Lots of things went right for Washington against the Eagles earlier this week. The play calling was improved, the execution was excellent, and the defense was top notch. And, even with all those positives, the game still came down to the last few minutes, with Washington up by only five points until the closing seconds of the match.
Against a top end opponent like the 2022 Eagles, there’s very little margin for error. Their offense is just too potent and their defense too unforgiving to play much less than a near flawless game. And Washington’s game wasn’t quite flawless. A very poor rep by tackle Charles Leno early in the first quarter led to a sack/fumble of Taylor Heinicke and a very easy seven points on the ensuing series.
Down by seven to the 8-0 Eagles, Washington would need to play their best football, and certainly avoid any additional catastrophes. Two heads up plays, in particular, by Taylor Heinicke ensured they did.
Down 14 to 10 with 5:18 in the second quarter, Washington had driven to midfield after a 23 yard pass to Curtis Samuel. On first and 10 from the Eagles 48 yard line, apparent disaster would strike. Center Tyler Larsen would launch the snap over Heinicke’s head all the way back to the Washington 33, where Taylor would recover it.
Wunderschöne Bogenlampe von Commanders Center Tyler Larsen über seinen Quarterback Taylor Heinicke pic.twitter.com/MWFz0ZC6fT— René Bugner (@RNBWCV) November 15, 2022
Under normal circumstances, most folks would have simply considered Washington lucky to have recovered the ball and kept it out of Philadelphia’s hands, even if it resulted in a second and 29, and a likely stalled out drive.
Instead, of simply falling on the ball and protecting it, Heinicke grabbed it, scrambled and launched the ball to left sideline, past the line of scrimmage. Having gotten outside the pocket and advanced the ball past the line of scrimmage, there was no intentional grounding to be called, and Washington now had a manageable second and 10.
Heinicke’s recovery required not just a significant amount of athleticism, to initially track the errant snap down, and then to scramble sufficiently to launch the ball where it needed to go, but also a certain amount of brazenness, to not simply fall on the ball. But most importantly, it required the situational awareness to recognize that a simple recovery would have crippled the drive, and that getting the ball out past the line of scrimmage was a necessity in order to avoid a critical penalty. In my decades of watching football, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a play quite like it.
Washington would run nine more plays on that drive, burning down the clock, and ultimately score a touchdown, putting the team up for the remainder of the game.
Late in the fourth quarter, with Washington up 26-21, Ron Rivera’s goal was simply to burn enough clock to hamstring Philadelphia’s opportunity to win the game at the end. A couple of ultra-conservative run plays saddled Washington with a third a long with 1:45 left in the game. The distance necessitated a passing play, and it was clear that Taylor’s goal was simply not to turn the ball over on his own side of the field.
Seeing nothing open downfield, and feeling pressure bearing down on him from both edges, Heinicke decided to give himself up and take a knee. Nothing particularly notable there, although the kneel down was certainly preferable to a conventional sack.
What came next, helped clinch the game, however. Having taken the knee, Hassan Reddick grabbed Taylor from behind and Brandon Graham plowed into him from the front. An ever-so-slight bit of thespianism and an instant appeal to nearest official resulted in quick roughing the passer call, a Washington first down, and the eventual burning of most of the rest of the clock.
Now that everyone has had time to calm down since last night’s game…— Nate Hamilton (@DomiNateFF) November 15, 2022
Brandon Graham got the penalty because he hit Heinicke last, but even if Graham wasn’t there, I still think a flag would have been thrown on Haason Reddick. pic.twitter.com/x1BiGAKTbI
Can I prove that Heinicke’s animation solicited the referee’s flag definitively? No, but his sales job, and the somewhat unconventional decision to take the knee there and confuse the defenders - and he did confuse the defender - sealed the deal.
Graham added: “I was just trying to touch him down. It just looked like he was going to get up. You just never know. But that’s on me. I’m gonna own that one. It’s on me.”
Taylor Heinicke’s physical limitations - his size, his arm strength - as an NFL quarterback are well-documented, but one of the things that seems less well acknowledged is the mental strength of the Old Dominion math major’s game. Against the Eagles, it was a critical factor in the victory, an attribute his head coach recognized:
“He’s a very savvy guy. He understands the game. He plays the game with his hair on fire. He knows what he needs to do in order to give us a chance to win.” - Ron Rivera
It would be wise for the few remaining Heinicke-skeptics to give this component of his game similar consideration.
Ron Rivera on watching Taylor Heinicke trying to make a play— PFF (@PFF) November 18, 2022
Ron Rivera is live on It's Just Football ⬇️
Who do you think has a higher football IQ?
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