Ryan Fitzpatrick’s addition to the Washington Football Team brought with it plenty of promise and possibilities.
His departure in the season opener due to hip subluxation looked to be a deflating blow for the Football Team.
Enter Taylor Heinicke.
Having memorably filled in for another injured veteran QB in the postseason, Heinicke’s fortitude and moxie keyed Washington’s comeback on Thursday Night Football, as the Football Team rallied to a 30-29 win over the rival New York Giants.
“That’s exactly how he played, it was very gutty,” Rivera said. “The thing that was real impressive about him was the way he bounced back after the turnover. Prior to that, he went down and, in what, three plays, he scored a touchdown and turned around, and we were trying to kill the clock, and he made a bad read, made a bad decision.
“But getting that opportunity, he stepped up again.”
Heinicke, who finished the game 34-for-46 passing for 336 yards and two touchdowns, engineered an 11-play, 50-yard game-winning drive that concluded with a Dustin Hopkins 43-yard field goal for the win. On the march to victory, Heinicke was 4 of 6 for 23 yards, but most importantly was able to shake off an interception to James Bradberry the previous drive and rally Washington.
With Washington leading, 27-26, Heinicke and Co. had a chance to put the game away, but he instead put the ball into the grasp of Bradberry, who jumped in front of Terry McLaurin and made an outstanding catch.
“It was very frustrating. Defense came up big and we had a chance to close them out there and throwing a pick is not what you want to do,” Heinicke said after the game on NFL Network. “Lotta guys came up to me and said we have one more chance to do it, fortunately we did. Defense came up [with a stop] and we went down and scored.”
Heinicke was visibly upset and slammed his helmet following the interception.
Perhaps it was a sign of immaturity, but it was also evidence of the fire he has and that his teammates are seemingly inspired by.
“He was pissed. He was upset at himself, he really was. He slammed his helmet into the ground. It was just one of those things that you just felt if we can get the ball into his hands [we’ll have a chance],” Rivera said.
Washington got its chance and Heinicke delivered.
“Don’t screw it up,” Rivera joked when asked what he told his quarterback prior to the game-winning drive. “No, it was all we have to do is get into field goal position. We had a good shot at it and we got that opportunity.”
It was the end of a roller-coaster ride for Heinicke, who had previously tossed an 11-yard score to McLaurin and floated a beautiful ball to tight end Ricky Seals-Jones for a go-ahead 19-yard TD with 4:33 left that had just a 13.7 completion probability, per Next Gen Stats.
“He does have the ability to throw the ball, and make all the throws,” Rivera said. “And we’ve seen that. And he’s got a lot of confidence. And when he gets into a really nice rhythm, he can deliver a good ball.”
It all added up to a dramatic win, but one Rivera admitted his team was “fortunate” to pull out.
After all, a 56-yard Daniel Jones touchdown run for the Giants in the first half turned into three points after a holding penalty on the play. A Jones would-be touchdown lob to Darius Slayton bounced off the receiver’s grasp in the second half. And when Hopkins’ 48-yard game-winning field goal attempt was no good, a Giants penalty gave him a second try that he converted from 43 yards.
But in just his third career start — including last year’s playoff loss to the Buccaneers in which he filled in for Alex Smith — Heinicke led Washington to a win and showed the intangibles that convinced Rivera to stick with him rather than seek a veteran to take over in the interim for Fitzpatrick.
“He’s got a little swagger to him and his teammates feed off of it, they really do,” Rivera said. “When you watch the way those guys do feed off of him, it’s pretty impressive. Just feeling that if he can make some things happen and the guys rally behind him, we can get some momentum and roll and see what happens.”
Up next for Washington is a road game at Buffalo and plenty of time without Fitzpatrick and with Heinicke. The 28-year-old believes he has what it takes to lead Washington for the long run, including beyond the eight weeks Fitzpatrick is predicted to miss.
“I do,” Heinicke answered when NFL Network’s Michael Irvin asked him if he believed he’d earned the right to start for the rest of the year, “and I have confidence that I can do it. If those guys in the locker room and the facility believe in me, that’s all that matters and I think they do, so [we’ll] try to keep this ball rolling.”
On Thursday, the ball was rolling the right way for Washington and Heinicke was a big reason why.
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