LANDOVER, Md. — Taylor Heinicke walked into the Washington Football Team huddle with two minutes remaining, needing a score to win, and running back J.D. McKissic recognized the look on his face.
“He reminded me of Russell Wilson,” said McKissic, who spent three years with Wilson in Seattle. “He was calm, and he wanted to make a play. He wanted to do anything it took — the only thing on his mind was winning.”
Coach Ron Rivera commented on the look too.
“He had a good look in his eye, he really did,” the coach noted. He added later, “He has a little swagger to him, and his teammates feed off of him. When you watch the way those guys do feed off of him, it is pretty impressive.
“If he can make some things happen and guys rally behind him, we can get some momentum and we will see what happens.”
Heinicke made things happen on Thursday in his first NFL start, throwing for 336 yards and two touchdowns and one interception in a dramatic 30-29 victory over the New York Giants.
He kick-started the comeback with a two-play touchdown drive that featured strikes to McKissic and tight end Ricky Seals-Jones.
The pass to Seals-Jones in the back of the end zone was given just a 13.7% chance of being a completion by the NFL’s Next Gen Stats system. And yet, that pass was pulled in, while the Giants’ seemingly 100% shot to Darius Slayton was dropped in the end zone in the same quarter.
Call it the magic of Heinicke, a former Old Dominion University quarterback who sensed his time in the NFL was coming to an end before he was picked up by Washington on an emergency basis last year.
The best news for Washington was how Heinicke dominated Thursday’s game. He finished with just four rushes for 6 yards, uncharacteristic numbers for him but essential ones if he is to remain healthy through the grind of an NFL season, something he’s never done.
If he can, his mere presence seems to lift the players around him.
“I see a baller,” defensive end Chase Young said.
“He’s always ready for his moment,” said wide receiver Terry McLaurin. “And I love guys who are always ready for their moment — always prepared.
“He made great passes, took what the defense gave him and he just gave the playmakers a chance to make plays. And when you’ve got a guy like that, you just want to continue to make plays for him. So we’re lucky to have Taylor, and I know he’s just going to continue to grow and help us going forward.”
After waiting seven years for a chance, Heinicke has a golden one now — he’s the undisputed No. 1 quarterback in Washington while Ryan Fitzpatrick spends the next two months (at least) rehabbing a hip injury.
Heinicke’s contract is incentive-based, and he picked up $125,000 for Thursday’s win.
He’s hoping his first NFL win is only the start of bigger things to come, though.
He nearly threw the game-losing interception, then bounced back seconds later to lead what was ultimately the game-winning drive. It’s all part of the show.
“My teammates did a great job of having my back,” Heinicke said. “Them having confidence in me gives me a lot of confidence.”
McLaurin’s big day
Heinicke targeted Terry McLaurin 14 times against the Giants, notable because Fitzpatrick did not throw the way of Washington’s top receiver once in the quarter and a half before getting injured in the season opener. McLaurin made 11 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown.
Concerns on defense
Washington allowed New York to score 29 points and gain 391 yards a week after the Chargers put up 20 and 424. That’s a far cry from last season, when this unit ranked second in the NFL.
“We just have to do better,” defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said.
Allen sacked Daniel Jones twice, and beyond that Washington did not get the kind of pressure the front has to for the defense to control play.
Fortunately for Washington, the offense put up 407 yards against New York, none more important than the 40 in the final two minutes — aided by a Giants penalty — to set up Dustin Hopkins’ game-winning 43-yard field goal. Hopkins’ first attempt missed wide right from 48 yards out, but an offsides penalty on the Giants gave him a second try.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.