Of all the rules a quarterback must follow -- and there are a lot of them -- the one that cautions them against making cross-body throws gets recited more than most.
Heinicke rolled to his left with the Washington Football Team down two points in the final minute of regulation. Rather than throwing up a prayer downfield, which is normally his M.O., Heinicke looked back to his right and fired to an open J.D. McKissic. One broken tackle and a dive later, the running back scored the eventual game-winning touchdown in a 34-30 victory.
The throw was the final play of a 290-yard day for Heinicke through the air. It wasn't Heinicke's first, second or even the third read -- it was actually the fifth -- but it was the right one, and with a dash of Heinicke flare, it came at the right moment. That's the kind of growth Ron Rivera wants to see out of his quarterback.
"The big thing is, and we talked about it, make a play when you have to, and he made several," Rivera said. "We appreciate that, that's for sure."
Heinicke's afternoon against the Falcons -- he completed 23-of-33 passes with three touchdowns -- is a stark contrast from a week ago when he was making ill-advised throws into coverage against the Buffalo Bills and paying for it. Those mistakes are now behind him, and while Washington started out slow again, it wasn't because Heinicke committed headache-inducing interceptions.
As Heinicke started to get going in the second quarter, so too did the offense. He responded to Atlanta's short trip to the end zone for a 10-0 lead by completing five of his next six passes for 75 yards. His final pass of the drive -- a 33-yard touchdown by Terry McLaurin -- was dropped exactly where the third-year wideout needed it.
"It was one of those things I talked about throughout the week just taking what's there," Heinicke said. "So, there's a lot of check downs today and when we don't turn the ball over, we move the ball pretty well."
The numbers back up Heinicke's assertion; after falling into a two-score hole, six of Washington's eight drives ended in points, and the unit outpaced the Falcons in total yardage, 412-374.
It still nearly wasn't enough to give Washington a win with the team staring down a 30-22 deficit with 10 minutes left. The unit needed a game manager and quarterback who wasn't afraid to take his shot. Heinicke supplied both.
After Washington's defense got the Falcons off the field in five plays, Heinicke marched the offense downfield on a 10-play drive eclipsing 70 yards. The exclamation point came at the 17-yard line, when Heinicke wriggled out of a sack before launching the ball to the end zone while falling down. McLaurin got away from the coverage and secured the touchdown.
"When you have a guy like Terry, you want to give him a shot to make a play," Heinicke said. "He makes plays day in, day out so I kind of threw it up to him, let him do his thing and, fortunately, he came down with it."
As wild as the play was, McKissic's dive was the more electrifying of the two, and it was a result of Heinicke making the right decision on a play with his primary targets running deeper routes. All his downfield options were covered, but McKissic had drifted to the other end of the field.
"Initially I thought, 'Hey this is great. It's going to give us better field position,'" Heinicke said. "He broke that first tackle and then he kind of superman-ed into the end zone, which was huge for us if you kind of look at it."
The play had a 10.5% touchdown probability, according to Next Gen Stats. So, McKissic didn't just beat Atlanta's defenders to the end zone; he also beat the odds.
"The last one, that's really just him," Rivera said of Heinicke. "The one thing we told him is you can't have a negative play on that because we were in field goal range. For him to see J.D. [McKissic] on the other side was pretty impressive."
Because of Heinicke, Washington feels better about its 2-2 record heading into its home matchup against the New Orleans Saints instead of scrambling at 1-3. And with a blend of guts and intelligence from Heinicke, it has a chance to be above .500 for the first time this season.