SNIDER: Heinicke becomes an unlikely legend


There is nothing Washington Football Team fans love more than a young quarterback. And if he does nothing else, Taylor Heinicke has joined the team's immortals after beating Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Oh, Heinicke is a long way down the list from Sammy Baugh and Sonny Jurgensen. He has only won three games for Washington. But a playoff loss to Tampa Bay in January and then winning the rematch on Sunday leaps Heinicke past predecessors Babe Laufenberg, Colt Brennan and others who never delivered on promise.

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Heinicke is a baller who looks like nothing special until the lights come on. Unlike predecessors Jeff George and Kirk Cousins, who posted big stats but never won anything, Heinicke is better than the sum of his parts. He's living his best life unafraid to show how special Sunday was when waving to fans exiting the field.

It's watching joy in a game where big money has turned it into a business that makes Heinicke special. He may never be Tom Brady, but Heinicke probably loves the game more because it takes every ounce of energy to succeed.

Succeed? Well, naysayers will say Heinicke is now 3-7, lacks the arm strength to threaten defenses deep and takes too many sacks holding the ball. But, did you see him drop a dime on a touchdown to DeAndre Carter? It's seven points.

Teammates respond to Heinicke because he's genuine. So many high-profile passers don't win the huddle because they're jerks. Offensive linemen watched George get dragged by a defender on a sack. That usually starts a fight. Instead, teammates just walked back to the huddle and waited for him.

Heinicke might be the second coming of Billy Kilmer, who wasn't nearly as polished as predecessor Sonny Jurgensen, but won through grit and battered legs. Nobody was tougher than Kilmer, but here comes a smaller version in Heinicke, who can scamper but prefers to hold on to the ball looking for options. Sometimes too long, but he'll learn to toss the ball away eventually.

And that's what the next eight games are really about – finding next year's quarterback. Maybe Heinicke can prove it should be him, though the franchise would prefer marketing a first-round pick. Yet, a drastically-dwindling fan base may pressure owner Dan Snyder into keeping Heinicke and finding another needed position. That's what the next two months will prove because it's a major long shot that Washington makes the postseason.

If Heinicke isn't the future starter, then turn him into the best No. 2 passer in the league. Heinicke has shown a resemblance to former Washington passer Gus Frerotte in coming into games or to teams and giving his best quickly. New Orleans would grab Heinicke in a second if available, if only to torment its NFC South rival Tampa Bay.

The history of Washington quarterbacks over the last 30 years has been that at least two are often needed each season because of injuries. Heinicke will be invaluable as a No. 2, but now tries to show if he could be No. 1.

After beating Tampa Bay, Heinicke deserves the season to show his full potential.

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

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