Around a month ago, Taylor Heinicke was out of football and studying for final exams. Fast forward a few weeks, and the quarterback was putting together a remarkable performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Washington's NFC Wild Card playoff game Sunday at Fed Ex Field.
With all the variables and unknowns thrown his way, it would have been easy for Heinicke to succumb to the pressure. He didn't and instead made the most of his latest chance in the NFL on the biggest stage. And for that reason, he gave himself a well-deserved pat on the back.
“Looking back at the game in the next couple days, it's going to be something I’ll be really proud about," Heinicke said. "Just the way, everything that’s happened in the past month and a half and to go out there and do that, I’m proud of myself.”
The quarterback wasn't alone in his assessment. Praise for his play came from all over on Saturday.
Head coach Ron Rivera spoke on his 'gutsy' showing, stating that it was clear the quarterback has earned the opportunity to continue competing in the NFL. Another member inside the locker room impressed with what he demonstrated was wide receiver, Terry McLaurin.
The two have only known each other a few weeks but based on what Heinicke showed on Saturday night with 306 passing yards and a passing and rushing touchdown, McLaurin is hoping their relationship has a chance to blossom in the future.
“I hope we’re teammates in the future and I’m just proud of the way he gave us a chance to compete today," McLaurin said.
The wideout was seen stopping Heinicke before entering the tunnel after the loss and exchanging a heartfelt moment. McLaurin explained that he took the time to let his quarterback know just how big of a fan he is.
“I just told him I appreciated him for laying it out on the field for us today," McLaurin said. "He’s a baller, he has a heart of a lion and I told him I appreciate him and I’d take him on my team any day of the week.”
"I would say he was one of our leaders today out on the field," McLaurin said.
Outside of Washington's locker room, the Heinicke fan club only grew. When the quarterback lunged to the end zone for a jaw-dropping touchdown in the third quarter, Twitter exploded.
Among the many names was none other than Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. For Heinicke, grabbing the attention of one of the stars of the NFL was truly a special moment.
“Yeah, you know Mahomes is a great player obviously. Probably one of the best in the game right now if not the best," Heinicke said. "We’re in the same agency so I might have to send him a couple texts, maybe learn a couple things from him. Again, that’s pretty cool for one of this best, if not the best, to be tweeting about me.”
It's clear that the legend of Taylor Heinicke was born on Saturday night. Oh, and if you needed any other reasons to be impressed with his performance, the story of his injury that caused a brief exit will surely sell you.
Heinicke injured his left shoulder when diving toward the pylon, but remained in the game the next drive. Even when the pain grew, the quarterback never considered staying on the sideline.
“It was an AC joint separation. Came back out there, wanted to gutted it out," Heinicke said. "We put everything out there on the line but just came up a little short.”
January 9, 2021, was a spectacular night for Heinicke, even if it came during a Washington loss. So, where does he go from here? Well, it's simple, he just wants to keep playing football.
It's been an up and down journey to get back to the league, but Heinicke believes Saturday showed he belonged. Now here, he has no desire to leave.
“Hopefully, I deserve to be in this league a little longer. Again, I’ve been on the other side, not playing, being in the real world and it’s not fun," Heinicke said. "It’s not as fun as this.”
"I want to be in the NFL, I want to keep playing ball, it’s a dream of mine and I’m going to keep working towards it."