LANDOVER — With a nine-point lead at halftime, all the Washington Football Team offense needed to do in the second half was not put up a dud. So, naturally, that’s what Taylor Heinicke and company did in the second half of Sunday’s 20-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Following an effective and efficient first half, Washington’s offense sputtered on its first three drives of the second half — each of which displayed the limitations and often-cited criticisms of Heinicke — and allowed Jalen Hurts and the Eagles offense to control time of possession and complete the comeback. In the scoreless second half, Washington totaled only 81 yards on 27 plays.
“We just couldn’t get things rolling in the third quarter,” Heinicke said.
After Hurts orchestrated a 14-play, 80-yard drive to open the second half, Washington responded with a three-and-out for negative-5 yards. An unsuccessful first-down run and a short pass on second set up a third-and-6, but Heinicke was sacked while trying to escape the pocket.
The next drive was barely better. Following two first downs, the offense basically repeated the previous drive with a 1-yard run on first down and a Heinicke sack — a 13-yard loss — on third down.
“When they get the ball first and they go down for seven-and-a-half minutes, [the] defense is tired,” Heinicke said. “And then it’s tough when you have almost a three-and-out and the defense is right back on the field. It’s tough on them.”
The third-down sacks are examples of a common criticism of Heinicke, whose spontaneity as a quarterback is sometimes overshadowed by his tendency to hold onto the ball for too long. According to NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Heinicke entered Sunday’s game with the league’s fifth-longest time to throw — a stat that measures the average time from snap to release — at 2.96 seconds. Two of the quarterbacks slower than Heinicke are Hurts and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson — two far-superior athletes than the former XFL signal-caller.
After Philadelphia, which improved to 9-7 and put itself in prime NFC wild-card position with the win, took a 17-16 lead with a field goal early in the fourth quarter, Washington’s offense swung and missed for the third straight second-half possession.
On fourth-and-4 at midfield, Heinicke targeted rookie wideout Dax Milne — who has nine career receptions — on an out route short of the first-down marker. It may not have mattered, as Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox was in position to make the tackle short of the sticks. But Heinicke’s pass was low and not far outside enough to even give Milne the chance had the pass not been broken up.
The pass — similar to Heinicke’s baffling interception in the first quarter that was called back due to a penalty — demonstrated the 28-year-old quarterback’s underwhelming arm strength.
“[Milne] had the option of breaking in or breaking out. [Maddox] kind of took the inside out away, and so he had to go outside and defense just made him a good play,” said Heinicke, who ended the day 27-for-36 passing for 247 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. “I could probably have thrown him a better ball, put it up in the eyes, give him a chance. But I thought defense did good on that play.”
The turnover on downs led to an Eagles field goal with 2:21 remaining, putting Washington in a position to need a touchdown to win the game. After Heinicke’s first two passes were tipped by Eagles defensive linemen, the offense put together its best drive since the first half. Strikes from Heinicke to tight end John Bates and Cam Sims as well as underneath passes to running backs Jaret Patterson and Wendell Smallwood managed to get Washington to Philadelphia’s 20-yard line with half a minute remaining.
Then came the interception by Eagles safety Rodney McLeod that sealed the win for Philadelphia. Heinicke’s pass near the end zone sailed over Bates’ head after he was tripped up by Eagles safety Anthony Harris.
“Well, I thought the guy undercut him a little too early for it to be a fair tripping call, but that’s my opinion because I wanted the flag, obviously,” coach Ron Rivera said.
“Looking at it, I thought that was probably one of the best crossing nines I’ve ever thrown,” Heinicke said. “I think if he doesn’t trip, he catches that thing.”