, C.J. Board.
Throughout the evening, Heinicke offered a mixed bag of offensive genius. At times, he looked calm, poised, stoic even, and at others, he was frantic and looked out of control. Balls sailed high from Heinicke for the better part of the first half, leaving chunks of yards on the field to be had in a game where offensive coordinator Scott Turner tucked away the run game.
His moments of prosperity, however, drastically overshadowed the plays on film he’ll want to skip.
In what was a back and forth battle for points throughout the evening, Washington found themselves down six with just under five minutes to play. It’s where the game took off. Following a Giants’ eight-play drive, Heinicke orchestrated a lightning-quick, two-play series capped off with a highlight-reel pitch and catch to Ricky Seals-Jones in the corner of the endzone.
For some, it was a nice throw to a tight end at a crucial point in the football game. But for Heinicke, for Washington brass, and Washington faithful, it was a moment, similar to his pylon-dive against the Buccaneers, where it looks as if the burgundy and gold have found their answer under center.
As beautiful as the moment was for Heinicke—whose 916 passing yards in his first three starts places him second for the most yards by an undrafted quarterback since 1950, ahead of the likes of Tony Romo (862) and Hall of Famer Kurt Warner (894)—the development of narrative can change in the blink of an eye. A dropped pass by Slayton, a hold on a would-be 58-yard touchdown run by Jones, an offside penalty on a late field-goal attempt, if one of those plays is executed correctly by the Giants, they arguably win the football game and the attention shifts to the late pick thrown by Heinicke to James Bradberry. But it’s why we love the game so much, and what makes the true mystery of the NFL so appealing.
Week to week stories we anticipate so often become null, and the beauty of the unknown often reveals stories like Heinicke and Washington wideout Terry McLaurin, a former third-rounder who has rapidly become one of the most underappreciated wideouts in football.
In what developed into a career night for McLaurin, who amassed a single-game high of 11 receptions to the tune of 107 yards and a touchdown, his rapport with Heinicke was frequent throughout the evening, much to the dismay of Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. While his acute detail in his route-running and knack for the spectacular often surrounds the conversation of McLaurin, he too was overlooked in years past, totaling just 49 targets his final season in Columbus, the fourth-most of any Buckeye wideout behind Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill, and Johnnie Dixon. None of them have sniffed the success No. 17 has had at the pro level and it’s about time we begin to put some respect on McLaurin’s game, especially with Heinicke at the helm who has proven he isn’t shy to sling the rock.
The tandem of the two has Washington reliving old glory on offense. Nearly a decade ago, the burgundy and gold enjoyed the dominance of Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, a quarterback-running back tandem that took the league by storm on their way to a division title in their rookie seasons. While Heinicke and McLaurin present a different dynamic as a signal-caller and pass-catcher, their obvious rapport and projection moving forward could develop into a special duo in the nation’s capital.
"He's always ready for his moment," McLaurin said. "I love the guy."
For now, no more questions have to be answered surrounding the future at quarterback for Washington. Whether Fitzpatrick returns healthy later in the year remains to be seen, but Heinicke’s name should remain engraved atop the depth chart for the foreseeable future.
When asked if he believes he’s “earned the right” to keep the starting role as the newfound leader of the defending NFC East champs, Heinicke kept it simple following his first win as a starter.
His flair for the dramatic but calmness amid chaos has invited a positive outlook for Washington moving forward. And for once, even if it’s just for a little while, Rivera has seemingly found his long-sought-after solution under center.