Taylor Heinicke, Commanders shock undefeated Eagles


PHILADELPHIA – Taylor Heinicke said he wasn’t paying attention. He said he didn’t give much thought to Monday night potentially being his last start should Carson Wentz return to the active roster with his broken finger.

His concern, he said last week, was winning. And to win a game against the NFL’s last undefeated team, he had to help his commanders convert on third place, maintain drive, and be consistent—all things Washington has typically failed to do.

At the time, his comments may have felt like standard football language – say the right thing, no matter how obvious, and hope and pray that the result comes somewhere close. In hindsight, the quarterback’s hopes—and his play—were savvy, and Monday’s game may have almost guaranteed him a chance to remain Washington’s starter regardless of Wentz’s health.

With a heavy reliance on the running game and efficient play at third, Heinicke’s Commanders did what no other team has done this season: They upset the Philadelphia Eagles 32-21 – on their own turf, no less.

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Heinicke called it “probably the biggest win of my career,” finishing 17 for 29 for 211 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception for a passer rating of 66.9. Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts went 17 for 26 for 175 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception for a 94.2 rating.

For the first time this season, the Commanders offense appeared consistent and methodical as it netted four first-half goals, three of which spanned 13, 12 and 16 plays. Washington (5-5) scored 13 points in the second quarter as it held the Eagles scoreless, a feat in itself; Philadelphia (8-1) entered the game after scoring nearly 60 percent of its runs in the second quarter and had yet to be eliminated.

“We found that one of the best ways to slow down Jalen Hurts is to keep him off the field,” said commanding coach Ron Rivera.

But the dominance in the first half didn’t stop there. Washington outscored Philadelphia by 235 yards to 101, converted 75 percent of his third downs (9 of 12), and played 51 to the Eagles’ 19. largest in franchise history, and it was capped by a 58-yard field goal (the longest of Joey Slye’s career) that built a 20–14 lead and sparked a round of boos from Eagles fans.

Before the game, Washington made 81 plays for 330 yards, including 152 on the ground, and converted 57 percent of his third downs (12 for 21). It was everything no one expected and more.

“In a situation like this, I’ve always thought we have the kind of guys in that locker room who can do things, and we’re starting to see it come together,” said Rivera, who choked in the locker room afterwards.

Two weeks earlier, his mother, Delores, died after a battle with lung cancer. Amid all the organization’s off-field drama, Rivera stressed to his team the importance of staying focused.

During the week, he told his players to let him do the unimportant things. After the match, he fought back tears as he told his players that his mother “would have been proud”.

“It means a lot because the guys were able to stay focused on what’s important,” he said. “… The hard work is starting to pay off.”

After their decisive first half, the Commanders opened the second by forcing a three-and-out and then embarking on another long drive, this one of 14 plays and over eight minutes before Slye reeled in a 32-yard field goal to close Washington’s goal expand. lead at 23-14.

Not only did the Commanders defy their own game over the past two seasons under Rivera, they displayed control and attention to detail that had eluded them in the most critical situations. With Heinicke at the helm, Washington plays on the edge, typically one pitch away from catastrophe or glory.

Last week against Minnesota, his deep pass was intercepted down the middle, costing the Commanders dearly as their three-game winning streak ended. This week, his intoxicating actions made a difference.

In the second quarter, center Tyler Larsen sent a punch over Heinicke’s head, but the quarterback backed off, recovered, and threw him out of bounds—beyond the line of scrimmage—to cost Washington just a down instead of a significant chunk of yardage or worse .

Then, in fourth, on Washington’s final drive, Heinicke struggled away from the pressure and fell down in third, giving the Eagles’ Brandon Graham an unnecessary roughness penalty when Graham crashed into him.

“On that last play we called a slant for Terry [McLaurin], and it was one of those things where if he’s open, you give it to him, and if not, take a bag,” Heinicke said. “I wasn’t going to throw it unless it was wide open. When I took that knee and I saw them coming towards me I hoped they would come towards me and sure enough they did. It was a mistake on their part, but hey, we’ll live with it.

The Eagles’ mistake also exposed Heinicke’s growth.

“Very bad,” Rivera said. “It’s one of the things he learns, to take what’s given.”

Throughout Monday’s game, the commanders were mostly sane and if they made a mistake, they fought back to make amends. They committed to the run early and held on to it (Brian Robinson Jr. finished with 86 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries), opening chunk plays in the passing game. They moved the ball and ate up the clock, converted critical third downs and stayed out of their own way for the most part.

But the first two minutes of the game suggested the start of another first-half disaster. Armani Rogers was flagged for holding the opening kickoff resulting in the loss of 33 yards on a long return by Antonio Gibson. Washington then went three-and-out; after Washington got the ball back on a punt roughening penalty, Heinicke was fired. Philadelphia recovered the ball, needing only three runs to find the end zone on Hurts’ one-yard run.

The Commanders responded with their first long drive, using 10 run plays sandwiched around two big passes – a 26-yard reception by McLaurin on third and second and a 14-yard catch by Jahan Dotson on second and 11 Gibson capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.

This offense was completely different from Washington’s in the weeks before.

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A few errors would follow. Cornerback Benjamin St-Juste was called for pass interference on a deep pass from Hurts, and while the call looked questionable, it nonetheless led to another Eagles score, this time a six-yard pass to Dallas Goedert’s tight end to put Philadelphia on 14 to put. 7.

Washington was then flagged for delaying the game on fourth and first, prompting offensive coordinator Scott Turner to throw his hands into the booth and the offense to settle for a 44-yard Slye field goal.

But after an interception by safety Darrick Forrest and two more Washington scores before the end of the half—a one-yard touchdown run by Robinson and that 58-yard field goal by Slye—the Commanders had a 20–14 halftime lead . It was the first time in over two years that Washington scored at least 20 points in the first half.

The Eagles appeared to bounce back after Javon Hargrave’s sack of Heinicke in the third quarter at the Philadelphia 14-yard line. The takedown forced Washington to settle for a 32-yard field goal that extended the lead to nine. Philadelphia responded with a long drive and went on 11 plays as Hurts threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith to make it 23–21.

A turnover was not in Washington’s plans, but given the circumstances it was not a gross mistake. It was third and three at Philadelphia’s 43 when Heinicke launched a missile down the left sideline toward McLaurin that hung in the air just long enough for safety CJ Gardner-Johnson to go up and grab him.

Heinicke had said in the past that if he has a 50-50 chance with McLaurin, he intends to give the star receiver that chance, and his decision to do so here seemed wise, even if the outcome was poor. Had the throw sailed a little further, the commanders would have been within a stone’s throw of the target line. Instead, it was nicked, a turnover that ultimately had little impact.

“He’s been great since he got here — honestly,” McLaurin said. “…He really plays like every game is his last. He plays without fear, man.

On the ensuing possession, defensive tackle John Ridgeway forced a fumble on a short pass to Goedert that linebacker Jamin Davis recovered and returned for a touchdown. The score was reversed at review – but the turnover stood, offering Washington another chance to extend its lead. Playing the game of his life, Slye scored a 55-yard field goal with 7:33 left to give Washington a 26–21 lead.

But no Commanders game, especially with Heinicke at quarterback, can end without late-game theatrics. This time it came courtesy of the defense.

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Hurts launched a 50-yard pass to Quez Watkins, who stumbled to the turf, got back up and then lost control of the ball when St-Juste punched him. Forrest recovered the fumble to end what could have been a winning ride.

“We definitely got into this game knowing that no one believed in us,” Forrest said. “…We came ready to fight.”

With his team in position to seal victory in the dying minutes, Dotson was flagged for offensive pass interference, negating a 21-yard catch by third-placed Curtis Samuel. But after the punt, defensive end Montez Sweat thwarted another ride in Philadelphia with a sack on third.

Heinicke then stuck to the plan: put third down, keep the drive up.

On third and seven with McLaurin tightly covered, Heinicke scrambled before taking a knee and drawing the penalty on Graham that gave the Commanders another run of downs and a chance to bleed the clock.

When Philadelphia finally got the ball back, Casey Toohill recovered an errant desperation laterally for a touchdown on the final play of the game, allowing Washington to secure the win and waltz Heinicke to the tunnel in celebration.

“We felt like if we could control the line of scrimmage and run the ball, we could slow things down, and that’s what we could do,” Rivera said before leaning in. “I mean, the dude is a dynamic quarterback and he’s done a great job – and Jalen isn’t a bad guy either.”

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