LANDOVER — Not many things in the NFL are scarier than giving the ball back to Tom Brady with a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter.
That possibility is what Washington faced when its offense took over with 10:55 remaining, up four points over the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
But the seven-time Super Bowl champion quarterback never got the opportunity at a comeback, as Washington’s offense went on a 19-play scoring drive to seal the 29-19 victory.
Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke — whose NFL bonafides entering Sunday began and ended with his admirable performance in the team’s playoff loss to Tampa Bay last season — orchestrated the 80-yard scoring drive that churned nearly 10 and a half minutes off the clock.
“It was huge,” Heinicke said of the game-sealing drive. “I think we did a great job of getting in the huddle and saying this was our game to lose. We’re still up by four, let’s go end it right now. … Everyone had a part in it, and that was really nice to see.”
No drive in the NFL this season has taken up more time than the 10:26 Washington killed, and the 19 plays is tied for the most this season. According to Stathead, the drive was the second longest in the fourth quarter since 2001, which is as far back as the database’s records go.
Washington converted four third downs and a fourth down — a drive-ending 1-yard touchdown run from Antonio Gibson — on the offensive trek. Heinicke converted three of the four third downs, one on a 3-yard scamper and the other two on completions to Adam Humphries and Terry McLaurin. Overall, Washington converted on 11 of 19 third downs and both of its fourth downs in the win.
“He’s a great football player,” said Tampa Bay linebacker Devin White when asked about Heinicke’s success on third downs Sunday. “I talked to him after the game and told him I love his game. I love his tenacity just to keep plays alive for his squad and find the person.”
Of all the conversions, none injected more energy into the fans at FedEx Field than McLaurin’s 6-yard reception on third-and-5 to put Washington inside the 10-yard line.
McLaurin caught the slant pass right past the first-down line and was hammered by Tampa Bay safety Jordan Whitehead. The third-year receiver was slow to get up, but after a few seconds on the ground, he got up and pounded his chest to pump up the home crowd.
“We had a feeling they were going to run Cover-0. They were blitzing everybody. Whenever you have a one-on-one with Terry, you take it,” Heinicke said. “He’s a great player and he made a great catch. He got blasted there, I thought he was a little woozy. But for dramatic effect, he got up and started banging his chest. The crowd loved that.”
Washington coach Ron Rivera then had a fourth-down decision to make at the end of the drive. Facing fourth-and-goal at Tampa Bay’s 1-yard line with 31 seconds remaining, Rivera decided to go for the dagger. It was a win-win, he later said.
“Why not try and win it right there?,” Rivera said. “And if we don’t get it, they have to go 99 [yards] and score a touchdown. At that point, with the way we were playing, I was inspired by our guys.”
Heinicke ended the game with one of the best statistical lines of his short NFL career, completing 26 of 32 passes for 256 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers. His 110.4 passer rating is the second highest of his career — behind only his three-touchdown game against Atlanta earlier this year — and ends his streak of four straight games with a rating south of 90.
His performance, culminating in the 19-play drive, also ended the team’s four-game losing streak.
“A win against anybody is nice, let alone against Tampa Bay, the defending Super Bowl champ,” Heinicke said. “It’s a big win for us. It’s something to build off of, and the confidence going into this next week will be huge.”
• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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