LANDOVER — The thought crossed Logan Thomas’ mind because how could it not? This was a new season — a season that was supposed to be different — and there Ryan Fitzpatrick was, on the ground in pain. Not even halfway through the second quarter. Of Game 1. Another quarterback hurt.
The Washington tight end acknowledged thinking the obvious: Here we go again.
“It’s the same old story,” Thomas said. “Just like last year.”
Fitzpatrick left Washington’s 20-16 loss Sunday to the Los Angeles Chargers at FedEx Field and did not return. He was officially diagnosed with a hip injury, and coach Ron Rivera did not provide any additional updates — such as whether the 38-year-old will be able to play in just a matter of days when Washington hosts the New York Giants on “Thursday Night Football.”
The injury overshadowed just about every aspect of the game, including the fact that Washington had a chance to win after briefly holding a second-half lead.
It hardly mattered that running back Antonio Gibson fumbled away the ball near Washington’s own end zone to set up the Chargers’ go-ahead score. Or that Washington’s top-rated defense was so bad at getting off the field that the team tied a franchise record for most third-down conversions allowed with 14.
Instead, Sunday’s game was all about the quarterback. Just like it has been for this franchise for years, if not decades.
Fitzpatrick, after all, was Washington’s ninth quarterback under center since Kirk Cousins’ departure in 2018. The team signed the 38-year-old journeyman to a one-year, $10 million deal in the offseason because Rivera felt he could help take Washington to the next level after a promising playoff campaign. Fitzpatrick was supposed to lift an offense that was among the league’s worst in 2020.
Instead, Fitzpatrick’s debut in Burgundy and Gold resulted in this: A 3-of-6 stat line for 13 yards. And an injured hip.
“When I went out there to talk to (an injured Fitzpatrick), he said, ‘Man, this is only the third time I’ve ever had to leave the field’,” said backup Taylor Heinicke, Fitzpatrick’s replacement. “So it was surprising for all of us.”
Maybe, Washington’s doctors will clear Fitzpatrick on Monday, making the injury a minor blip in a long 17-game season. Fitzpatrick, as Heinicke said, has been durable over his 17-year career — his most serious injury was in 2014 when he suffered a season-ending broken leg late in the year. Fitzpatrick, too, has a history of playing through pain: He finished off the 2011 season despite cracked ribs that, ironically, he suffered in a game against Washington.
But Washington can only go off the information available. And right now, they’re left with Heinicke and Kyle Allen, the third-stringer who was inactive Sunday.
Heinicke’s been here before. Like last year in the playoffs, Heinicke stepped up and played well — 11 of 15 for 122 yards and a touchdown. He engineered a second-half comeback, helping Washington take a 16-13 lead in the third quarter thanks to an eight-play, 81-yard drive with big catches from wideout Terry McLaurin and Thomas. McLaurin, in particular, hauled in an impressive 34-yard catch down the sideline to get Washington in scoring position.
On Sunday, multiple players and Rivera noted how Heinicke provided a spark. The crowd at FedEx Field eagerly chanted “Hein-icke! Hein-icke!” throughout the game, rooting for the fan favorite who dazzled in last year’s playoffs loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Back then, of course, Heinicke got the start over Alex Smith and then re-signed with Washington on a multi-year contract soon after.
Heinicke, who contemplated quitting football and was finishing his degree before joining Washington last fall, described the past year as a “rollercoaster.” His ability to improvise jolted the offense, and if Fitzpatrick has to miss time, going with Heinicke may not be the worst thing.
“There is something about Taylor,” Rivera said, “that’s a huge positive, that brings a little something.”
But Washington has other problems to address entering the Giants game.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (337 yards) sliced up a Washington secondary that ranked second in passing yards a year ago. Rivera said the team’s issues boiled down to players playing in the wrong spots and missing assignments. “You’ve got guys where they’re not supposed to be defensively,” he said.
On offense, Washington failed to capitalize on the two turnovers that the team’s defense did manage to produce. Kicker Dustin Hopkins missed a 51-yarder in the third that would have extended the lead, while Gibson fumbled inside Washington’s three-yard line right after cornerback William Jackson III picked off Herbert.
This was not the performance that many fans were eager to see. After a season without fans due to the pandemic, a crowd of 52,753 was amped for the return of football. That figure was far from a sellout, but the fans brought energy — chanting defense from the opening snap and even breaking out in a “Let’s go Redskins” chant at one point, despite the team’s name change.
But when the Chargers converted one last third down to clinch the game, people started heading for the exits early.
No one would blame them for wondering if a new season was already lost before it barely got started.
“It sucks man,” Thomas said. “(Fitzpatrick’s) been at war with us since the spring as well. This guy is giving it his all every day. You know, leader of our team and obviously he’s gonna be missed.”