A streaking Washington Football Team is heading to Las Vegas to face the Raiders this weekend, and a major reason why the club has been able to string together three-straight wins is because of their quarterback.
And considering Sunday's setting for the matchup, it's quite funny that said quarterback is succeeding more because he's learned to gamble less.
Before the Burgundy and Gold's bye week in early November, Taylor Heinicke was responsible for nine interceptions across his seven starts. A good deal of those picks — think of the pair he threw in Buffalo or the one he handed New Orleans deep in his own territory at FedEx Field — were the result of unnecessary risks, too.
Since coming back from that break, Heinicke's been far smarter with the football. The 28-year-old has only seen one of his 89 post-bye attempts end up in the arms of an opponent as he's helped guide Washington to the brink of a .500 record.
On Wednesday, Heinicke explained that after experiencing enough failure earlier in the campaign in situations where he was forcing it to his targets, he's gotten a much better understanding of how to choose his spots when attacking defenses.
"When you keep throwing, trying to fit balls in deep and they get picked and stuff like that," he said, "you go back and watch them in film [and see] that there's a guy wide open five yards down the field that can get you 10, 15 yards, keep moving the chains."
After Heinicke's outing against the Bills when he was intercepted twice in September, Ron Rivera declared that he wanted his young signal caller to act in more of a "game-manager way." Rivera didn't want Heinicke to totally tighten up and keep everything at or behind the line of scrimmage, though he did believe the 28-year-old could check it down more than he was doing.
During Washington's run of victories, Rivera has noticed Heinicke's improvement in that area.
"I think that's one of the things he's learning is that he doesn't always have to make the splash play, just make the smart play," Rivera said. "He's done that several times.
"I think he's also learned the benefits of getting the ball in those underneath guys' hands. Whether it's a back coming out of the backfield being Antonio [Gibson] or JD [McKissic] or it being DeAndre [Carter] or Adam Humphries or Dax [Milne] on a late drag or something, and then let them catch it and run. Those have been good for us and he's seeing the benefit of that."
Rivera wasn't even that upset with the lone interception Heinicke has tossed since Week 10, which came on Monday versus Seattle. To Rivera, that was a perfectly fine read for Heinicke to make, but he was just a "little late" and the victim of well-executed coverage by a couple of Seahawks.
There is a portion of Heinicke that he must ensure he never loses; it's the portion that pushes him to dive for a pylon in the playoffs or chaotically jitter out of the pocket before finding his man to extend a possession. Essentially, it's where his swagger lives.
However, it's OK for Heinicke to whittle that piece of his skillset down until it's just the right size, where he can still be creative and dynamic in clutch moments yet also grasp that those heroics don't have to always be his first move.
"There's that fine line of you want to be aggressive and take shots, but at the same time, you want to be smart and not turn the ball over," Heinicke said. "I feel like we're at a good level right now with that."
When traveling to Vegas, one will often hear that moderation is key. Apparently, that's been useful advice for Heinicke as well.