It’s 2020 Wild Card Weekend. Matchup with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The first postseason appearance since 2015. The starter for the Washington Football Team? Taylor Heinicke.
Six-time Super Bowl champion on his way to No. 7 against a student at Old Dominion. Just the way the NFL drew it up.
Heinicke was named the starter for the postseason game after Alex Smith looked hobbled in Week 17 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Smith clinched the division for the WFT and Heinicke did all he could in hopes of advancing. Heinicke finished 26-for-44 for 306 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He added 46 yards on the ground and one rushing touchdown that will not soon be forgotten.
With two minutes left in the third quarter, Heinicke escaped the pocket and headed for the end zone. He took a hit and reached for the pylon for a score to get Washington within two points. The legend of Heinicke was born on this play.
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Heinicke made an appearance late in a Week 16 loss to the Carolina Panthers. He finished 12-for-19 for 137 yards and a touchdown. If Washington knew what they had, Heinicke would have started this game and potentially clinched the division a week earlier. Ultimately, Heinicke earned himself a two-year, $4.7 million contract with the WFT.
Fast forward to 2021. Ryan Fitzpatrick is on the roster and Heinicke is slowly starting to take backseat.
Fitzpatrick was signed to a one-year deal in free agency. This seems like a bridge move for Washington until they get a chance to land their franchise quarterback. The WFT played this offseason right. They were not going to be in a position to land the top three quarterbacks in the draft and a trade up for Justin Fields might have been too expensive. A trade for Sam Darnold or Teddy Bridgewater seemed like a risk. Fitzpatrick is a short-term, veteran option that can keep Washington competitive.
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With that being said, what is the role of Heinicke? Just how important is the backup quarterback in D.C.?
Fitzpatrick is a 38-year-old quarterback who has not played a full season since 2015 with the New York Jets. He has been in situations with younger quarterbacks over the last few years and teams have gone back-and-forth. This could be another case if Fitzpatrick struggles early on.
There are expectations in Washington. After an NFC East title in 2020, Washington is looking to be the first team to repeat as division champs since 2004. Heinicke could be a big piece if Fitzpatrick struggles -- and if he can stay healthy. Heinicke was forced to miss snaps during the playoff game against Tampa Bay because of injury. He was able to put on weight in the offseason and get stronger in hopes of becoming a bit more durable.
Heinicke is a great story. He was enrolled in classes at Old Dominion at the time he signed his two-year deal with the WFT. They clearly like him in some ways and he could continue to impress. Heinicke had a strong showing during minicamp and this gives Ron Rivera even more confidence in him heading into the season.
The plan has been for Fitzpatrick to start in 2021 until Washington is able to find their next franchise quarterback. Heinicke has been put on the back burner. This is not to say that Heinicke is the answer under center but he has a chance to make some noise in the quarterback room. Maybe another bridge during 2022?
It would not be surprising to see Heinicke under center at any point this season. If this happens, Washington should be confident in what he can do on the field.
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