Ron Rivera named Taylor Heinicke as the starting quarterback for the Washington Football Team's Thursday game against the New York Giants and will place Ryan Fitzpatrick on Injured Reserve with a hip subluxation.
Heinicke, who the team signed in December last year as an emergency option, is known best by the Washington fanbase for his postseason heroics that nearly upended the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in last year's Wild Card round. Heinicke will make his first regular season start since 2018. Kyle Allen will serve as the backup.
"I think our guys will rally around him," Rivera said of Heinicke during his Monday press conference. "He plays a little bit like his hair's on fire and plays a little bit like a gunslinger. But I think...he's matured a little bit. He understands what he has to do and how he has to do it. I'm excited to see what's going to happen."
Heinicke is always excited to play, but he admitted the situation in which he had to take over Washington's offense was not ideal. Fitzpatrick took a hit from Uchenna Nwosu at the start of the fourth series of Washington's season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers. As Fitzpatrick walked off the field and into the locker room, Heinicke began warming up with center Chase Roullier.
After a pair of incompletions, Heinicke started to settle in and kept Washington's in the game. He completed 3-of-4 passes in the following series and pushed the offense into field goal range to close the Chargers' lead down to four points at halftime.
Heinicke finished the game 11-of-15 for 122 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown to Logan Thomas that gave Washington a 16-13 lead at the start of the third quarter.
"I thought he made some good decisions," Rivera said. "He ran when he was supposed to run and a couple times...he thought about running and turning up. He didn't, and went out of bounds."
Heinicke wanted to use the offseason as an opportunity to get stronger and make quicker decisions. It was a much longer time period for him to prepare, considering how quickly he was thrown into the lineup last year, when he had to replace Dwayne Haskins in the second half of the Week 16 matchup against the Carolina Panthers and was then told a few days before Washington's playoff game that he would be replacing Alex Smith.
"I feel like I just have that mindset to come into the facility every day and just try to get that one percent better," Heinicke said. "So that when your time is called, you'll be prepared. Again, that goes to the coaches and players listening to each other and helping each other out."
There are several differences between the skillsets of Heinicke and Fitzpatrick, most noticeably Fitzpatrick's mobility compared to Heinicke's mobility. That doesn't bother Rivera in terms of formulating a game plan around the former Old Dominion signal-caller, because he knows Heinicke can handle himself.
"What we do offensively," Rivera said, "both those guys have the capability to do … We called the same plays for both those guys. There really isn't any difference in the way the plays are being called by Scott Turner.”
Heinicke could not pull out a win on Sunday, as Washington dropped a 20-16 loss to the Chargers. It only highlights the importance of the NFC East matchup against the Giants on Thursday, but like Rivera, Heinicke's teammates are confident he can manage the starting role.
"He's a little more comfortable," Thomas said. "He understands the flow of the offense. He knows what he's supposed to do, and obviously he's got his own little flavor to it."