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It may have been the last time we will see the team with no name for many months, but the Washington Football team did accomplish something significant last night.
They were fun to watch. They gave us hope. They might have even found a quarterback.
If so, it will mark an important step for the team, as it has been a constant weakness for this franchise for decades. I don’t care who your favorite team is, if they don’t have a quarterback with “it”, that ability to get in the huddle and against all odds, come to the line of scrimmage and make a big throw when you need it most, your team isn’t going anywhere.
Look back to the glory years of the team called the Washington Redskins. For 8 straight years, it was Joe Theismann. Jay Schroeder held the job for two years with a major Super Bowl assist from Doug Williams, then it was 5 straight years of Mark Rypien. They had stability at the position, so there were guys who knew the offense, inspired confidence the plays would work, and more often than not, got it done.
Last night, they were facing the king of longevity and consistency at QB in Tampa’s Tom Brady. He’s played so long, a graphic during the game informed that he was now older than George Blanda, the previous king of playing forever. The major difference, however, is Tom still looks young enough to play. George always looked like he was in his 80s, had just finished smoking a pack of Lucky Strikes and drinking a 6-pack of Carling Black Label, all while yelling in a raspy voice “come on, let’s line up, I’ve got somewhere to be tonight.”
Because of Brady, I didn’t expect Washington to win, which they didn’t. But I also wasn’t expecting to see Taylor Heinicke shine so bright on the big stage.
He didn’t disappoint. In fact, I might even go as far as to say he convinced me he has “it.”
He reminded everyone that it’s not how strong your arm is or how high you are taken in the draft, it’s your ability to process information, see what you’re facing, and quickly decide where to go with the ball. It has been Alex Smith’s strength, and it’s why even with a beaten and battered body, he still performed better this season than the other QBs on the roster. Knowing where to go with the ball on one leg still trumps having no clue with two.
Heinicke immediately showed he knew. He completed 26 of 44 for 306 yards and a touchdown on a night the offensive line played more like a screen door than the front door. Several times, when friends of mine were texting “it’s over,” Heinicke got the offense down the field to score and keep the game in question. Even on his final offensive play of the night, he had the awareness to realize everyone was covered, it was 4th down, and the best chance he had was to throw to the tallest guy on the field who was past the first down sticks – Logan Thomas – and maybe he might be able to outjump the two defenders for the ball.
All while trying to fight off the pain of a separated left AC joint while being chased around by Tampa’s defensive line.
That’s having “it.”
After watching the game, I found myself hungry to see how well Heinicke can do with a team he’s been with for more than a month, not battling a painful injury, and maybe even an offensive line that blocks more often than it doesn’t. He could be the answer, but I don’t know. He certainly has shown flashes of brilliance in his two appearances this season, and has a swagger you need to play the position, as he exhibited when he told Chase Young “this is what I do.”
But this has happened several times in team history. Heath Shuler was the No. 3 pick in the 1994 draft and was the immediate starter, but had this bad habit of locking in on his primary receiver and ignoring everyone else. An injury caused him to miss a game with Indianapolis, and unheralded Gus Frerotte came off the bench to show the world what an offense looks like when you throw to the second and third reads. Washington won that day 41-27.
Gus went back to the bench, but ended up the starter in 1995, 1996 and 1997. They made it to a 9-7 record in 1996 and he gave some stability at the position. But while he was better than the others on the roster, he was not the answer.
Then another first-round draft choice arrived at QB in 2007: Jason Campbell. He was better than Shuler, but seemed to also lack that “it” quality. He was injured in a loss to the Chicago Bears that left the team 5-7, and in came backup Todd Collins. With Collins having a much better command of the offense, the team won 4 straight, finished at 9-7 and made the playoffs, losing to Seattle.
The streak was so impressive to Washington management, Collins wasn’t even on the roster at the beginning of the next season.
So who knows? Heinicke may have shown he can be a bedrock of the offense for years to come. Or, as history has shown, he may not even be on the roster next season. I could see another team deciding to offer more money and stability. I can equally see Washington management, with stars in its eyes, go sign a name QB on the downside of his career – cough, cough, Cam Newton, cough, cough – and we plunge back into a replay of years’ past.
But at least for one night, when the world said Washington had no chance, a young gunslinger with no fear showed Tampa “this is what I do.”
He gave us hope until the final minutes. He even gave us hope for next season.
He made watching the team with no name fun to watch.
Just like the old days.