About 2 months ago, quarterback Taylor Heinicke was taking online classes at Old Dominion University.
Three weeks later, he nearly led the Washington Football Team to a second-half comeback with the NFC East title on the line.
And two weeks after that, he went toe-to-toe with Tom Brady and the Super Bowl winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wild Card Round.
Having been out of the NFL for more than 15 months, all Heinicke wanted to do was find a way back into the league. Washington gave him that chance by signing him to the practice squad Dec. 8, and now the team is giving him another opportunity to build off his unforgettable run. On Wednesday, the team re-signed Heinicke to a two-year deal, ensuring the 27-year-old signal-caller will be around as Washington looks to build on a promising first season under head coach Ron Rivera.
"It's a good feeling," Heinicke told Senior Vice President of Media & Content Julie Donaldson. "Everyone knows I was at home taking math classes...so for this contact to come, it's a big sigh of relief. I'm really excited. This is the place I wanted to be, so everything came together pretty smoothly, and I'm really excited to be back."
Heinicke earned a new contract for the way he prepared and performed since joining the team as it's "quarantine quarterback" for the final quarter of the regular season. Washington was Heinicke's fifth team since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2015, so he knew it was now or never to prove he still belonged in this league.
"There's a few times when you look back at your NFL career and you wonder, 'Could I have worked harder, could I have prepared better?'" Heinicke said. "And when I came to Washington, that wasn't going to be a thought I was going to have after this season. Every second that I was there, even when I got home, was dedicated to if I got this shot, I want to get back in. It's a dream of mine. You learn some things throughout the years, and you take it and leave it, and I feel like I'm a better person because of that."
Heinicke's rise happened rapidly. He signed to the team's active roster Dec. 19, and eight days later, made his Washington debut in the fourth quarter of a Week 16 matchup with the Carolina Panthers. Facing a 20-6 deficit with about nine minutes to play, Heinicke nearly mounted a comeback with the NFC East hanging in the balance. Washington still lost by seven points, but Heinicke completed 12 of his 19 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. He also added 22 rushing yards on three carries.
Veteran quarterback Alex Smith returned to lead Washington to a division-clinching win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17, but he was unable to play against Tampa Bay because of a lingering calf injury.
Enter Heinicke, who introduced himself to the nation versus the greatest quarterback of all time in Brady. The Buccaneers ultimately pulled out a 31-23 victory, but Heinicke did everything he could to keep Washington competitive in his second-career start. He finished the game 26-of-44 passing for 306 yards, a touchdown and an interception. On the ground, he complied 46 yards on six carries, one of which was an acrobatic scramble that resulted in an eight-yard diving score.
"A lot of things kind of worked in my way," Heinicke said of his superb performance that night. He went onto explain that he had worked with offensive coordinator Scott Turner for multiple seasons, so he did not have to learn a new offense. He also credits the offensive line, which allowed just two sacks against a defense that gobbled up the likes of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and and Patrick Mahomes on its way to championship glory.
Turner was a big reason Heinicke wanted to re-sign with Washington. He was the only quarterbacks coach in the NFL to attend Heinicke's pro day, and he helped bring Heinicke to Minnesota in 2015, Carolina in 2018 and Washington in 2020. Rivera was also familiar with Heinicke having coached him with the Panthers in 2018.
And even though Heinicke was only with Washington for the final month of the season, he wanted to be a part of what Rivera and the rest of the coaching staff was building.
"I love the group of guys that we have here. I just feel like the chemistry is there, and that's not something you find at every team, so I definitely wanted to be back in Washington."
Heinicke is looking forward to competing at quarterback this offseason, but he ultimately wants to help the team in any way he can. "Whether that's playing, being a backup, anything; I'm just excited to be on the team."
As for his engineering degree? That will have to wait.
"I actually got the final grades back a couple of days ago, and thank God I passed the finals," Heinicke said. "Two more classes to go before I graduate, those professors worked pretty well with me."