Despite a 31-23 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, quarterback Taylor Heinicke, defensive tackle Daron Payne and wide receiver Terry McLaurin kept the Washington Football Team in the game during its Wild Card matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here's how they performed on Saturday night:
Game Ball No. 1: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke
Believe it or not, this was only Heinicke's second start in the NFL. After stepping foot onto the national stage, Heinicke seized the moment. He completing 26 of his 44 passes for 306 yards and a touchdown, becoming only the sixth quarterback in Washington history to amass 300 yards passing in a postseason contest, joining Kirk Cousins, Mark Rypien, Doug Williams, Joe Theismann and Sammy Baugh. On top of that, Heinicke led the team with 46 rushing yards all while picking up a rushing touchdown, joining Kirk Cousins as the only two quarterbacks in Washington franchise history to record a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown in a single playoff contest.
After Washington was able to recover a fumble in the third quarter, momentum shifted in Washington's favor as Heinicke was able to move his offense quickly down the field. On 3rd-and-5 at Tampa Bay's 8-yard line, Heinicke took the snap, scrambled around trying to find a receiver open in the end zone, somehow managed to escape pressure from the Bucs' defensive line and then dove for the pylon to pull Washington within 18-16. zone to put
Head coach Ron Rivera said Heinicke's performance was gutsy and that he created an opportunity for himself. His teammates also rallied around him, which almost led to Washington pulling the upset. "They respect guys that that go out there and play hard, work hard and give it their all. It was easy to get behind a guy like that."
Game Ball No. 2: Defensive Tackle Daron Payne
Payne had a night against Tom Brady and the Bucs, putting the defense on his back at times during the primetime matchup. Payne ended the night with five combined tackles, two sacks for a loss of 14 yards and a forced fumble. Payne became the third player in Washington history with two-plus sacks and a forced fumble in a playoff game and the first since Sam Shade in 2000 against the Lions.
With the Bucs leading, 18-10, in the third quarter and Brady making his way into Washington territory to extending their lead, Payne punched the ball out of the hands of running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn. Linebacker Jon Bostic recovered the fumble, and on the ensuring possession, Washington scored to pull within two points.
After the game, Payne reflected on this third year in Washington and what's to come from this resilient team. "I was really excited by the way the team competed. We didn't just lay down at the beginning of the season when things were going bad. We just kept fighting. I think there's a lot to build on going into the offseason. I'm really excited to see what we're going to bring to the table next year."
Game Ball No. 3: Wide Receiver Terry McLaurin
McLaurin has been battling a high-ankle sprain for the past three weeks, but after "a lot of mental toughness and prayers," McLaurin worked his way back onto the field for Washington's playoff matchup. McLaurin made crucial catches to help Washington work their way down the field, putting them in the red zone on several occasions. He finished his final game of the season with six receptions for 75 yards.
After Tampa Bay went up 9-0, Washington's offense found momentum and went on a roll. Heinicke was able to find McLaurin 18 yards to pick up their second consecutive first down. This play put Washington at Tampa Bay's 33 yard line, and eight plays later Washington was able to find the end zone to cut its deficit to two.
McLaurin's injury was a tough mental hurdle, as the second year wide receiver had several "why me" moments. Once he got out of that mindset, he started taking his recovery process day-by-day, and things started to take a turn for the better. "I started making turns and just looking my teammates in the face and knowing that this could be the end for us. I couldn't end the season not playing. I played through some pain but that's part of it. I would do it twice over again."
Check out photos of the Washington Football Team during its Wild Card matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Photos courtesy of Amanda Bowen/NFL, Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team and Elijah Griffin Sr./Washington Football)