Taylor Heinicke spoke for everyone on the Washington Football Team Wednesday afternoon when he compared the 2021 season to "a roller coaster of ups and downs."
Washington, now eliminated from playoff contention, has dealt with waves of injuries and COVID-19 cases all season. The team's performance, including that of Heinicke, has been turbulent with a four-game win streak sandwiched between two four-game losing streaks.
Clearly, Heinicke didn't achieve everything he wanted in his first season as a starter, but he did check off some personal goals. Those are the positives he can gleam from his past 16 games, and they'll hopefully be a foundation for the rest of his career.
"It was a huge learning experience for me," Heinicke said. "I've learned a lot throughout this year, and I think it's just gonna help me be a better quarterback in the future."
Proving he could sustain the physical toll of a 17-game season was at the top of Heinicke's priorities. He did have a slight injury history prior to the 2021 season, although to be fair, he had only played in eight games with one start. He re-signed with Washington after nearly upsetting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2020 playoffs and put on 15 pounds of muscle to ensure that an errant hit wouldn't knock him out of contests.
Fast forward to January, and Heinicke has missed only one game this season, and it was because he was placed in the league's COVID-19 protocols.
"It's all the hard work I put in the offseason," Heinicke said. "I went back down to Georgia with the goal of mine to be able to last through a whole season. Here we are. So, you know, big, big kudos to Joel Seedman down there and Earl Williams for getting me right."
Proving he could stay on the field was one thing; showing that he deserved to be on it was another issue. He had been either a third-string or backup for most of his career, so he didn't have experience knowing what it was like to be a starting quarterback for most of the season.
There were certainly examples of Heinicke being able to handle the responsibility. During the teams' four-game win streak, he threw seven touchdowns compared to just three picks, and he completed at least 70% of his passes in all four victories. Add that to the last-minute wins against the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants, and it was clear Heinicke has the moxie to lead a team in high-pressure situations.
The Washington Football Team begins its final week of practice for the 2021 season ahead of its Week 18 road trip against the New York Giants. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
There have also been stretches where it was apparent Heinicke still has some things to learn. His turnovers against the Green Bay Packers took Washington out of what could have been a pivotal win. The same could be said for his two-interception outing against the Denver Broncos a week later. He completed 75% of his throws last week against the Eagles, but his interception in the final minutes dashed any comeback hopes.
Being a starter is a lot of work, Heinicke said. It's a lot of stress and everything one can imagine. It's also where he's wanted to be since he was a kid.
"You learn a lot through those things. You feel like you do some good things through those losing streaks and you kind of feel like…the world's falling apart and trying to piece it together. You learn a lot through those winning streaks as well."
Heinicke isn't worried about what might happen after this season. There's still one more game to win on Sunday, and that's his primary focus. However, he does believe this season has reaffirmed some things about himself. Through all the turns of the season, he's been resilient and found a way to endure them. It should be a good experience to lean on for whatever comes next.
"This season's been a dream come true," Heinicke said. "I wish it kind of went a little bit differently, but there's a lot to learn from."