Football Team

Heinicke reflects on up-and-down year as WFT's starter

Football Team

One year ago at this time, Taylor Heinicke was an unknown, prepping for the Washington Football Team's playoff contest with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers unsure if he was going to start.

Now, nearly 365 days later, Heinicke is wrapping up the 2021 season, a campaign he spent almost the entirety of as Washington's starting quarterback following a Week 1 injury to Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Unfortunately for Heinicke and Washington, the 2021 season will come to an end following Sunday's game against the Giants. A year that featured plenty of ups and downs unofficially ended last weekend as the Burgundy and Gold were eliminated from playoff contention following its loss to Philadelphia.

Speaking with local media on Wednesday, a reflective Heinicke called the opportunity to start "a dream come true" but, naturally, wishes he was able to lead the club to a few more victories along the way.

"I've wanted to start in this league since I was born," Heinicke said. "This season's been a dream come true. I wish it kind of went a little bit differently, but there's a lot to learn from. Hopefully, I'm here in the coming years."

Heinicke understands how rare the opportunity he had this season truly is. Hardly ever do undrafted quarterbacks, let alone those who have bounced around in and out of the NFL for multiple seasons, have the opportunity to be a starting quarterback for an entire season.

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"I've been in the league for six, seven years now and I've kind of been that third-string or backup guy," Heinicke said. "So, I've never really had the opportunity to know what it's really like to be a starter. And it's a lot of work. It's a lot of stress. It's everything that you can imagine, but it's where you've always wanted to be. I've learned a lot. Hopefully, I get another chance at it."

Entering the year, one thing Heinicke wanted to prove was that he was capable of playing a full season. Durability had held him back in the past, as the quarterback was forced to leave all three of his previous NFL starts due to injury.

This past summer, Heinicke gained 15 pounds of muscle with the hope of being able to absorb more hits and remain on the field. After staying relatively healthy for much of the season, the 28-year-old feels that he's been able to accomplish that goal.

"One checkbox I've checked was the whole durability question," he said. "No one really thought that I could go 16, 17 games and here we are. So that's a positive."

Heinicke's season, for the most part, has largely been a reflection of Washington's year as a whole. The quarterback has had some excellent moments, highlighted by the three game-winning drives he led Washington on this year. He had plenty of low-lights, too, and did not play his best football in the club's two losses to NFC East rival Dallas.

For the most part, Washington's season has been defined by three streaks. The first came in October, as Washington dropped four consecutive games entering the bye week, including very winnable games against New Orleans and Denver. 

But following the bye, Washington played an inspiring brand of football, led by the running game and its defense. Washington went on to win four straight games -- including a victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers -- and vaulted itself back to .500 into playoff contention.

That positive momentum was short-lived, though. Washington went on to lose its next four games, two to Dallas and two to Philadelphia, falling to 6-10 and with its playoff hopes dashed. During that stretch, Washington dealt with a major coronavirus outbreak and two off-the-field tragedies that impacted two key players, things Ron Rivera referred to as "real-life s---."

For Heinicke, the quarterback believes everything he and his teammates have gone through over the past two months will help him be a better player moving forward.

“Really, it’s the four-game skids, whether it's winning or losing. You learn a lot through those things," Heinicke said. "You feel like you do some good things through those losing streaks and you kind of feel like kind of the world is falling apart and trying to piece it together. You learn a lot through those winning streaks as well. So, it was a huge learning experience for me. I've learned a lot throughout this year and I think it's just gonna help me be a better quarterback in the future.'

 

As for Heinicke, his future is the most certain of any of Washington's QBs on its roster. Both Fitzpatrick and Kyle Allen (restricted) are free agents his spring, while Heinicke still has another year on his current deal with the club.

Heinicke's exact role for next season is hardly certain, though. Rivera has spoken openly on the need to find a franchise quarterback this offseason and has said the team will explore both free agency and the NFL Draft to try to find one. While Heinicke has put some good football on tape at times this year, his limitations have also proven to be a bit much for him to become an above-average starter.

Regardless of what his role will be moving forward, Heinicke just wants to be playing football and helping the club win any way he can.

"Whatever my future holds, if it's [the] backup, if it's [the] starter, I'm happy either way," Heinicke said. "I just wanna be in this league playing football, but it's gonna be weird if I'm a backup. Just going through this year, kind of preparing and playing and all the reps you're getting, and then kind of taking a step back, it would be weird. It'll be different and yeah, starting definitely feels normal now, but at the same time, I'm just trying to help the team as best as I can in whatever position I'm in.”