LANDOVER, Md. -- The Taylor Heinicke love affair in Washington is about to bloom in full force. Just when it looked like the fan favorite had made a crucial mistake, he recovered to lead a stirring rally.
The Washington Football Team quarterback fueled a comeback win over the New York Giants on Thursday night in the third start of his roller-coaster career. He led a two-minute drive, capped by Dustin Hopkins' 43-yard field goal at the buzzer for a 30-29 victory. Hopkins had initially missed from 48 yards, but New York was penalized for being offside.
Washington evened its record at 1-1 in Heinicke's first start subbing for the injured Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will miss six to eight weeks with a right hip subluxation.
After the game, Heinicke said he hugged his mom, who was at the game with his stepdad as well as an aunt and uncle.
"Pretty cool moment," he said.
Washington will play at the Buffalo Bills next week.
But this night belonged to Heinicke. He completed 34 of 46 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns. His lone interception nearly wrecked the day, an ill-advised pass that James Bradberry picked off deep in Washington territory. It resulted in a field goal and a lead for the Giants.
After the play, Heinicke slammed his helmet on the sidelines. But he told himself to let it go.
"Don't let it roll over in your head," he said. "I had to get my composure about me."
Only minutes earlier, Heinicke’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Seals-Jones with 4 minutes, 33 seconds left gave Washington a 27-26 lead. Heinicke lofted a perfect pass to the backup tight end, who made a leaping catch. It happened one play after Heinicke hit running back J.D. McKissic with a soft toss down the right sideline for 56 yards.
Seals-Jones was Heinicke's third read on the play and he admitted he was about to throw the ball away. But he said the 6-foot-5 tight end was several inches taller than the defender so he gave him a chance.
Heinicke also led two scoring drives in the first half, including one in the final minutes. On that one, based on the front he saw, Heinicke audibled to a run that resulted in a two-yard touchdown by running back McKissic. Earlier in the half, Heinicke connected with Terry McLaurin for an 11-yard touchdown -- one play after they hooked up for a 16-yard gain.
"He's always ready for his moment," McLaurin said. "I love the guy."
The signal-caller certainly gave Washington’s fans what they had been wanting. They had fallen in love with Heinicke late last season when he threw for 306 yards and a touchdown in a 31-23 playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, against whom he also made a diving touchdown run. His grit energized teammates, notably wide receiver McLaurin and defensive end Chase Young.
"He's a baller," Young said. "We have all trust in [Heinicke]. He can throw the pill."
On Tuesday, Young said one reason he liked Heinicke was because he never looked rattled. That was the case on Thursday. The quarterback struggled on Washington’s first couple of possessions before getting hot.
Perhaps the most impressive part: Heinicke didn't buckle after his big mistake. Instead, he did what he has done throughout his career: overcome adversity. And Washington benefitted.
"The guy was overlooked a lot," said Washington safety Landon Collins. "He's as cool, calm and collected as they come."
Troubling trend: Washington's defense continues to struggle with big plays allowed, courtesy of undisciplined play. It allowed a 41-yard run by Saquon Barkley because a gap was widened to the outside and nobody was there to fill in. And it let quarterback Daniel Jones have success on zone-read keepers. He ran one for 46 yards that would have been a 58-yard touchdown run if not for a penalty. It occurred when Collins bit hard on a fake, allowing room to the outside.
Pivotal play: Hopkins' 43-yard field goal. Why not? He struggled at times last year, making just 79 percent of his kicks, as well as in training camp. But he made field goals of 49 and 37 yards and is now six-of-seven this season. For a team that doesn't have much margin for error, it needs Hopkins to come through. Coach Ron Rivera stuck with him in part because he made 13 of his last 14 in 2020. So far that faith has paid off.