For a few minutes late on Thursday night, it appeared that Taylor Heinicke made a crucial mistake that would cost the Washington Football Team a victory.
With Washington leading the Giants by one late in the fourth quarter, Heinicke was intercepted by New York cornerback James Bradberry deep in Washington territory. Four plays later, the Giants retook the lead.
But, given a second chance, Heinicke delivered. After a Graham Gano field goal put the Giants ahead by two points with two minutes remaining, all Washington needed was Heinicke to drive them into field goal territory for a chance at victory. Simple, right?
Speaking with reporters postgame, Washington head coach Ron Rivera was asked if he had a specific message for his 28-year-old quarterback before he took the field for that final drive.
"Don't screw it up," Rivera said, half-jokingly. "[My message] was: all we have to do is get into field goal position. We felt that we had a good shot at it. We got that opportunity."
Eleven plays, 50 yards, and one offside call later, Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins sent a 43-yard field goal through to uprights to give Washington the win, 30-29, over New York, the club's first victory of the 2021 campaign and Heinicke his first win as an NFL starter.
"We were down the whole game, kept battling and battling back," Heinicke told NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay postgame. "That pick at the end was kind of scary, but the defense gave us one more chance to get the ball and go down and score. [Hopkins] came up big. Full team effort, it was a great win."
Despite the late interception from Heinicke, Rivera was impressed with the way his quarterback performed on Thursday night. He specifically praised Heinicke for rebounding following what could have been a crushing late turnover and instead putting his team in position to win on the very next drive.
"It was very gutty," Rivera said. "The thing that was real impressive about him was the way he bounced back after the turnover."
Rivera said the interception was a "bad read" from Heinicke. The quarterback should have thrown it to running back J.D. McKissic in the flat instead. Rivera also praised Bradberry, who he used to coach in Carolina, for making a great play on the ball.
Heinicke, who spent time in Carolina and was once teammates with Bradberry, believes the cornerback was able to make such a great read on that play because he had seen that concept before.
"Bradberry made a great play. He's seen that play before," Heinicke said. "He made a great play. Fortunately, the defense came back out and gave us another chance."
Naturally, Heinicke was beside himself for throwing that interception. He slammed his helmet into the turf as he arrived on the sideline. He knew how devastating that play could have been had the defense not been able to stop New York and eventually get the ball back.
"He was pissed. He was upset at himself, he really was," Rivera said. "It was one of those things you just felt we need to get the ball back in his hands."
Given another chance, Heinicke made the most of it and Washington left FedEx Field on Thursday night victorious with fans chanting his name on the way out. In a way, it resembles his career and how Washington gave him one last NFL shot.
"It's unbelievable. Again, at this point last year I was taking classes," Heinicke said. "Here we are on Thursday Night Football, a crazy game. I'm just fortunate enough and happy to be here, playing football. I'm living the dream right now. Hopefully, I can keep this ball rolling."