Taylor Heinicke savors homecoming, leads Washington to comeback win over Atlanta Falcons

Jaylon Thompson
USA TODAY Sports Plus

Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke returned home looking to put on a show against the Atlanta Falcons. The Georgia native, who played at nearby Collins Hill High School, wound up turning in a five-star performance in front of 68,333 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

Heinicke led Washington on a game-winning fourth-quarter drive that culminated with a 30-yard touchdown to J.D. McKissic. Washington walked away with a 34-30 comeback road victory. 

Washington improved to 2-2 this season. The Falcons fell to 1-3 overall with another crushing loss during head coach Arthur Smith's first season. 

"He has a tremendous ability to deliver and hats off to him," Washington head coach Ron Rivera told reporters in his postgame press conference. "He is a courageous dude and plays all out. His teammates feed off his energy, especially the offensive guys that really kind of get him and understand that no play is dead.

"So you see the way they keep working. A great illustration is J.D. McKissic. Taylor (Heinicke) is working and is off to the far left. He sees J.D. to the far right and throws it out there. That is who he is." 

Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) embraces with Washington Football Team center Tyler Larsen (69) before the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Heinicke finished 23 of 33 with 290 yards and three touchdowns. He kept the Falcons defense off-balanced in the second half. The Falcons had opportunities to generate pressure, but Heinicke worked out of danger. 

"There was a couple of throws out there that I wish I had back," Heinicke told reporters after the game. "They had a chance to make a play on, but it was one of those things I talked about throughout the week of taking what was there. There was a lot of check downs today and when we don't turn the ball over, we move the ball pretty well. I really honed on that this week and I think we executed that pretty well." 

The Falcons showed improvement throughout the game. They accounted for 374 total yards and were 10 for 16 on third down. However, the defense fell apart late by giving up big plays.

Cordarrelle Patterson paced the Falcons offense. The talented athlete hauled in three receiving touchdowns. He led the Falcons with 82 receiving yards as Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s prime target in the red zone.

His 42-yard touchdown gave the Falcons a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter due to blown coverage by Washington’s defense.

Ryan completed 25 of 42 passes for 283 yards and four touchdowns. He turned in a strong effort against a tenacious Washington front seven. Ryan connected with eight receivers, including 22 combined targets to Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts.

Washington didn’t go away quietly. Heinicke, in his third start this season, found chemistry with star receiver Terry McLaurin. The duo connected in the end zone twice, including a 17-yard touchdown with 3:52 remaining.

McLaurin finished the game with six catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns. He said the team's preparation played a role in the game

"Every game is important, but you don't want to go down 1-3," McLaurin said. "That is not what we wanted to do going into this week. We knew going on the road was going to be tough as the Falcons played a unbelievable game. We had a really good week of practice: offense, defense and special teams. We really executed and were really efficient in practice and it showed up in the game." 

Smith was frustrated after letting the game slip away. He said there were chances to seal the victory, but a couple of plays went awry. 

"We had multiple opportunities to win that game and we didn't," Smith told reporters in his postgame press conference. ... "We just got to do a better job. We had plenty of chances to go and pick the ball. We didn't and you got to give Washington credit as they made plays when they had to. The quarterback extended plays, he threw them up there and their guys came down." 

Washington plays the New Orleans Saints at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday. The Falcons will travel to London to play the New York Jets at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The game kicks off at 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday.