The Washington Football Team was supposed to be fun this year. Ryan Fitzpatrick, one of the league’s great personalities, earned a late-career starting opportunity with the Football Team for his play with the Buccaneers and Dolphins in recent seasons. Defensive juggernauts Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Jon Allen, and DaRon Payne lined the front of the league’s most imposing preseason defense. Ron Rivera, another of the league’s most heartwarming characters, took a plucky Washington team to the 2020 playoffs and was ready for the next step into actual contention in 2021.
The best laid plans of mice and men, of course. Washington has been decisively not-fun since the opening bell. Fitzpatrick was lost for the season in Week 1 with a hip injury; Young got injured in the middle of the season after months of cellar-dwelling play from the disappointing defense. Washington rode a four-game losing streak into its bye, sitting at 2-5 with the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers waiting on the other side.
The last time Washington played Tampa Bay, it did so as the lame duck fourth seed in the 2020 NFC playoffs: a 7-9 divisional champion led by Taylor Heinicke, Washington’s fourth-string quarterback called up after five years of bouncing around league practice squads and a stint of backup quarterbacking in the XFL. It was an absurd game to play; the unfortunate product of the league’s new 14-team playoff structure, and Heinicke’s role as the starting quarterback opposite Tom Brady was the absurd cherry on top.
You know the rest. Heinicke led the Washington offense to 23 points in a one-possession loss, playing the Bucs in arguably their closest game of the entire Super Bowl run. What was supposed to be a silly game suddenly became an emergent performance for the young quarterback. Chase Young made sure the camera caught Heinicke’s nameplate after his potential tying touchdown dive—just so everyone knew who this scrappy little fourth stringer going toe-to-toe with Brady was.