Once again, the Washington Football Team turns to Taylor Heinicke in a time of need.
Following Ryan Fitzpatrick's hip injury that forced the quarterback to injured reserve on Tuesday, Washington handed the reins to the 28-year-old Heinicke, who famously paused plans to finish his degree at Old Dominion last season to join the club and start their playoff game.
Following the impressive postseason performance (306 pass yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception; 46 rush yds, one rush TD in a loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay) and his pinch-hit duties in the opener after Fitzpatrick went down, coach Ron Rivera said the team believes Heinicke has the makeup to handle the starting duties.
"He plays a little bit like his hair is on fire," Rivera said, via the team’s official website. "He plays a little bit like a gunslinger. But I think, and I hopefully believe, that he's matured a little bit."
Heinicke has started just two career games including playoffs, both of which losses. With Fitzpatrick out several weeks, it will be Heinicke's job unless he completely collapses.
"I think just understanding the game even more so," Rivera said when asked about the improvements Heinicke has made. "He's learned to be patient, take what's given to him, and I think he has a really good feel for when he takes his shots, too."
The former undrafted QB has displayed good mobility and accuracy down the sideline when he takes his shot. Like most young QBs, he's most comfortable short and quick over the middle but doesn't shy away from gunning it when needed. With just 92 career regular-season attempts under his belt, the question is whether he can continue to make strides, or if defenses will figure him out with more tape and the real struggles will begin.
According to Next Gen Stats, since 2020 (including playoffs), 37.2 percent of Heinicke's targets have gone to players aligned wide (Fitzpatrick: 40.3 percent). When targeting players aligned wide in that span, Heinicke has a 69.6 passer rating, by far his lowest out of any pre-snap alignment -- 11.5 air yards per target to receivers aligned wide, 9.2 to all others. In addition, all three of his TDs with Washington were to players to targets from the slot, tight ends, or RBs.
Starting with Thursday night's game against division rival New York, Heinicke will get a chance to prove the Washington offense is in good hands for the time being.
"Taylor does a great job of preparing," receiver Terry McLaurin said. "That's why he's always ready. He never looks rattled when he's out there. And when he gets in the game, he makes the best out of any situation."