Despite a 20-16 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in the season opener, quarterback Taylor Heinicke, cornerback William Jackson III and defensive end Montez Sweat provided a spark and promise in the back-and-forth game at FedExField. Here's how they performed on Sunday afternoon:
Game Ball No. 1: Taylor Heinicke
In the third quarter, the FedExField faithful broke out into chants of "Heinicke! Heinicke!" The impetus for the shout? Washington's backup quarterback out of Atlanta was showing off what the fanbase loves about him.
Washington was dealt a significant blow with nine minutes to play in the second quarter. Ryan Fitzpatrick was forced off with an apparent hip injury after a big hit from Chargers linebacker Uchenna Nwosu. While leaving the field, Fitzpatrick tapped Heinicke's helmet, giving him some assurance as the backup took his place.
Being thrust into the game would have been difficult for many, but Heinicke took the substitution in stride. The backup did not need much time to find his footing. Heinicke's scrambling helped keep plays alive as he helped the offense adjust and regain momentum. Heinicke completed 3-of-4 passes for 42 yards during Washington's only touchdown drive of the game. It was highlighted by a improbable 37-yard completion to Terry McLaurin and capped off with an 11-yard score by Logan Thomas.
Late in the third quarter, Heinicke flaunted his creativity, much to the delight of the crowd, with a 17-yard shovel pass to McLaurin while scrambling to get out of trouble. Heinicke finished the game 11-of-15 for 122 yards and a touchdown.
Game Ball No. 2: William Jackson III
Washington signed Jackson to be a physical man-to-man corner who could create turnovers with his coverage. For the most part, Jackson did exactly that.
Jackson was credited with four tackles and two pass deflections when Justin Herbert targeted him on back-to-back plays in the third quarter. His best moment, though, came in the fourth as the Chargers were marching down the field down to Washington's 20 yard line.
After converting a 3rd-and-7 to Keenan Allen on the right sideline, Herbert decided to look in that direction, this time targeting tight end Stephen Anderson. Unfortunately for Herbert, Jackson read the play to perfection and snagged the pass just before Anderson could get his hands on it, giving Washington's offense the ball at its own 4-yard line.
Game Ball No. 3: Montez Sweat
The spotlight was always going to be on Washington's defense heading into Sunday's game, and while it was an up-and-down start for the unit, there were moments where it showed off its talent.
Sweat is a big reason for that hype, and he came up with some key plays to show why. He finished the game with four tackles and forced a turnover when Washington needed it.
With just under six minutes to play in the third quarter, Sweat disrupted the Chargers offense yet again on the edge of a touchdown. Sweat spoiled Herbert's throw intended for tight end Jared Cook by batting Herbert's hand just before his release. The ball flew through the back of the end zone, and while it looked like an incompletion, the official ruled that Herbert had fumbled the ball, meaning the play ended in a touchback and gave Washington the ball at the 20-yard line.