- - Monday, December 5, 2022

When I came home from watching the Washington Commanders game with the New York Giants, my wife asked me who won.

“No one,” I said. “It was a tie.”

“A tie?” she said incredulously. “How does that happen?”



Welcome to World Cup fever.

Apparently, she wasn’t the only one who wondered how that happened. According to various accounts, the Commanders left the field wondering how this happened, or what it means.

“Very weird,” said quarterback Taylor Heinicke, dressed like a character from the show “Peaky Blinders.”

“It feels like a loss,” he said. “Unfinished business. That’s what it feels like.”

You can understand why it felt like a loss to Heinicke (27 of 41, 275 yards, two touchdowns). After all, he led the team on a remarkable drive. Heinicke connected on a crucial fourth-down pass, part of a tying 90-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 20-20.

That was such a great drive — accentuated by Heinicke’s 20-yard pass to Curtis Samuel on a fourth down with four yards to go from his own 27-yard line with less than three minutes and play — that he should have had something to show for it other than a tie.

But without the drive, it’s a loss. And Heinicke acknowledged that while it felt like a loss, “it doesn’t count as one. That’s the only positive from this game.”

Not the only positive. It added another piece to the Taylor Heinicke legend.

He may be limited in talent, but he’s off the charts in other areas. Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, the top dog in the locker room, said of Heinicke’s fourth-quarter drive to tie the game — “the biggest nuts I’ve ever seen.”

That’s it. It’s over. With four games left in the season, there is no going back to Carson Wentz. It’s Heinicke who has become an iconic figure in the locker room. This may drive a segment of the fan base crazy, but coaches know that the locker room decides who the starting quarterback is, and it is Heinicke through the rest of the season — and maybe playoffs.

Coach Ron Rivera told reporters Monday that he feels “comfortable with Taylor, and when Carson is activated, he will be the primary backup.”

If you’ve been listening to Rivera this season, you know that Rivera isn’t likely to backpedal on sticking with Heinicke.

“One thing that I’ve always done is whoever the starter is, I’m going to commit to them fully because I don’t want them looking over the shoulder,” Rivera said earlier this fall.

And this: “He (Heinicke) doesn’t need to play well. He just needs to play. We need to continue to do the things that we’re doing. I’m not looking to pull anybody out. I’m not looking to yank anybody.”

The Carson Wentz era is finished.  If Wentz had been out there Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the Giants’ pass rush and blitz, they would have taken him off the field in pieces. Heinicke’s elusiveness and mobility — along with a great running game now led by Brian Robinson — covers for weak pass protection.

And they get to do this all over again in two weeks at Ghost Town Field — the game the Commanders do have to win. With the Giants facing the Eagles next week and Washington taking its bye week, the Commanders should be in good shape for the rematch.

Then again, after taking a 10-0 lead in the first quarter Sunday, they were in good shape to beat the Giants Sunday — but they didn’t.

You know why? Because you have to beat the Giants (7-4-1) They are a tough team that isn’t going to fold. That toughness is their identity this season. Washington is probably the more talented team — they were favored Sunday by 2.5 points on the road.

But you know who else is tough? Taylor Heinicke. The Commanders (7-5-1) may have a good defense and two studs up the middle in Allen and Daron Payne. They may have a great running attack, rushing for 165 yards Sunday. But perhaps no one represents this season’s success to date more than Heinicke, who has led this team to its 5-1-1 season turnaround. He is the face of it.

Don’t think so? Here’s what Rivera said was his message after the team’s win two weeks ago against Houston: “My message is there’s a solid young football team that’s kind of finding their way. They’re scrappy, they’re tough, they’re underdogs.”

Who does that describe?

You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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