- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2021

ORCHARD PARK, N. Y. — Taylor Heinicke came into the press conference sans his Fleetwood Mac T-shirt. No sign of the iconic Jimi Hendrix graphic shirt the quarterback has in his collection. Instead, the Washington quarterback sported just a team-branded pullover. To go along with his slight limp and down demeanor. 

“We’ll have a lot to learn,” Heinicke said after Sunday’s 43-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills

If Week 2’s performance against the Giants was a glimpse of how well Heinicke can play at this level, then his performance Sunday against the Bills was a wake-up call about how much further the 28-year-old has to go. Heinicke threw for 212 yards and had a total of three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing). But he also had two interceptions and completed only 58.3% of his passes. 

Heinicke was hardly the main problem for Washington — the defense gave up 43 points, after all — but coach Ron Rivera said the quarterback “pressed a little bit” and tried to force the ball into contested windows that led to the turnovers. 

Sunday marked the first road start of the 2015 undrafted free agent’s career.

“When he’s pressing, he’s trying to make plays to try to make things happen,” Rivera said. “We had a couple of calls where, if he takes what’s given to him, we had a chance to get the first down whereas if he tries to force it inside for a first down and the ball gets knocked down. Those are the little things that he’s got to learn to be comfortable with. 

“But I’m not going to fault anybody for giving everything he’s got.”

The reason Heinicke found himself pressing, at times, was obvious: Washington had to gain a lot of ground. And quickly. 

For instance, on Heinicke’s first interception, the Bills were already up 14-0 just after the start of the second quarter.  So just three plays into Washington’s next drive, Heinicke tried to make a spectacular play: With the offensive line giving him time, Heinicke stepped up in the pocket to see wide receiver Terry McLaurin open.

But by the time Heinicke fired the ball, the pass went right to Bills safety Jordan Poyer. Poyer abandoned his assignment on Logan Thomas to jump the route. 

“When things break down, (I’ve got to) just be very smart with the ball,” Heinicke said. “There’s big plays to be had, but at the same time, there are bad plays to be had. And I just got to eliminate that.”

The turnover was costly because it helped set up another Bills score, with Buffalo jumping out to a 21-0 lead. 

Heinicke‘s second interception was also troubling because it was another turnover in Washington’s own territory, similar to his late-game turnover in last week’s win over the Giants. Like last time, Washington’s defense held the opposing offense to just a field goal. But in this instance, the interception, caught by safety Micah Hyde at Washington’s 28-yard line, was the result of a poor throw into triple coverage.

“When you’re down by 20 points, you want to make something happen,” Heinicke said. “I just have to realize one possession at a time, one play at a time. And as long we keep going down and scoring, we’ll be in the game.”

Heinicke did have his moments. In the second half, he took advantage of the blocking up front and started to extend plays with his feet. That helped keep more plays alive. And on Washington’s final possession, Heinicke led a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a two-yard touchdown throw to Thomas. 

On that series, Rivera said he wanted Heinicke to run the offense as normal. Though Washington was down considerably, he said he did not want Heinicke to run a no-huddle, tempo offense but rather take his time to hone in on his execution.

Rivera seemed pleased with the effort. Even then, however, was a teaching moment for Heinicke. Just before the touchdown, he was blasted out of bounds on a hit that he didn’t see coming. 

Heinicke was trying to make a play by scrambling, but in retrospect, Heinicke said he should have gone out of bounds earlier. 

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily those extra two yards — to get to the 3 instead of the 5 — makes that much of a difference in that situation,” Heinicke said. “Just getting out of bounds, not taking that hit.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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