Meet America’s new favorite backup QB: Taylor Heinicke

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, I spoke with Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who gave Tompa Bay fits Saturday night. Tom Brady and the Bucs survived in Washington 31-23. This was, as I told Heinicke, a kind of classic Rocky Balboa-Apollo Creed athletic contest, the kind of game that makes us love sports. “Yeah,” said Heinicke, who was studying math remotely at Old Dominion in the fall with no football job—until Washington called with an offer to join the practice squad five weeks ago. The rest is living history.

We spoke while Heinicke lay on a trainers table at the Washington team facility in Ashburn, Va. His legs were encased in NormaTec pulsing compression pants. He’d taken some good shots in his first start for the injured Alex Smith, and damaged his shoulder diving for the pylon (and a touchdown) on his eight-yard third-quarter score. Still, he went 26-of-44 for 306 yards, with a TD and an interception against Tampa. You can hear our 23-minute conversation in a special The Peter King podcast here.

FMIA: Have you come down from this incredible experience?

Heinicke: “Actually, I haven’t been able to look back on it at all. I’m running on fumes right now. You know, the shoulder injury last night, didn’t get much sleep, looking forward to taking a nap after this. But when I wake up and maybe in a week or so look back at what transpired over the last month, it’s definitely something to be proud about. It’s definitely something my dad would be proud of me about. It’s one of the things, you just keep this ball rolling. I’ve been on the other side. I’ve been in the real world. I’ve been taking classes, you know. That’s great and all but it’s not as fun as playing ball.”

FMIA: What would you have said if I told you two months ago you’d be dueling Tom Brady wire to wire?

Heinicke: “I’d say you’re out of your mind. You know, again, it’s been a crazy year, 2020 has. It just speaks volumes of what hard work, determination and you know all that stuff. Keep doing it. Stay on the grind. Keep your dreams alive. Great things can happen. I credit all the people that are close me, kept on pushing me, and believing in me.”

FMIA: Third quarter of the game. You’re down 18-10 and driving, at their 8-yard line.

Heinicke: “So we got a play called where our halfback just free-released and he was our first read. They covered him up pretty well. We had [another receiver] come in to replace him and he was covered. My last read on that was a little dig route behind all those things with Logan [Thomas] and they covered that well, too. So, I figured I needed to make a play. The defensive line was actually doing a great job containing the pocket and I just kinda wiggled around back there and found a hole. Once I kinda got through, I saw that pylon. I just made a beeline for it. And um, you know, I don’t know how I got that. I’ve seen a video of the dive. I didn’t know I dove from the 4-yard line. That was pretty cool. But again, that was one of those things I just wanted to go get. I knew our team needed it. I thought it was gonna be a huge spark for our team and again I’ll never forget that. Unfortunately, that’s when I hurt my shoulder. At least it came on a pretty cool play.”

FMIA: Tampa gets a field goal, and you come back from the locker room.

Heinicke: ”Well, I knew after that touchdown run, there was something wrong. I felt something click or pop. When I came to the sideline, I took my helmet off and just held it in my left hand. And that was pretty bad pain. I knew there was something wrong. I talked to the doctors. Then we went inside. They looked at it. Gave me a little ibuprofen and got back out there. Got back into it. Put a little padding and a little tape on there to stabilize it. Felt a lot better. And fortunately I got back out just in time when the offense got the ball.

FMIA: Third-and-10, five minutes to go. Describe the touchdown to Steven Sims that you threw so well.

Heinicke: “So we actually had a little double move with Logan Thomas. We wanted to take advantage of Logan on our linebackers. So we thought we kinda would just run up the linebacker and kinda give him a little shake and then try and get on top. Give him a high ball. When I was looking at it, the safety I see went to go double Logan so I knew I had a one on one out there with Steven. I love the way Steven runs his routes. He’s very violent at the top. He’s got some good speed on him. I knew if I could just lay it out in the back corner at the end zone, he could run out there and get it. We connected perfectly, which is really cool because again, very minimal reps with these guys. I thought we did a pretty damn good job last night.”

FMIA: On Twitter after that touchdown, Patrick Mahomes tweeted, with 162,488 likes: ‘Regardless of the outcome, what a great game by Heinecke.’ That’s cool.

Heinicke: “Yeah, that’s really cool. Again, it’s kinda weird saying that, because the guy’s younger than me but the dude is, you know, he’s the top 5 quarterback in the league if not the best quarterback in the league. Again for him to be watching and for him to say that, it means a lot to me. It’s pretty damn cool.”

FMIA: After the game, cameras showed you tapping Brady on the shoulder, then having a conversation with him. What’d he say?

Heinicke: “Yeah. It’s always really cool when you’re talking to a future Hall of Famer. Probably the best quarterback to ever play the game. It’s a neat experience. He just told me I played a hell of a game, showed a lot of grit out there. And just to keep working. Again, for that to come from him, it’s pretty neat. Not a lot of people get to experience that.”

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here.