Heinicke's INT vs. Vikings an example of mistake he must avoid originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The Washington Commanders appeared to be headed for a fourth straight victory on Sunday afternoon, but a fourth-quarter interception from Taylor Heinicke gave the Minnesota Vikings new life and changed the momentum of the contest.
Washington led Minnesota 17-10 with just under eight minutes remaining when Heinicke sailed a pass into the hands of Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who returned the pass all the way to the Commanders' 12-yard line. The Vikings found the end zone two plays later to tie up the contest; Minnesota kicked a go-ahead field goal with 16 seconds remaining on their next drive to ice the game.
For as backbreaking as the interception was, the whole debacle could have been avoided had Heinicke done two different things on the play, head coach Ron Rivera shared during a conference call with reporters on Monday.
The first was simply throwing to Thomas in the first place.
"One thing you'd like to see him do is [to] take what's in front of him as opposed to a couple of times he tried to try to make a big play," Rivera said. "[He] should have gone ahead and taken what was given to him. Unfortunately, a great example is he tried to throw the deeper ball to Logan... he had his primary read with a pivot and he was open and unfortunately, he tried to throw the deeper ball."
Heinicke's first read, Dax Milne, was wide open on the play. Yes, there was a Vikings defender in the vicinity that likely could've stopped Milne from picking up the first down, but the Commanders still would've had third-and-manageable to move the chains on the following play.
Following the game, Heinicke himself admitted he should've hit Milne on the pivot, too.
"We have a pivot route on the left side and it was my first read and going back to the iPad, he's wide open so I just gotta stick to it," Heinicke said. "... A little unfortunate but back to square one, I gotta just hit that pivot and move on."
Once Heinicke moved off Milne to his second read, Thomas was also open over the middle of the field. Heinicke intended to give Thomas a "high ball" to fit the pigskin over linebacker Eric Kendricks, but poor mechanics from the quarterback caused the football to sail out of his hand.
Rivera emphasized on Monday that had Heinicke set his feet, the quarterback more than likely completes that pass to Thomas rather than throwing it well above his helmet.
"That wasn't a talent limitation play," Rivera said. "Unfortunately, he threw it off his back leg. What you would like to see him [do is] step into the throw, as opposed to having his weight back. Because if he steps into it, the ball stays down and comes into Logan. If you see it, he's leaning back and that's why the ball sails."
Throughout his two years in Washington, Heinicke has won over fans with his all-in, risk-seeking style of play. When it works -- evident by his long touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel on Sunday -- it's a thrill to watch. The lows, such as his late-game interception versus Minnesota, make you shake your head.
"Truth of the matter is for the most part Taylor played well, had some opportunity," Rivera said. " ... [The interception] was unfortunate, but that's a little indicative of him. I mean, you’re gonna get those kinds of shots and when he makes them, everybody gets excited. We all do. And when he doesn't, unfortunately, this was one of the things that got us.”
But given the game situation on that specific throw, that's a play where Rivera and his staff need Heinicke to hit the pivot route -- the safer throw -- and live to see the next play.
Following the game, Heinicke -- who Rivera said Monday has "brought a little bit of a spark" to the offense since entering the lineup three weeks ago -- took full responsibility for his mistake.
"Me personally, no one’s gonna be harder on me than myself and it goes back to that interception from me," Heinicke said. "If we don't give them a short field there, our defense is playing lights out. Kind of make them drive the field and they still have to score 10 points at that moment so that was a tough one to swallow for sure.”