The performance that Taylor Heinicke was able to turn in on the night of Jan. 9, 2021, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is largely responsible for him being where he is today: the starting quarterback for the Washington Football Team.
This Sunday, the Buccaneers -- currently 6-2 and the No. 3 seed in the NFC -- come to town once again. Heinicke's play, like the rest of his teammates, has been up and down. But, ahead of the Wild Card rematch, Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians had positive things to say about Washington's signal-caller.
"He can play, now. He can run," Arians said. "He threw some great balls in that [playoff] game. I think that team plays very, very hard for him. I like the way he plays."
In Washington's 31-23 playoff loss to Tampa Bay, Heinicke finished 26-of-34 for 306 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also added 46 yards with his legs, including an epic four-yard touchdown run where he jumped from nearly the five-yard line and fully extended his body towards the pylon.
Heinicke had been signed just weeks prior to Washington's Wild Card playoff game and appeared in just one game for the team during the regular season. But, with starter Alex Smith unable to play, Heinicke was thrust into the starting job. His incredible effort nearly led Washington to a playoff upset over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the same team who would raise the Lombardi Trophy four weeks later.
Heinicke's effort in that playoff game earned him a two-year deal to remain in Washington. After beginning the year as the team's backup, he became the starter once again after Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a hip injury on the team's fourth offensive drive of the season. Heinicke has held onto that QB1 role ever since.
Former All-Pro Lavonte David, one of the Buccaneers defenders who struggled to contain Heinicke on that cold January night, was asked about Washington's QB on Monday as well. Like Arians, David had plenty of positive things to say about Washington's quarterback and some of the other offensive talent on the team.
"They've got weapons across the field. Terry McLaurin, he's a threat at receiver, Antonio Gibson and [J.D.] McKissic [as well]," David said. "Obviously, the quarterback, we remember what he did to us last year. He's definitely a threat for us."
In January's playoff game, where Heinicke impressed the most was with his legs. It wasn't just him carrying the football, either. Heinicke showcased his ability to use his athleticism to move around in the pocket and extend plays, too, something no Washington quarterback did much of all of last season.
As the Buccaneers begin preparation fro Heinicke and Washington on Sunday, David said Tampa Bay's defense is specifically focusing on containing Heinicke and preventing him from using his feet to make and extend plays.
"Dealing with a mobile quarterback, you've got to be smart with your rush lanes and what you've got to be able to do to keep eyes on him, just in case he [does] take off," David said. "He's been playing good football for them. We've got to be disciplined and fundamentally sound."