Chase Young didn’t get Tom Brady after all. But, he got something that almost It resulted in an even better result: an unexpected performance by a teammate named Taylor Heinicke, who started the year employed by a soccer league that no longer exists.
Saturday night’s wild card game between the Bucs and Washington was Brady’s playoff debut for a team other than the Patriots. Who would have thought the star of the show would be Heinicke, who has played in fewer NFL games (eight) than the number of misspellings of his last name recorded on Twitter during the game? Heinicke reached his unlikely playoff start with 77 NFL pass attempts to his name. Brady, by way of comparison, has nearly as many touchdowns per playoff pass (75).
The Bucs advanced to the divisional round with a 31-23 victory over Washington. Young, the presumed defensive rookie of the year, failed to bring down Brady, who was sacked three times by Washington’s front but enjoyed a clean pocket for most of the night. However, despite the fact that the 7-9 football team was the required playoff representative of the humble NFC East, and veteran Alex Smith was ruled out with a calf injury, this contest came down to final possession. from Washington. The reason was Taylor Heinicke.
In the first half, Heinicke kept things interesting. After the Bucs jumped to a 9-0 lead, he responded by leading a 75-yard TD. He made a 24-yard pass, then an 18-yard pass, then converted a third and eight under pressure from Ndamukong Suh. Tony Dungy’s enthusiasm at the NBC booth aside, it seemed inevitable that his early spark would fade, as it so often does with young replacement QBs inserted into the lineup.
Not so! It was on his 13-yard dash and 11-yard dash that the delighted crowd suddenly realized, “Heinicke is fast!” (That’s literally what I wrote in my notes – you can see why I’m getting paid to write about sports.) But the best was yet to come. Washington had a third-and-five at the Tampa Bay eight-yard line, which started with Heinicke dropping and then backtracking further, to the 20. This was surely not going to end well. But Heinicke… kept moving. He stepped out of the group of players, ran to his left and ran toward the first-down marker. At the four-yard line, he planted with his left foot and launched himself through the air. The 6-foot-1 “QB covered the remaining 12 feet suspended above the grass, spreading the ball to knock down the pylon. His eight-yard touchdown run covered about three times as much ground.
Young had run from the bench to get a closer look at the goal line plays and that was when he descended on his QB, fervently pointing the name on the back of his jersey to television cameras. You know his name, he was saying … and maybe even spell it right next time.
Washington missed the subsequent two-point conversion, but it doesn’t matter: the score was 18-16. During the NBC broadcast, secondary reporter Kathryn Tappen shared an anecdote about how during Heinicke’s 16-day stint on the New England practice team in 2017, she had walked into QB’s meeting room at [insert impressive-sounding early-morning hour here] and discovered Brady, who had no idea who the young quarterback was. Now, improbably, Heinicke’s team was behind Tom Brady’s by just two points. Everything was possible!
The fun seemed to be over when, early in the fourth quarter, Heinicke retreated to the locker room, wincing, as an even greener Washington quarterback, rookie Steven Montez, began to warm up. Heinicke spread his left shoulder on that touchdown dip, but still managed his Lamar Jackson-style moment. He returned to the field with a bandaged shoulder and a deficit now of 12 points to close. Minutes later, Heinicke found Steven Sims on a corner path, placing the ball where his receiver could secure it in front of the defender and still with two feet on the field. Did a quarterback who signed with the team on December 8 really do that? A verklempt Brady, who was yelling “incomplete!” from the Bucs’ sideline, he certainly hoped he hadn’t. But the play survived a review and the touchdown held.
Whether this game came down to Heinicke’s final possession – after a field goal by the Bucs, Washington recovered the ball within three minutes, losing by eight points – will certainly be a matter of study for the Bucs. , whose seasonal aspirations would require three more wins, against clubs that are far more proven than the soccer team. But for us viewers, this was a pleasure. This game looked like it was going to be a dream. Young and Washington’s front against Brady appeared to be the only potential intrigue. But then Heinicke emerged, raising the bar for reserve quarterback play, let alone fourth-stringers.
There’s probably something to take away here about the flaws in the way the NFL evaluates and develops young quarterbacks, that someone capable of a charming performance like this started the year as a backup in the XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks. . There is certainly a teaching point that coaches will use for years to make the most of their opportunity, whenever it presents itself. There is also great potential for math major who studied partial differential equations be next Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard.
An incomplete at fourth and 21 with two minutes to go ended Heinicke’s night and Washington’s season, but this performance ensured his NFL shot will continue. And millions of viewers now can’t wait for the next time we see Heinicke perform, a feeling that, like so many things in our world, would have made absolutely no sense a year ago.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.