The call often came out of nowhere in the middle of an Old Dominion football practice.
“Sudden change!” coach Bobby Wilder would yell at the blow of his whistle.
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke trotted toward Wilder and was told the situation: A minute left, ball on your own 25-yard line, no timeouts, and you need a field goal.
Heinicke’s success in those simulations over four seasons from 2011-14 helps explain his calm demeanor last week in the Washington Football Team’s come-from-behind victory over the New York Giants, Wilder said this week on “The John Keim Report” podcast.
“We did that over and over and over again,” said Wilder, who coached the Monarchs for 13 seasons, through 2019. “He’s been in those situations so many times, so he feels comfortable. He’s just really poised. He’s comfortable in those situations.”
Heinicke rallied Washington to a 30-29 win after throwing what looked like a game-costing interception. He drove Washington to within field-goal range for Dustin Hopkins’ 43-yard game-winner as time expired.
Heinicke’s heroics made him the darling of the NFL, and especially Washington fans, last week.
His performance Thursday — 34-of-46 passing for 336 yards, two touchdowns, one interception — came during the NFL’s prime-time showcase. The game drew 7.9 million TV and digital viewers and was the most-watched NFL Network-exclusive game since 2018.
In perhaps the surest sign he has arrived, an official “Heinicke” No. 4 Washington Football Team jersey was available this week on the NFL’s retail site. For $119.99 (free shipping!), it’s listed as Washington’s most popular jersey.
The least-surprised viewer of Thursday’s game? Wilder.
“Not surprised, just really proud and excited for him, what he’s accomplished to this point,” Wilder told Keim. “It’s been a series of setbacks throughout his time (in the NFL). … He’s just continued to have setbacks and he’s turned it into a phenomenal comeback.”
Heinicke was out of football last year when Washington plucked him from his online classes at ODU, and just weeks later thrust him into a playoff start against Tampa Bay. He signed a two-year contract in the offseason and became Washington’s starter last week when veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick went on injured reserve with a hip injury.
While Fitzpatrick is expected to miss six to eight weeks, Heinicke’s teammates have rallied around him.
Heinicke, 28, on Sunday at Buffalo will make a second consecutive start for the first time in his NFL career. He told reporters this week during a press conference he wanted to move on from last week’s whirlwind.
“I don’t want the success from last week to equal the non-success of this week if that makes sense,” Heinicke said. “Sometimes a lot of people get caught up in how they played, and it hurts them the next week.
“We had a long weekend. It was nice to enjoy it, but once Sunday and Monday came along, it was time for Buffalo. The biggest thing is to keep doing it every week, and that’s the goal.”
Wilder told Keim that Heinicke’s ascent to starting quarterback and recent success has resonated with fans because “he’s the ultimate underdog.”
“He believes in himself, he’s passionate about this,” Wilder added.
Wilder, though, cautioned that Heinicke has work to do to keep this momentum going.
“He’s a solid football player right now who’s trying so hard to take this situation and run with it,” Wilder said. “He’s trying to take advantage of what he really believes in his mind is his last opportunity. So I think he’s going to make it work, but let’s not confuse the issue here. He’s not Tom Brady, but he’s pretty darn good. And if the guys around him continue to grow with him and continue to play well with him, I think he could have a really good year.”
Published: Sep 22, 2021, at 11:46 am