Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke fulfilling lifelong dream as he prepares to start against New York Giants | NFL News

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Taylor Heinicke made a name for himself in last season's Wild Card defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Taylor Heinicke made a name for himself in last season’s Wild Card defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Taylor Heinicke was once the practice squad quarterback who a perplexed Tom Brady might have thought was an intruder as he strolled into a 5am film study during their time with the New England Patriots.

Even when the pair faced off in the playoffs last season, Heinicke got the impression the seven-time Super Bowl champion did not remember him. He knows who he is now, as does the rest of the league.

Six years and five NFL teams later since going undrafted out of Old Dominion in 2015, Heinicke is a starting quarterback in the NFL. The job may not have arrived as imagined, with Ryan Fitzpatrick’s absence through injury paving the way for his opportunity, but it will not feel any less special.

In truth, there was the feeling a chance may come his way in 2021 regardless of whether Fitzpatrick was injured or not. Not this soon, though.

“It’s something I’ve been dreaming about my whole life, being a starting quarterback in the NFL, and here we are,” Heinicke said this week. “I really try to take it one day at a time, one meeting at a time, one play at a time. I feel like if I just live in the moment, everything else will take care of itself. I try not to get too ahead of myself.”

Watch Taylor Heinicke's best plays in his first playoff start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Super Wild Card Weekend last season

Watch Taylor Heinicke’s best plays in his first playoff start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Super Wild Card Weekend last season

Watch Taylor Heinicke’s best plays in his first playoff start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Super Wild Card Weekend last season

Heinicke will start under center on Thursday night when Washington host the New York Giants, having replaced Fitzpatrick during the team’s Week One defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers after the 38-year-old exited the game with a hip subluxation that is expected to sideline him for a number of weeks.

Upon entering the game, Heinicke went a steady 11 of 15 passing for 122 yards and one touchdown as well as rushing three times for 17 yards.

“It’s his composure in the pocket,” Washington edge rusher Chase Young said. “You can see he never gets rattled, even when he’s running around and juking guys out of the way. He still gets the ball down the field and even when he did make those plays, he looked like he was used to making those plays.

“He could start on any other team in the league.”

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The 28-year-old broke free of the shadows to announce himself with a heroic performance in last season’s 31-23 Wild Card defeat to Brady’s eventual Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers, during which he threw for 306 yards and a touchdown as well as miraculously jinking away from pressure and diving for the pylon for a rushing score.

While celebrating the latter Young raced down the sideline before getting the attention of the nearest cameraman and pointing to Heinicke’s name on the back of his jersey. Heinicke had only signed for the team on December 8 and was not promoted to the active roster until December 19; now he was a fan favourite.

Good Morning Football's Kay Adams picks out the six players you should target on the waiver wire in NFL Fantasy Football this week

Good Morning Football’s Kay Adams picks out the six players you should target on the waiver wire in NFL Fantasy Football this week

Good Morning Football’s Kay Adams picks out the six players you should target on the waiver wire in NFL Fantasy Football this week

Fitzpatrick’s injury was an untimely setback, but there is unquestionable faith in the man replacing him.

“At that position right now, I don’t think anybody is really too worried. I think Taylor can come in and sling it,” Young added.

“You could see it last year when he came in. I just remember him coming in, we signed him as a free agent. ‘I was like dang, who is that little guy?’. In that one game, he got to slinging, and you’re like, ‘he can go’.”

Heinicke has only played in nine games and completed 59 if 92 pass attempts in his entire NFL career. He may have been in the league since 2015, but meaningful learning only comes with snaps on game day.

An extended run in the team is the window he had been waiting for.

“I think just understanding the game even more so,” said head coach Ron Rivera of the improvements he has noticed about Heinicke. “He’s learned to be patient, take what’s given to him, and I think he has a really good feel for when he takes his shots, too.”

Part of that development has been picking the right moment to break free on one of his fearless scampers and when to make the so-called ‘business decision’, something Rivera picked up on against the Chargers.

“He ran when he was supposed to run,” added Rivera. “A couple of times I think where he thought about turning up, he didn’t and went ahead and went out of bounds. There was one when he didn’t step up through the middle and did get a few yards and took a little bit of a shot. But again, I think he understands that he’s gotta be more responsible with himself.”

Inside The Huddle's Will Blackmon breaks down Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski's two touchdowns in Week One which took the them to 100 as a pair

Inside The Huddle’s Will Blackmon breaks down Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski’s two touchdowns in Week One which took the them to 100 as a pair

Inside The Huddle’s Will Blackmon breaks down Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski’s two touchdowns in Week One which took the them to 100 as a pair

Giants head coach Joe Judge also paid tribute to Heinicke, who was rewarded with a new two-year, $8.75m extension and the faith of the organisation in February.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for this guy as a player,” Judge said. “Seeing this guy out there on the field, he’s going to be a challenge for us.

“He’s a guy that can go out there and can really function and operate and think outside the box, extend plays, be creative within the system. Obviously, he’s been very competitive in all the games he’s been in.”

Eyes will also be firmly planted on Giants quarterback Daniel Jones as he looks to lead the team to a sixth successive win over Washington, with the last four victories coming with him as starter.

Jason Garrett’s uninspiring offense faced familiar scrutiny in the wake of New York’s Week One loss to the Denver Broncos, Jones himself adding to his league-high tally of 30 fumbles and 18 fumbles lost since entering the NFL in 2019.

“Turnovers are always going to hurt you at any point in the game and they’re big plays,” he said. “We’ve got to do a good job of taking care of the ball.”

Though the Heinicke storyline will garner much of the attention, it is a game likely to be won or lost by the match-up between a Washington defense that ranked second and a Giants offense that ranked 31st in 2020.

Washington running back Antonio Gibson has been nursing a shoulder problem in practice this week but is expected to play, while Giants running back Saquon Barkley was listed as questionable as he continues his comeback from last season’s ACL injury.

Among those confirmed out for Judge are tight end Evan Engram, linebacker Cam Brown and guard Shane Lemieux.

Watch the New York Giants @ Washington live on Sky Sports NFL from 1.20am in the early hours of Friday morning.

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