Washington, like QB Taylor Heinicke, keeps proving doubters wrong

LAS VEGAS -- Midway through the third quarter Sunday, Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke once again evaded trouble in the pocket. Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby grabbed at his jersey but Heinicke ducked and backpedaled as Crosby grabbed hold of his right leg. Heinicke shook him off like he was just a playful puppy and scrambled to his left. The trouble was over.

His pass was incomplete, but the overall point is this: Somehow, Heinicke stayed upright and survived. Instead of a 10-yard loss on third-and-15, Washington remained in good punting position and pinned the Raiders inside their own 10-yard line during the 17-15 win.

The play was symbolic of his team as well: Somehow, Washington (6-6) keeps avoiding danger to survive. That is what the WFT has done during this four-game winning streak: overcoming injuries, good teams, explosive offenses and, as was the case Sunday, late turnovers.

"We have a lot of mistakes to clean up. But damn, when you do something like that as a team, that's special," Washington defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said. "I mean, Heinicke -- what can you say about him? He just keeps showing why he needs to be our quarterback."

Allen wouldn't say for how long -- that's above his job description, he said. But it's no wonder the team has taken on Heinicke's personality: They are flawed underdogs who keep doing what nobody expects. They are holding the sixth playoff spot entering Sunday's game (1 p.m. ET, Fox) against the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys (8-4).

Heinicke might not be Washington's starting quarterback beyond this year as the team may search for another quarterback -- then again, maybe he will because he often just finds a way.

Allen said Heinicke's personality "completely embodies what we want to do as a team."

"When everything is against him, when you don't expect him to do well," Allen said, "going against Hall of Famers, when he's going up against defenses with star-studded defensive linemen, when his weapons keep going down, he just makes plays. He's a playmaker."

It was the third time this season Heinicke has led a game-winning drive late and the fourth time he's led them to go-ahead points in the final quarter. To do it Sunday, Heinicke shook off an interception with 7:03 remaining in the game. He should have been intercepted on the game-winning drive -- there is luck involved here, too -- but the ball was dropped.

"Well, that's a little bit about who he is," Washington coach Ron Rivera said. "He will try and force the ball every now and then. But when he settles in and gives himself a chance to make plays, he does. We were fortunate enough that the ball was dropped. But, again, with him in his moment, his element, he gives you a chance and that's all we can ask."

Heinicke, and his teammates, capitalized.

"I love that dude," Washington linebacker Cole Holcomb said. "Man, Heinicke, he's a little baller. He's a grinder. Doesn't matter what happens he goes out there and slings it. If he throws a pick, he shakes it off, 'Let's go.'"

Heinicke's story is well documented; he signed with Washington on Dec. 8, 2020 -- after attending classes all season at Old Dominion University. He's a former undrafted free agent who has been with five teams. He stands 6-foot-1 and weighs about 215 pounds.

His résumé and stature do not scream franchise quarterback.

Meanwhile, Washington's roster has taken a beating because of injuries. The team started its fourth center Sunday, and was missing safety/linebacker Landon Collins, young pass-rushing ends Montez Sweat and Chase Young, and third-down back J.D. McKissic.

But, somehow, Washington won when its fourth kicker of the season, Brian Johnson, drilled his first field goal attempt with his new team -- a 48-yarder with one minute, 45 seconds remaining. There are many reasons for Washington's four-game win streak, including a defense that continues to play well and a run game that has powered the offense.

There has also been Heinicke. He wasn't spectacular on the winning drive Sunday -- he completed 3 of 4 passes for 28 yards. In the fourth quarter of this win streak, he has completed 23 of 29 passes for 201 yards with one touchdown and Sunday's interception. In the previous four games, he was 27-of-53 for 292 yards and four interceptions in the fourth quarter. He ignored that and rebounded.

"He's just competitive to his core and you see it in the way he stands in the pocket and somehow gets out of the tough situations with the defensive linemen surrounding him," receiver Adam Humphries said. "We see that. We see that he's not giving up on us. He's fighting for every yard. We rally behind that."

Heinicke said he can feel the other players taking on his resilient mindset.

"You can feel it from the guys. If I make a mistake, they are there to pick me up," he said.

When you're undersized and coming from a smaller program such as Old Dominion, resiliency is a must if you want to stick around.

"Whether it's high school or college, it's something I feel like I've had to have just being a shorter guy," he said. "You're not the fastest, you're not the strongest. You have to have something else to you, and that something else for me is to just keep fighting until the very end. You just never know what's going to happen. And you could see it in all those guys. They just kept fighting."