Whatever remained of the "injury prone" label that had been applied to Taylor Heinicke ahead of this season faded away on Sunday in Carolina.
Quarterbacks in today's NFL don't often take a beating like Heinicke did against the Panthers, who got roughed up both in the pocket on multiple dropbacks and on one scramble in particular. But thanks to a commitment he made in the summer months of the offseason, Heinicke was able to deal with the constant contact and remain a factor in Washington's much-needed November victory.
After getting hurt in the Burgundy and Gold's NFC Wild Card loss to the Buccaneers to end the 2020 campaign, Heinicke decided he needed to bulk up. He banged up his shoulder versus Tampa, an ailment that was added to a list of health issues that included two trips to the injured reserve as well as a concussion, all of which came in his previous pro stops.
Knowing he couldn't afford to be sidelined once more, Heinicke called getting in better, more sturdy shape "the biggest point of concern" on his to-do list ahead of 2021. He dedicated himself to eating smarter and routinely getting after it in the gym.
Clearly, his improved physique is making a difference. Since entering the lineup in Ryan Fitzpatrick's spot in Week 1, Heinicke's made nine starts and thrown every pass for the offense.
Fittingly enough, the pair of people who helped Heinicke get to such a place were actually at Bank of America Stadium to witness him reap the benefits of his work.
"My two trainers were here today," Heinicke told reporters postgame. "It's a lot of credit to them. I put on 15 pounds of muscle to take hits like that and be able to play more than just one game."
So far, so good on that mission.
Now, part of the reason why Heinicke may require a little more time in the ice bath each week is on him because he tends to hold on to the ball and suffer sacks other signal callers will avoid with throwaways or checkdowns. That's an area Ron Rivera badly wants Heinicke to address and should be one way he can minimize his week-to-week punishment.
However, Heinicke is also an improvisor, which means he spends a decent amount of time in open space, which means he'll run into a inevitable collision like this every once in a while:
To the QB's credit, he popped right up from that lick in a show of confidence in how the contest was unfolding — and perhaps how much more comfortable he is health-wise, too.
Terry McLaurin believes that particular sequence energized Heinicke even more on Sunday.
"I think things really turned when he tried to take that slide and the guy hit him for that penalty," McLaurin said to NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay afterward. "He didn't appreciate that too much."
For Heinicke to get to where he currently is — an NFL starter who, in his last two appearances, has bested Tom Brady and Cam Newton — he had to be tough. Fortunately, now he's got a stronger body that's allowing him to display that toughness more consistently.
It's a development that he's grateful for, and after the fourth quarter concluded, he made sure to pass along a gift to the trainers that pushed him in the offseason.
"I kept my jersey today to give to them," Heinicke said in his press conference, "and hopefully they appreciate that."
That uniform, as is typically the case with Heinicke, wasn't clean. But unlike the past, he was able to shake off hit after hit in it, and come next Monday against the Seattle Seahawks, he'll be ready to put on a jersey again.