The quarterback everyone cared about, talked about, wrote about, podcasted about and tweeted about leading up to Sunday’s Washington-Carolina game was Cam Newton.
But the one who made the true difference in the 27-21 tilt at Bank of America Stadium was Taylor Heinicke.
Though Newton did enough to justify all the excitement about the first start of his second stint with the Panthers — he went 21-of-27 for 189 yards for a pair of touchdowns and also visited the end zone on the ground — it was Heinicke who was the more unstoppable threat for his offense.
And because of No. 4’s efforts, Washington picked up its fourth win of the season and can now reasonably include itself in the NFC playoff picture.
The 28-year-old — who once shared a QB room with Newton in Carolina — threw three TDs of his own in the victory, all of which came in the red zone for the visitors. But it was a non-touchdown that proved to be his most crucial contribution of the afternoon.
With the score tied at 21 halfway through the fourth, Washington faced a fourth-and-3, and Rivera opted to go for it. After taking the snap, Heinicke waited in the pocket, bounced left, sprinted toward the sideline, smashed on the breaks and found reserve tight end John Bates beyond the sticks for a wild conversion. Heinicke completed the toss while a defender had him in his grasp, too.
The possession eventually ended in a Joey Slye field goal, as Rivera's club went up by three. Slye then kicked another field goal a few minutes later to bump the lead up to six.
Newton, however, had two more opportunities with the ball, one after each of Slye's makes. Yet Kam Curl prevented Christian McCaffrey from getting where he needed to on one fourth down and then the defensive line swallowed up Newton on the next drive to end the proceedings.
After beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 10 and outlasting the Panthers in Week 11, Washington has triumphed two times in a row. Next up is a Monday night home matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, a contest that will mean quite a bit for the home side. Despite being under .500, they're still in the NFC postseason mix.
Heinicke wasn't the only player responsible for the victory. Terry McLaurin eclipsed 100 receiving yards as he continues to build a Pro Bowl case, Cam Sims hauled in his first TD of the year and Jack Del Rio's unit held up in the waning minutes.
That said, Heinicke turned in his second-straight drama-filled-but-turnover-free outing for the franchise, and when he's right, the Football Team is often right, too.
Newton may be Superman, but Heinicke was simply The Man for Washington in the win.