LANDOVER, Md. -- Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke did not enter the huddle and make a grand proclamation late in Thursday's 30-29 win against the New York Giants. Nor did he crack any jokes to lighten the mood.
He had been in these spots before the NFL -- mostly in college or practices, sometimes just in his mind -- and he knew what needed to be done. Even if he had never done it at this level.
Heinicke led two scoring drives in the final five minutes, crossing "game-winning drive" off his never-done-before-in-the-NFL list. And if Washington wants to contend in the NFC East while quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is on injured reserve with a hip injury, Heinicke will have to continue doing things he has never done before in the NFL.
In a game he nearly threw away with a late interception, Heinicke did what mattered most: He stayed calm. It's a big reason Washington is 1-1 heading into a Week 3 road game against the Buffalo Bills. Washington's defense, which ranked No. 2 overall in the league last season, has not played as well as hoped, so the team needed Heinicke to come through in clutch moments.
"He reminded me of [Seattle Seahawks QB] Russell Wilson," running back J.D. McKissic, who spent three years in Seattle, said of Heinicke's composure. "He was calm; he wanted to make a play. He wanted to do anything it took. The only thing on his mind was winning."
Heinicke has now played 11 quarters with Washington, but Thursday was the first time he had to lead a two-minute drive with a chance to win a game. In a 31-23 playoff loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, Heinicke had a chance to lead a game-tying drive, but it ended with a fourth-down incompletion from his own 40-yard line at the two-minute warning.
But it wasn't just the final drive Thursday. In the final 4 minutes, 5 seconds of the first half, he completed all seven passes for 66 yards in leading a touchdown drive. In the final 4:50 of the game, he was 7-of-10 for 102 yards, a touchdown and an interception. That included putting Washington in position for the winning field goal.
"He's very calm and he's direct as well," wide receiver Terry McLaurin said. "Nobody is going to get confused when they go into the huddle with Taylor, from the protection to the snap counts to what receivers' routes are. He does a really good job of speaking loud and clear and putting us in a great situation to be successful."
As they would leave the huddle, Heinicke would tell the receivers, "Be ready; be available."
Heinicke was a backup with the St. Louis BattleHawks of the XFL in 2020, but his coach, Jonathan Hayes, told ESPN last winter that Heinicke excelled running two-minute drills in practice. He also would quiz other players on their assignments, trying to get their preparation to match his.
"I coached quarterbacks 32 years; I've only had one five-read guy, and that was Taylor," former Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder told ESPN in December. "He could go one through five in 2.6 seconds because of his ability to do one or two pre-snap reads and then get into the play."
Heinicke was part of 12 comeback wins at Old Dominion, where he ran a hurry-up spread offense.
"That's essentially what a two-minute is and I did that for four years, so I'm very comfortable with it," Heinicke said. "Defense is on their heels; they get kind of tired. They start playing kind of base defenses and we've been practicing for that every day, so again, for it to come to fruition and for us to accomplish that goal in a game was good for us."
Washington coach Ron Rivera, who cut Heinicke before the 2019 season, said Heinicke's poise has improved since he coached him in Carolina.
"I really like how he has matured and grown into the position," Rivera said. "There is a lot of confidence and you see the swagger."
Rivera liked how at the end of the first half, Heinicke audibled to a run based on New York's front and McKissic scored on a 2-yard run. On the go-ahead touchdown pass to Ricky Seals-Jones, Heinicke first looked at tight end Logan Thomas down the right seam, then back to the left for McLaurin on a post route.
He had a gap he could have run through but instead remained calm. He noticed the 6-foot-5 Seals-Jones running to the right corner of the end zone. Heinicke could see he had a height advantage over 5-11 cornerback Adoree' Jackson, so he gave Seals-Jones a chance.
It's just another reason for his teammates to be sold on him.
"He's got that 'umph,'" McKissic said. "He's a lovable guy. We know he could do everything. He can pass, he can sit in the pocket, he also can run. He just wants to win. He loves the game."