Ashburn, Virginia. After another win on Sunday, sixth in seven games, head coach Ron Rivera summed up quarterback Taylor Heinicke’s day in one word.

“Taylor,” he said.

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Rivera then expanded on this single sentence by explaining what he meant. He shouldn’t have. In other words, the 19-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons embraced everything Heinicke did: the good, the bad, sometimes the ugly, and sometimes the beautiful.

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“This is what we expected: play a few times, do a couple of things, and then come in and play that game that will set everything on fire,” Rivera said.

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This is the Heinicke experience in a nutshell. He flirts with danger every game. His limitations – size, arm strength – make many wonder how good this offense can be with him.

In a way, it has become a Rorschach test for fans: do you judge it by games that were on the brink of disaster? Or the ones he does at crucial points? Are they 10-4 in his last 14 matches because of him or in spite of him?

Although Rivera said that Heinicke would continue to compete, he did not say that it would be until the end of the season. Heinicke’s leash isn’t long, but it will likely take Washington more than one bad game to get back to Carson Wentz, who still hasn’t made the 53-man list after breaking his right ring finger on October 13. In the end, the Washingtons lead 5-1 with Heinicke; he threw for seven touchdowns against five interceptions.

Commanders win mainly due to their run, defense and special teams. However, coaches have often cited Heinicke’s knowledge of the offense and ability to control the game as another key to helping the offense, often at a critical moment. Its limitations may not make it anything other than a high-end backup, but the value it adds comes from its knowledge. Sometimes it’s as simple as showing games convincingly to the crowd by passing them directly to each group of positions when it’s their part of the game. And that knowledge has led to several key games this season.

“Toss of the Century”

Washington quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese didn’t hesitate to describe Heinicke’s throw to wide receiver Terry McLaurin against the Green Bay Packers on October 23.

“It was the throw of the century,” Zampese said.

Barring a slight exaggeration, this was one of Heinicke’s most impressive shots at a decisive moment. The pass came with 2:13 left and allowed Washington to use up all but the last 29 seconds in a 23-21 win.

But if Heinicke did not trust not only what he read, but also the recipient, the play failed. He landed the ball before McLaurin aborted his route because he was about to be sacked. If Heinicke waited even two tenths of a second longer, he is fired, and Washington returns the ball to Aaron Rodgers two minutes before the game-winning field goal.

“That’s something we’re trying to address more often,” Zampese said. “It’s complicated. You have to trust this and give it up early. It’s so easy to say, “Oh, he made a break, now I’m quitting.” But you don’t get yards per catch when you do that, guys with supposedly smaller hands have to live like that [and] better throw balls to the point and at distant targets than guys who know how to wait and shoot rockets.

Heinicke knows he has to make up for his lack of a strong arm by anticipating shots by sneaking up on them when the receiver cuts the shot.

“You have to open it, not watch it open,” Heinicke said. “Terry isn’t out of his hiatus yet, but I think he’s going to be in that area, let’s touch that a bit so he’s out of his hiatus and can find him and play.”

With defenseman Jare Alexander on McLaurin’s inside thigh, the ball could only hit one area: the outside. And so it was. McLaurin turned, went back two yards for the ball, and caught the ball at 12 yards.

“He’s giving his guys a chance to play,” McLaurin said. “If this ball is inside, it’s probably a steal.”

Two weeks ago at the Houston Texans, Heinicke landed another punch to McLaurin. Heinicke took his fifth step, landed and threw as McLaurin rolled out. Any delay would result in a sack, as the Texans quarterback was coaching him when the ball was released.

“Even under pressure, the ball goes out because he has the feeling and the instincts to know when the ball has to go, not ‘I have to see it first and then shoot it,'” Zampese said. “It takes an extra investment of time, and now you’re in. He can throw the ball quickly with anticipation and that helps us out of some situations.”

Under pressure

In Week 11 in Houston, the Commanders faced 2nd and 5th from their 44-yard line. Heinicke was faking Brian Robinson’s running back during the snap and had three receiver options against man cover: Curtis Samuel was running on the right junction, McLaurin was running on the deep cross, and Diami Brown was running on the dig route. McLaurin and Brown were opening up just as the blitz was getting to Heinicke.

Instead of waiting, Heinicke relied on his knowledge: he knew where tight end Logan Thomas would be after he broke the defensive end. Thomas stepped back inside and Heinicke linked up with him as soon as he was leveled. Thomas scored 19 yards in the game.

“We’re trying to push the ball further down the field, but if there’s a quick pressure, I need to find a quick option,” Heinicke said. “It’s really like [26-yard] play because if I don’t hit him there, I’ll be fired for losing seven yards. It’s to know if the shit hits the fan where I can get the ball out quickly and not lose yards.”

Offensive coordinator Scott Turner said a lot of the shots Heinicke makes depend on how and what they train. Execution in games is like practice. And this is the result of preparation.

But he said that when the knowledge comes, it will be a game like the one with Thomas, where he is a variant of the checkdown.

“When something breaks,” Turner said, “those are the things that probably bring you back to, ‘Hey, this guy is comfortable, he’s repeated these plays so many times that he understands what the problems are, and then what the problems are. “. solutions”.

Earlier in the game, Heinicke hit with his groovy step and dropped the ball just as Thomas broke out. Heinicke threw to the spot – there were no defenders in the area – and Thomas ran up and completed a 16-yard tackle, with the linebacker following him.

“He has the best timing, and the quarterback has to have the best timing,” Thomas said. “The more comfortable you are, the snapped the ball is, and you don’t have to think. That’s where he is now. For him, the progression is one, two, and then I know where to pass the ball. I know where my check will be. This crime is not an easy crime to pick up quickly.

“On that corner route, I just broke it and the ball was there. He knows how I will lay my route.

Digging McLaurin

In Heinicke’s first start two years ago—a playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—he connected with McLaurin on three dig routes. This is the main element of this attacking system and continues to be a solid play for the duo.

“Since he got here, he has chosen this route very well,” McLaurin said. “It’s a concept that we’re comfortable with and he’s really implementing it well.”

But McLaurin pointed to a shot against Houston that showed how familiarity and development came together to help him make his best shot. On first and 10th from their own 18-yard line, Heinicke faked a pass to Robinson, stepped back five paces, and looked to the left. Then, on his fifth step, he looked back to his right and connected with McLaurin for 19 yards.

However, McLaurin liked the location of the ball. Heinicke saw the security on the hashmark next to McLaurin and knew it would open that way. He hit the ball low, which allowed McLaurin to catch it as it slid to the ground and avoid a serious collision.

“His confidence that he can score the ball has grown,” McLaurin said. “I don’t want to be stretched in certain situations, like against Houston. He threw it low and away, and that allowed me to defend myself. It’s more familiar.”

‘Perfect Time’

Acquaintance leads to timing, and that can lead to points, as happened against Atlanta on Sunday when Heinicke connected with tight end John Bates for a 16-yard touchdown pass.

“It was the perfect moment,” said Washington coach Ron Rivera. “That throw was amazing. He went through his progressions and got it from him and that’s what he does. He’s just a dumb player.”

There was nothing difficult about it – a pass in the course of action – but this is a game in which they do not always connect. But this time, Heinicke keeps the safety in midfield with his eyes, and then hits with his clockwork pace, hitches and shots when Bates is about to cut from the outside.

“You see times when he hangs in the pocket and delivers the ball around the field, the way he did it … John Bates for a touchdown,” Rivera said. “These are the things that you expect from him and he does them, and so you know he’s capable.”