- The Washington Times
Sunday, December 4, 2022

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  —  Taylor Heinicke makes certain throws that cause spectators — even his own teammates and coaches — to shake their heads in disbelief. 

That’s the case when he narrowly avoids a catastrophic turnover. And it’s especially true when he makes the kinds of “can-you-believe-that-just-happened?” passes that the Washington Commanders quarterback is seemingly good for once or twice per game. 

And on Sunday, those passes came at just the right time — even if the final result wasn’t what Washington wanted.

The Commanders and the New York Giants settled for a 20-20 tie on Sunday at MetLife Stadium after Giants kicker Graham Gano missed a 58-yarder as time expired. But Washington wouldn’t have even been in that position if not for three unbelievable completions from Heinicke that fueled a fourth-quarter, game-tying comeback with minutes left in regulation. 

Down 7 with 3:43 left, Heinicke led an eight-play, 90-yard drive that featured some of his best passes in a Washington uniform. 

The first came on fourth-and-4 when Heinicke evaded the oncoming pass rush, ran to the outside and hit Curtis Samuel for a 20-yard completion to give the Commanders a new set of downs. 

Heinicke then hit Samuel for another big gain of 25 yards.

With 1:45 left, Heinicke found rookie Jahan Dotson for a dazzling 28-yard touchdown in which the first-rounder spun around defenders to run into the end zone. Dotson’s score and the extra point tied the contest, helping Washington overcome a brutal second half in which the offense had gone mostly flat. 

In overtime, both teams had their chances but ultimately Washington survived. The Commanders did so despite the Giants getting into field goal range with seconds left, setting up a 58-yard try from Gano. Gano’s kick, however, was short — helping the Commanders improve to 7-5-1. 

Heinicke threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns, while hisGiants counterpart, Daniel Jones, had 200 passing yards and a touchdown. 

The two squads will meet again in two weeks after Washington’s bye week.

Sunday’s final score notwithstanding, the differences between the two teams heading into the contest couldn’t have been more stark.

The Commanders had won six of seven while the Giants (7-4-1) had dropped three of four. Oddsmakers named Washington 1½ point favorites. Though Washington started the season 1-4, the Commanders had the opportunity to leap New York in the standings with a victory. 

Early on, the Commanders looked to build upon their momentum after forcing a turnover just four plays into New York’s opening drive.

Jonathan Allen stripped Jones on a scramble, and Linebacker Jamin Davis recovered the ball at New York’s 48-yard line, putting Washington in scoring territory. 

The Commanders, though, were forced to settle for a 21-yard field goal on that drive as Heinicke missed a wide-open Logan Thomas a few plays earlier on a pass that would have likely been an easy touchdown if completed. 

Still, Washington’s defense forced a three-and-out — and the offense responded with an even better series. Running backs Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson helped move the ball down the field with a powerful rushing attack, and when the Commanders got into the red zone, Heinicke found star wideout Terry McLaurin for what was arguably the Commanders’ best play of the afternoon.

Evading pressure on third-and-4, Heinicke needled a tight throw to McLaurin, who evaded the tackle and ran into the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown. The score gave Washington a 10-0 lead with 2:27 left in the first quarter.

But the game was far from over.

The Giants got off to a 5-2 start this season because of their success on the ground. And against the Commanders, New York was able to find success not only with star running back Saquon Barkley but with Jones. 

Jones’ ability to rush helped set up New York’s first score of the game as his 21-yard scramble led to an eventual 48-yarder from Graham Gano. 

On New York’s next series, Jones hurt the Commanders with his arm. The quarterback connected on a 55-yard bomb to wide receiver Darius Slayton on the first play of the drive, setting the tone for a five-play, 81-yard sequence that ended with a 13-yard rushing touchdown from Barkley. 

That tied the game at 10 and both teams traded field goals to go into halftime tied at 13. 

The Giants took control after the half, stripping Heinicke of the ball as he dropped back to throw, leading to a New York recovery inside the red zone. New York had no problem scoring, with Jones finding wideout Isaiah Hodges on a five-yard touchdown to give the Giants a 20-13 lead. 

Needing an answer, the Commanders couldn’t get out of their own way. Gibson misread the ensuing kickoff, an error that caused Washington to take over at its own five-yard line. Washington still held the ball for an additional eight minutes of game time after the poor field position, but managed to only gain a net of 38 yards on 11 plays. 

Penalties and self-inflicted errors didn’t help. The Commanders were called for six of their seven penalties in the second half — losing a total of 39 yards. Joey Slye also missed a 52-yarder that also loomed large, in retrospect. 

But Washington had its chances. Washington’s defense made enough stops to keep the Commanders close and the offense finally rewarded that effort with Heinicke’s touchdown to Dotson

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

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.