- The Washington Times
Thursday, September 16, 2021

LANDOVER — Taylor Heinicke couldn’t make things neat because nothing is rarely ever neat for the Washington Football Team. In his first start after Ryan Fitzpatrick’s injury, the Washington quarterback committed a mistake so major that even those who loved to label the former starter “FitzTragic” would blush. 

Ahead in a close game with an opportunity to shut the door, Heinicke did the unthinkable: He threw an interception. Inside Washington’s territory, at the 20-yard line, no less.

But the New York Giants, it turns out, know how to make a mistake or two, too. 

After Heinicke’s interception, the Giants settled for a field goal — leaving Heinicke time to engineer a drive that set up a game-winning 43-yard field goal as Washington pulled out a 30-29 victory over its NFC East rival in front of a raucous Thursday-night crowd at FedEx Field. 

That final drive was helped out enormously in the final seconds when the Giants committed a crucial offsides penalty that moved kicker Dustin Hopkins’ 48-yard attempt to a 43-yarder. Hopkins, too, missed the 48-yarder before the flag thrown on the field was revealed to be an offsides penalty by the Giants

The wild swing gave Washington its first win of the year. Heinicke threw for 336 yards on 34 of 46 passing for two touchdowns and an interception.

The team snapped a five-game losing streak to the Giants, beating quarterback Daniel Jones for the first time in his three-year career.  Jones threw for 249 yards and was sacked four times. 

For the Giants, Washington went with its white-on-white uniforms. Last year, the team reserved them for what coach Ron Rivera called “big games.” Washington broke them out starting with its primetime game against the Pittsburgh Steelers last December — an upset that paved the way for Washington to finish the season strong and clinch the NFC East. And they were the uniforms that Washington wore in the playoffs, when Heinicke thrilled in a losing effort against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

So on Thursday, Washington again donned the look — signifying this was a big game. The team, after all, was looking to avoid an 0-2 start and were matched up with a divisional foe. 

And at first, Washington seemed unprepared for the moment. On the first two drives of the contest, the team stumbled through a comedy of errors.

Heinicke tripped over his two feet and took a 16-yard sack. The defense, as it did in the season opener, gave up multiple third-down conversions, including a long third-and-10. And Jones, whose threat as a runner was a point of emphasis, punished the Burgundy and Gold on a 6-yard quarterback draw for a touchdown. 

But Washington answered with better execution on both sides of the ball. Backed to the 10-yard line, Heinicke found a rhythm by throwing to star wide receiver Terry McLaurin and by attacking New York’s defense with play-action. The 28-year-old capped off a 13-play, 90-yard drive with an 11-yard strike to McLaurin.

On defense, Washington was able to finally generate pressure upfront. Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen led an interior push, sacking Jones twice. The Giants’ offensive line was already a problem for New York — and the unit got even thinner in the first quarter when left guard Nick Gates went down with a horrific leg injury.

Jones led New York to another scoring drive in the second quarter thanks to a 48-yard run, but Washington held the Giants to a field goal. 

Washington went into halftime with a 14-10 lead due to another lengthy drive. Over 12 plays, Heinicke led the offense and Washington got contributions from the run game. Running back J.D. McKissic punched in a two-yard score with 21 seconds left in the second.

For whatever success Washington enjoyed in the first half, the Giants countered after halftime. The biggest problem for Washington? An inability to consistently make stops on third down. 

Jones extended play after play, marching down the field —eventually catching Washington off guard with a deep shot. Jones connected with wideout Darius Slayton for a 33-yard score, burning cornerback William Jackson III to give the Giants a 23-17 lead.

Heinicke responded with a drive that stalled out just inside the red zone, with Rivera making the decision to settle for a 37-yard field goal on fourth-and-3 from New York’s 19-yard line. 

Trusting his defense to get a stop, Rivera was rewarded — somewhat. On what would have been an easy touchdown, Slayton dropped the potentially game-sealing score in the end zone. But the Giants still were able to knock in a 55-yard field goal to give them a six-point cushion  (26-20) with 4:50 left. 

Heinicke then gave Washington the lead with a remarkable two-play, 75-yard drive that was the result of a 56-yard pass to McKissic and a 19-yard touchdown to tight end Ricky Seals Jones.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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