It may not be like this ever again for Taylor Heinicke. But for one Saturday night in January at FedEx Field, he played like he was one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.
Heinicke’s performance was simply sensational.
The wild ride ended with a 4th-and-21 whimper in the Washington Football Team’s 31-23 Wild Card round defeat to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But for Washington fans, they may not experience a more enjoyable defeat for the rest of their footballing lives. And it was all thanks to Heinicke’s heroics.
"It was gutsy," head coach Ron Rivera said of his QB's play. "Very proud of what he did."
To start off the incredible night, remember, Heinicke was only starting for Washington because of a wild sequence of events: Dwayne Haskins was benched and then cut, Kyle Allen suffered a season-ending injury, and Alex Smith was out due to a lingering calf strain. It was Heinicke’s first start for Washington and only 32 days after he signed with the team.
But somehow, against all the odds, this (intentionally) hyperbolic tweet made sense:
However, things didn’t start out too well: Washington went three-and-out on their first drive after Cam Sims dropped a nice deep pass.
And his second drive ended in an interception off a deflection and the Bucs jumped out to a 9-0 lead.
But then Heinicke came alive: A 24-yard completion to Logan Thomas.
And this third-down conversion to Steven Sims led to Washington getting on the board with a J.D. McKissic touchdown run.
At the half the numbers were modest: 10-for-18 passing for 130 yards and an interception. Washington was down 18-7.
That’s when the magic happened: A 29-yard pass to Thomas led to a field goal on the opening drive of the second half.
After overcoming some tough calls from the refs, Washington got the ball back in Heinicke’s hands with a forced fumble by Daron Payne.
And after finding his feet, Heinicke really found his legs and began to exploit Tampa Bay’s defense with his quickness on a run for 13 on 2nd-and-11.
And then it was the play that got everyone around the NFL’s attention: An eight-yard touchdown run that ended with a dive to the pylon to make it an 18-16 game.
And on that dive, Heinicke told the media after the game he felt a "click" or a "pop" when he landed. The result he would later learn was an AC-joint separation.
The injury was exasperated by a pair of hits he took on Washington’s next drive and was forced to run back to the Washington locker room during a Tampa possession.
Tom Brady took advantage and led Tampa on a scoring drive to go up 28-16, but after it looked like Steven Montez was about to make his NFL debut in the 4th quarter of a playoff game, Henikie was back from the locker room.
On the third play of the drive, he found Cam Sims, who would be Washington's leading receiver in the game with 104 yards on seven catches, for 23 yards.
Then Heinicke dropped the best pass of the night, converting on another third down with an 11-yard TD pass to Steven Sims Jr.
The throw was so good it made a frustrated Brady cry, “Oh, that’s unbelievable!”
While this is all about Heinicke the ability to make the catch and get both feet in bounds by Sims Jr. was very nice. He finished with 33 yards on three catches and the touchdown.
After Brady threw a dime of his own to get the Bucs a field goal, Heinicke had one last chance at magic down 31-23 with 2:49 left and no timeouts.
Heinicke hit Terry McLaurin for a 16 yard gain and Cam Sims for 10 to open the drive, but he couldn't pull it out. A sack on third down set up a 4th-and-21 play Washington couldn't convert.
The final stats: 306 yards on 26-of-44 passing with a TD and an INT. Plus another 46 yards on the ground and a TD. A stat line that puts the former undrafted Heinicke in elite company.
It was a loss in his first playoff start and his second career start, but Heinicke might quite the impression on the NFL.
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