Following the Washington Football Team's Week 3 loss to the Buffalo Bills, Ron Rivera made an interesting and eyebrow-raising comment about starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke.
"I'd like to see him do things in more of a game-manager way," Rivera said. "Sometimes, that is really just taking what's given to you."
At the time, what the head coach was asking for made sense. Heinicke had thrown two interceptions -- both bad ones -- in a blowout loss to Buffalo. Rivera simply felt that Heinicke was trying to do too much, which led to him turning the ball over.
While Rivera might not have meant game-manager with the negative connotation that it's typically associated with, his comments did weigh on his quarterback. Heinicke excelled the following week against his hometown Falcons, but the quarterback played a lot more passive the next two weeks against New Orleans and Kansas City.
"You go back two weeks ago against the Saints and the Chiefs. I had a different mindset to where I didn't want to lose the job and that resulted in bad play in my opinion," Heinicke said Wednesday.
Yet this past week in Green Bay, Heinicke reverted back to his I have nothing to lose form. The result was a much better overall performance, even if Washington still ended up on the losing end.
"I think when I go out there and just have fun and have nothing to lose, that's when I feel like I'm at my best," Heinicke said. "Green Bay was easy for me to go up there and play like that. It was a dream come true. I felt like a little kid out there just playing in the stadium I've always wanted to play in. I feel like I had a good game, just a couple things here and there that just didn't work out. So I feel like the mindset of playing like you have nothing to lose is when I play my best."
Against the Packers, Heinicke led Washington to 430 yards of total offense. Heinicke threw for 268 yards and ran for another 95. It was easily the best Washington's offense had looked since its Week 4 win in Atlanta.
However, while the offense was able to move the ball at will for much of the game, it stalled every time it got into the red zone. Sure, Washington had a few unlucky breaks, but scoring just three points on four red-zone trips is not going to win very many games in the NFL.
"You go back and look at the film, we didn't punt once. We were moving the ball on them," Heinicke said "I felt we played a lot better than 10 points. I think a lot of people feel that way too. So again, we moved the ball well, but when we get down in the red zone, you have to score touchdowns. That's how you win games. That’s going to be a big point of emphasis this week."
This isn't the first time Heinicke has been candid and honest about his performances, either. Earlier this month, he admitted that some of his struggles were that he was trying to be "too perfect." He was focused on making every correct read and the perfect throw every pass, which ultimately led to more harm than good.
Heinicke first won over fans with his playoff performance against Tampa Bay in January, where he seemingly put his body on the line to give Washington every chance to win. There were no expectations going into the night, as Heinicke was able to play his game without worrying about anything else. He finished the contest with over 300 passing yards and two touchdowns while rushing for nearly 50 yards and another score, nearly leading Washington to an upset over the eventual Super Bowl champions.
Through his seven stats with Washington's it's proven clear that Heinicke is at his best when he's slinging the football around and being aggressive, as well as using his underappreciated athleticism to extend plays and make things happen with his legs. None of that happened in Washington's games against the Saints or Chiefs, but we saw plenty of it last week in Green Bay.
Despite a better performance from Heinicke and the offense as a whole, the team still came out on the losing end for a third straight week. With the bye week looming, a win in Denver this Sunday would go a long way and "set the tone" for the remainder of the season.
So, when Heinicke takes the field on Sunday, his focus will be on just one thing: getting the win, no matter what it takes to do so.
"My only job is to go out there and move the chains, don't turn the ball over and win games," Heinicke said. "And if that means I throw it for 120 or 400 yards, I don't care. As long as we go out there and get a win, that's all that matters to me. That’s not my mindset.”