After an abysmal Week 8 loss to the Broncos, many people felt like Taylor Heinicke’s time in Washington was coming to an end — even us here at the B&W questioned Heinicke’s future in D.C. However, all Heinicke has done over the past two weeks is throw for over 450 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. After leading the charge in the incredible upset of the reigning Super Bowls champion Buccaneers last week, Heinicke came back this Sunday and put on a clinic against his former team.
Here are three takeaways from Washington’s big-time defeat of the Panthers:
Terry McLaurin is good at football
Week after week, McLaurin seems to make a jaw-dropping catch that leaves fans speechless. Week 11 was no different; at the end of the first quarter, McLaurin showed off some serious hops and hauled in a seemingly uncatchable ball in double coverage. At this point in the season, it’s not even surprising that McLaurin is making these catches; he’s just that talented. After a couple of quiet performances in Weeks 8 and 10, McLaurin bounced back in a big way on Sunday, racking up 103 yards and a touchdown on just five receptions. Averaging over 20 yards per catch, McLaurin picked apart the Panthers’ secondary all afternoon, spoiling Cam Newton’s return and leading Washington to an important victory.
Kam Curl stepped up
As a seventh round pick just a year ago, Kam Curl had an exceptional rookie season for Washington and was a key part of the team’s high-caliber defense. However, with the return of Landon Collins at the beginning of the season, Curl didn’t see nearly as many snaps. Before the bye, however, the coaching staff and Collins agreed to move Collins into a linebacker role, and it has paid off greatly for both Collins and Kurl. Collins has looked much improved and has provided much more for this defense than before. It has also allowed Curl to see almost every snap at the strong safety position. On Sunday, Curl was everywhere, accounting for a ridiculous 16 tackles. None were bigger than when he tackled Christian McCaffrey short of the line to gain on fourth down, allowing Washington to retake possession and extend their lead to 27–21. Washington would hold on thanks to stellar defensive play from Kurl and the rest of the unit, securing the team’s first winning streak of the season.
Minor miscues were aplenty
Late in the fourth quarter, Washington had a chance to ice the game. They faced a third and ten, and with the Panthers having no timeouts remaining, a first down would’ve sealed the deal. Not only did Antonio Gibson fail to get the first down, he went out of bounds with 1:55 left to play, stopping the clock and saving the Panthers at least 40 seconds. Washington fans, including myself, were absolutely flabbergasted. Instead of continuing to drain the clock, Gibson gave the ball back to Carolina with plenty of time to get down the field. Luckily enough, the defense came up clutch, stopping the Panthers on fourth down thanks to a sack from Jonathan Allen. Washington also shot themselves in the foot a few other times on Sunday. After forcing a Panthers three and out, Washington got into the red zone in just four plays, looking to tie up the score at seven apiece. However, a costly fumble from Gibson gave the ball right back to the Panthers. The defense stepped up and forced another Carolina punt; this drive led to a beautiful Cam Sims touchdown. Later in the half, after Cam Newton took the ball to the end zone on a read option, Washington went down by a score with just a few minutes left to play in the half. After Heinicke quickly got the offense around midfield, the drive stalled, leaving Washington in a fourth and one scenario. It was an easy decision for Riverboat Ron — go for it. Carolina had been unable to stop Gibson all day. However a costly false start pushed the offense back five yards. Rivera still decided to keep the offense on the field, and Heinicke was able to hit Deandre Carter on an underneath route, making the penalty seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things. While the victory was obviously great, these minor mistakes have to get cleaned up if Washington really wants to insert themselves into the thick of the NFC Wild Card chase.
After back-to-back wins, Washington is right back in the playoff hunt at 4–6. Considering how muddled the middle to bottom of the NFC is — seven teams have either four or five wins — Washington absolutely has a shot to steal a playoff spot with a little less than two months remaining in the regular season. Washington will host the struggling 3–7 Seattle Seahawks next Monday night in what should be an exciting primetime matchup and another shot to climb the NFC standings.