The Washington Post
With Fitzpatrick out, this is Heinicke’s time to shine
Columnist Barry Svrluga and reporter Adam Kilgore answered reader questions about the new NFL season Tuesday. Svrluga and a rotating cast of sports reporters will chat with readers every Tuesday at 1 p.m. To read the full transcript, visit wapo.st/nfl-chat.
Questions have been edited for accuracy and clarity.
Q: Assume (fingers crossed) the Washington Football Team beats the Giants, Taylor Heinicke plays well, and he continues to do so for Games 3 and 4. Does he keep starting?
Svrluga: A great — and rather optimistic — place to start. On Sunday, Washington’s starting quarterback — 38-year-old journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick — lasted a quarter-and-a-half before he suffered a hip injury. He was replaced by Heinicke, who threw a touchdown pass and didn’t get picked off and had the team in the lead in the fourth quarter. And on Tuesday, Washington put Fitzpatrick on IR.
Quick quiz: Fitzpatrick has thrown 5,060 regular season passes. Heinicke has thrown 92. Who has started more playoff games?
Back to your point: I think there’s a case that if Heinicke plays well in what’s just about a must-win game against the Giants on Thursday that Fitzpatrick won’t play for a long, long time — even if he gets healthy. It was an extremely small sample size, but Heinicke has some sort of mojo. It showed up in the playoff game against Tampa Bay, when he could have (should have?) been overwhelmed. He’s got me curious, for sure.
Kilgore: I do expect Heinicke to play well. As he showed last year against Tampa Bay, he’s nearly everything you wouldn’t want in a quarterback if you have to prepare for him: not much film, lot of mobility, unafraid to take chances, able to get his teammates to believe. But there’s also some definite limitations as far as his ceiling as a long-term or even season-long answer.
That could lead to a thorny dilemma. If I’m right, Heinicke will have played well by the time Fitz
patrick is ready to return. If Washington is in the hunt, can you bench a young, hot QB for an old one with a semi-compromised hip? I guess what I’m saying is, there’s a good chance Fitzpatrick will be the better option, but it may be exceedingly difficult to pull the plug on Heinicke. It would be a welcome dilemma.
Q: If you watched “Monday Night Football” on ESPN2, did you find Peyton and Eli Manning a distraction from the game? I did.
Svrluga: Whoa! I think Adam and I — if I go through our text exchange from Monday night — agree on this point. I thought Peyton, in particular, was very interesting, and when Russell Wilson joined them for the fourth quarter and overtime, the way three quarterbacks talked about looking at the line of scrimmage presnap, about keeping their main receivers involved, about how to manage a game — I just thought it was all fascinating. Sure, it’s not traditional and has a completely different feel. But I found it much more appealing than the traditional booth offered over on ESPN.
Kilgore: I planned to avoid the Manning cast. It sounded to me like it would be hokey and tryhard annoying. I feared they would trade cornball jokes with pseudo-celebrities. I gave it a chance in the second quarter. I was instantly hooked. It was lesson after lesson in football that made the game more interesting.
Peyton and Eli’s chemistry was unique — big brother was in charge, little brother was cutting, and both were perfectly at ease. I’m curious about what the ceiling is for the audience. The NFL is not the most popular television show in the country because grandmas in Des Moines want to know more about the process of how blitzers declare. But there are a lot of people who really like football, and the film breakdown industry has given a lot more people the vocabulary to follow the jargon Manning used.
Q: As a Cowboys fan, should I be encouraged or discouraged by Thursday’s loss to the Bucs? I’m thinking that the glass is at least half-full but interested in your perspective.
Kilgore: You should be hugely encouraged. First and foremost, the quarterback is healthy. Second, Dak Prescott looks like one of the best passers in the NFL, with a wicked receiving corps to throw to. Ezekiel Elliott looks like he’s toast, but their running game can give them enough with Tony Pollard, especially if Zack Martin can stay off the covid list.
The defense may stink still. But there’s room for improvement there. All that speed and youth in Dan Quinn’s system could amount to at least league average. With that and Prescott, you have a team that is at least a contender in the NFC East.
Svrluga: I’ll just hammer this point with as many franchises as I can: With elite quarterback play, anything is possible. Without it, the limits are everywhere. Last year, when Prescott went down, I remember thinking, “Well, that’s why it was so smart to sign Andy Dalton, because they’ll lose something but not much.” Uh, wrong. The falloff was dramatic, and the entire team stunk because of it.
Q: Is there any redeeming feature of a sport where players are routinely, seriously injured and many will eventually suffer grievous brain injury as a matter of course?
Svrluga: I’ll admit: I’ve struggled with this question over the past several years — particularly as it pertains to the college game, in which (until recently) the kids were subjecting themselves to injury for no financial advantage. The question can’t be answered, I don’t think, at the pro level. It will have to be answered in youth and high school sports. Will enough multitalented athletes face a choice between basketball or baseball or soccer or track or tiddlywinks and football — and turn away from football?
For so many folks, sports provide opportunity, and because football teams are so large — 85 scholarship players for each Football Bowl Subdivision program — there are more opportunities in football than in lots of other sports. That dynamic, I think, outweighs the idea that the sport is so violent and dangerous that a critical mass of parents will steer their kids away.