Taylor Heinicke’s story has been told so many times by now that Washington Football Team fans can probably recite it from memory. He was sleeping on his sister's couch and getting his degree at Old Dominion before getting a call from Washington and nearly beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the playoffs.
Some stories are great no matter how many times they're told, though, because there's always something new to appreciate about them. Heinicke's tale of going from an unknown to gaining notoriety is one of them, and the latest installment -- a 29-19 upset win over the Buccaneers -- is being heralded as the best chapter yet.
It was a full-circle moment for the young signal-caller, and Washington is hopeful that it's a prequel for what's coming next.
"These are the games you dream of as a kid," Heinicke said after the game. "It was the moment I was -- I'm about to get emotional here -- it's a moment I've dreamt of last year when I wasn't playing. I told myself that if I get another chance to play, I'm going to get out there and do something great."
And aside from the occasional misfire, great is what Heinicke was. He out-performed Tom Brady with 256 yards compared to 220 from Brady, and he completed 81.3% of his passes, a career-high for the quarterback in games where he's made more than one pass attempt.
It's a complete turnaround from Heinicke's previous outings, as Washington slipped from 2-2 to losing four straight. The numbers were decidedly not good for Heinicke in that span. His competition rate was hovering around 50%, and his passer rating wasn't faring much better (his average 68.5 in October). He also threw six interceptions to just three touchdowns.
Head coach Ron Rivera has noticed a gradual return to the version of Heinicke -- the gun-slinger who, when balancing gambles with game management -- that can efficiently direct Washington's offense. The results were clear: of the team's eight drives on Sunday, Washington scored on five.
In a similar fashion to January's postseason game, Heinicke's teammates heaped praise upon him for the win. Taylor is a baller, DeAndre Carter said after the game. Carter noticed during the week of practice that Heinicke was "letting that thing rip," and it carried over to Sunday. Terry McLaurin went on 106.7 The Fan to complement Heinicke's mentality, saying that he's not the energetic, "rah-rah" type on the field, but there is something unique about him.
"You can't necessarily describe what Taylor has to a T," McLaurin said. "But it's just something that you can't really coach or teach."
It doesn't sound like Heinicke can describe it, either, but he does know how great it feels to play in games with high-caliber stakes.
"I just told myself today when I was driving in, 'go out there and have fun. Give it all out there,'" Heinicke said. "This time last year, I didn't know if I was going to play again. When I dreamt of suiting up every morning for practice last year, I would rather be doing nothing other than playing football."
Heinicke put an exclamation point on the afternoon in the fourth quarter, when Washington held a four-point lead after Tampa Bay scored a 40-yard touchdown in short fashion. Heinicke dropped back six times during the team's 19-play, 80-yard drive that took more than 10 minutes off the clock, and completed all of his passes for 45 yards. Washington faced five third downs on its final march to the end zone, and Heinicke converted three of them.
"It means a lot to me," Heinicke said, "and I know it means a lot to those guys to get a win like that against a team like that."
Growth is the message conveyed by Washington's coaches and players alike after the upset win. The hope is that it will act as a springboard for a strong finish to the season, which still includes five division games. If Heinicke is able to stack together similar performances, that may be a reality.
"For me to go out there and do that today, it's a lot of fun," Heinicke said. "It's a dream come true and it's something you just want to keep doing."