SNIDER: Commanders learn to let Heinicke be himself

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Years from now, when people struggle to remember this forgettable era when the Washington Redskins became the Commanders and owner Dan Snyder bunkered down after ruining the franchise, one person's mention will bring a smile – Taylor Heinicke.

It's not that Heinicke is the next Sonny Jurgensen. More like the next Billy Kilmer. But, fans love someone who outplays his own talent and hungers to win as much as fans.

Heinicke was on the bench of a short-lived spring league who only came to Washington as its fourth quarterback in 2020. But from a magical playoff loss to Sunday's upset over Green Bay, Heinicke continues to show he's not afraid to silence doubters with the final ounces of his ability. The math major believes 2 + 2 = 5 when it comes to his play and some days it does.

"I don't care about the doubters," he said. "I don't care what they have to say. I care about the people who believe in me and I want to prove them right.

"Two years ago, I was out of the league, so every time I go out onto that field it's an opportunity for me to go play and play like it's my last time. Because, you never know."

Ironically, the Commanders tried to make Heinicke into a statue like predecessor Carson Wentz. When that barely netted 10 points by halftime, largely because of a special teams play, the Commanders remembered Heinicke lives on the edge.

"I play best when I don't think too much," he said. "I just go out there and kind of react."

Heinicke's opening pass in the third quarter was a rollout to Dax Milne for four yards. The drive ended when Heinicke threw a pass no one thought he could, a dime to the end zone corner that Terry McLaurin grabbed for a 37-yard touchdown.

OK, the old Taylor was back after sitting the first six games. Just needed a half to shake off the rust. The 17-14 lead went to 20-14 on the next series, then 23-14 on the following possession.

The final numbers were fair – 20 of 33 for 201 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and an 85.5 rating. Once again, Heinicke outplayed a legendary opponent in beating Packers passer Aaron Rodgers, whose postgame remarks to the former were lost to a star-struck son of a Green Bay fan.

Heinicke will never lead the league in passing, but he has become a beloved passer in Washington over three seasons. The team just needs to let him play the best he can and hope for the best.

"Taylor has a lot of energy in the way he approaches playing this game of football," McLaurin said, "and you can just tell he plays free spirited. I think it's a lot of what he's been through in his career as a player and as a person. He plays like it's his last game every single time. I think that energy spreads throughout this team and you just want to be able to make that play to elevate him. . . . The energy he brings to our sideline I think is huge. We are very fortunate to have him on our team and we're going to keep trying to do all we can to support him."

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks.

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