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Washington gains command of fan confidence behind Taylor Heinicke and a 2-game winning streak

Poll Results!!

Green Bay Packers v Washington Commanders Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Washington fan confidence plummeted after the lopsided Week 3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and it has remained low — hovering between 7% and 11% — for a month now.

The victory against the Bears on Thursday Night Football barely moved the needle, but this week’s win against another NFC North team, the Green Bay Packers, generated a significant turnaround in fan confidence.

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This week, 43% of Hogs Haven readers who answered the survey question about confidence expressed optimism about the team. Aside from getting a second consecutive win, the biggest change this week was inserting Taylor Heinicke into the starting quarterback role in place of the injured Carson Wentz, who was placed on IR, and is expected to miss 4-6 games.

A week ago, we asked if fans wanted to see Sam Howell play. The answer was a “Yes, but...”

The “but” was that 73% of Hogs Haven readers who responded to this survey wanted to see Howell play only in the final 4 games (after the Week 14 bye) or whenever the Commanders were eliminated from playoff contention.

In the meantime, they wanted Taylor Heinicke to play.

Heinicke’s Cinderella story in the NFL has had about as many ups and downs as any fairy tale or Hollywood script. In 2020, Heinicke, a former Old Dominion University quarterback, had been out of the NFL for nearly 24 months and was sleeping on his sister’s couch, hoping to maybe get a shot at being a coach. He called his old position coach, Scott Turner, to ask about the possibilities for setting up a coaching internship.

Not so fast, advised Turner, the Football Team might have something for you.

With strict COVID protocols in place and the Denver Broncos having just had to start a young wide receiver at quarterback because all of their QBs were ruled out of the same game, the Washington coaches decided that they should put a “COVID” quarterback on the roster who would prepare to play each week, but be kept separate from the other quarterbacks to prevent what happened to the Broncos from happening to the then-Washington Football Team.

Events moved fast after that. Dwayne Haskins started the Week 16 game against the Panthers, but was benched in the 4th quarter, and Heinicke was brought in to mop up in the 20-13 loss.

Haskins was cut the next day, and Alex Smith promoted to the starting role, with Heinicke as his backup. Alex Smith started the following week against the Eagles to win the NFC East division title and qualify for the playoffs (in a game where Doug Pederson earned eternal scorn from Eagles fans for benching Jalen Hurts in favor of Nate Sudfeld with the Eagles trailing 17-14 in the 4th quarter).

As the #4 seed, Washington hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the #5 seed and eventual Super Bowl champion, in the wild card round. Doctors decided that Alex Smith was not healthy enough to play in the game, so Heinicke made his first start for Washington against Tom Brady and the Bucs.

Heinicke played inspired football, and one play in particular — a dive for the pylon late in the 3rd quarter to pull the team within a score of Tampa Bay — began the legend of Taylor Heinicke.

It was by no means certain that the scrappy, undersized quarterback with the underpowered arm would be offered a contract to play in the NFL in 2021 before the game against the Bucs.

Taylor Heinicke has, on many occasions, credited that dive for the pylon as the reason he has an NFL career now.

He came to camp in 2021 heavier but leaner in an attempt to increase his athleticism and reduce likelihood of injuries, but it was Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had signed a $10m contract to come to Washington for a season, who was the clear starter, replacing Alex Smith, who unwillingly went into retirement.

Heinicke’s time on the bench didn’t last long, however. By halftime of the opening game of the ‘21 season against the Chargers, Fitztragic had suffered a career-ending hip injury, and Taylor Heinicke was thrust back into the spotlight. He started 15 games last season. The highlight was a mid-season 4-game winning streak, with the pinnacle being reached when he got regular season revenge for the postseason loss to Brady’s Buccaneers. In quick succession, Heinicke won games against Brady, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Derek Carr, which thrust him and the team into the national limelight until a COVID outbreak, multiple personal tragedies among the team, and a losing steak ruined the 2021 fairy tale ending.

This season, it looked like Heinicke might simply hold the clipboard for 17 weeks before fading from the consciousness of NFL fans.

Then Carson Wentz broke his finger, and, for the third season in a row, injury to the starting quarterback put Taylor Heinicke back on the field in burgundy & gold. This time, it was against the team (and quarterback) he had rooted for as a youngster — the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers.

Heinicke had actually played against them last year — a game that the Packers won by 14 points, but one in which Heinicke had played too conservatively as he struggled to find the right blend of conservatism and recklessness.

He was not too conservative this year.

While Taylor Heinicke’s first half against the Packers was the kind of atrocious performance that many players could never come back from (maybe ever — I’m talking Mark Sanchez against the Eagles in 2019 bad), #4 never stopped lining up and running the next play. The 2nd half against the Packers was an entirely different story.

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The fiery passion that Taylor Heinicke brings to every game was reflected in his #1 receiver’s reaction to this touchdown:

Asked for comment by reporters later, team captain Terry McLaurin talked about what it’s like to play with #4.

Taylor has a lot of energy in the way he approaches playing this game of football and you can just tell he plays free spirited. I think it’s a lot of what he’s been through in his career as a player and as a person.

He plays like it’s his last game every single time. I think that energy spreads throughout this team and you just want to be able to make that play to elevate him. He’s been in these situations before, but it’s hard to come and try to win a game when you haven’t played all season.

For him to give our receivers chances to make plays, for him to extend plays with his legs and get first downs. The energy he brings to our sideline I think is huge. We are very fortunate to have him on our team and we’re going to keep trying to do all we can to support him.

That’s high praise, and seemingly heartfelt from the Commanders’ most measured team leader. When Taylor Heinicke was told about McLaurin’s comments and asked for his reaction, he echoed what #17 had said:

Two years ago I was out of the league, so every time I go out onto that field it’s an opportunity for me to go play and play like its my last time. Because you never know. I’m just glad that we got the win today.

[I just] go out there and play like it’s my last game. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but that’s just how I play. I think that’s when I do my best. The team played great today. If it wasn’t for that pick six, I think we’d win by a lot more. Defense did great, special teams did great, and the offensive line held up their end. I think we only had one sack, late fourth quarter. We ran for 160 yards, so if we can keep doing that, I think we’ve got a good shot.

Taylor Heinicke knows the knocks on him; he’s too short, his arm is too weak, he can’t play in the NFL. He also knows that the reason he’s here is because of the intangibles, and how he has found a way to lift the play of every player on his team — not just offensive playmakers, but defensive players and special teams players who feed off his positive never-say-die energy.

In the end, I think this is what fans respond to with Taylor Heinicke — the underdog who overachieves and who so clearly loves and competes every second that he’s on the football field.

Here’s what offensive coordinator Scott Turner had to say about his current stating quarterback this week:

I think his decision making is just getting better and better. He’s anticipating. I think he had a lot of situations in the game where he anticipated the ball came out of his hand early and he threw the ball at his spot and trusted trust that his guys were gonna be there. Obviously, the touchdown passes is an example of that to Terry [McLaurin]. The last third down is like an extreme example of that but with experience, he comes that and he’s not only experienced playing in the NFL but playing with these guys that he’s playing with for the most part. So, that part of it I think is just the trust and that he knows the plays. He’s run a lot of these plays. He’s run multiple times and he just turns it loose.

Clearly, Scott Turner believes in Taylor Heinicke. If the OC likes the backup this much and the fans are responding to Taylor Heinicke so positively, what does that mean for Carson Wentz?

Carson Wentz

In a national email survey this week, NFL fans of every team in the league answered the question: Do you think Carson Wentz is washed up?

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An overwhelming 83% of fans said that we can stick a fork in Wentz — he’s done.

Honestly, watching Carson Wentz struggle at some point in every game this season, but almost continuously from Week 3 onward, it’s hard to make the case that he’s got any future left as an NFL starter.

I remember Wentz’s first couple of years with the Eagles; he looked like some sort of outsized comic book hero who would shake off tacklers like fleas and keep plays alive seemingly for minutes before he would throw a strike or run for a first down or a touchdown. He was incredible.

No more though. Wentz looked increasingly stiff, slow and unsure on the field, extending plays not because he was looking for opportunities, but because he was uncertain and un-confident.

Carson Wentz is in good company.

The same survey results said that 45% of fans think Aaron Rodgers is washed up; 64% think the same of Tom Brady, and 88% think Father Time has defeated Matt Ryan.

That’s a lot of league-MVP quality football that fans believe have run out the string.

Which fanbases are the most & least confident?


Right now, the confidence of three fan bases has fallen to single-digits:

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 9%
  • Green Bay Packers - 8%
  • Denver Broncos - 5%

The trend seems to be clear — these are three fanbases that came into the season expecting great quarterback performances and a playoff run. Instead, all three teams have negative point differentials and losing records heading into Week 8.

With Ben’s retirement from Pittsburgh at the end of the ‘21 season, this feels like a changing of the generational guard at the quarterback position as the great signal callers from pre-2010 are replaced by guys like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts, who are leading their teams to success.

By the way, the Colts fan confidence hit a low of 6% recently, but has bounced back to 35% this week. There seem to be a number of parallels between the Colts and Commanders in 2022.


When it comes to the most confident fan bases, the list isn’t very surprising:

  • Eagles - 99%
  • Giants - 99%
  • Bills - 98%
  • Seahawks - 98%
  • Chiefs - 97%
  • Jets - 97%

Fan confidence is strongly correlated with winning and exceeding expectations. There’s a lot of both in that list of the 6 most confident fan bases.

Game Picks

The national fan email survey also includes a prediction for each game. Here are the predicted winners this week from the SB Nation league-wide readership survey:

I could be mistaken, but I believe this is the first time all season that the SN Nation fan base has picked the Commanders to win.

Continued NFC BEast dominance

The NFC East continues to pile up wins in games against the rest of the NFL. The NFC East is the only division in the league to have reached 20 total wins; with 4 of those having come from intra-divisional play, the NFCE has 16 outside-the-division wins. The next best is the AFC East, with 17 overall wins and 14 against non-division opponents.

No NFC East team has lost outside the division since Week 5, when the Commanders lost to the Titans. In fact, outside of Washington’s losses to Tennessee and Detroit, the only other loss by an NFC East team outside the division was the Cowboys’ opening week loss to the Buccaneers.

Washington plays on the road in Indianapolis on Sunday. The game will pit Taylor Heinicke against 2nd year Colts QB Sam Ehlinger, who will be making his first-ever NFL start. Heinicke has an 8-8 regular season record as a starter in Washington, and will be looking to move his personal ledger into the black with a win against the AFC South opponent this week.

The Colts are currently favored by 3 points, and the over/under on points is 39.5.