Wed. Mar 29th, 2023

Taylor Heinicke is bonded to the Green Bay Packers by blood.

His dad, the late Brett Heinicke, was a diehard fan. The last Super Bowl father and son watched together was the Packers’ victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Aaron Rodgers was MVP of the game. Less than a year later, Brett died of a heart attack.

On Sunday, his son defeated his favorite team and outplayed the quarterback they cheered for.

“From the moment I was born,” Heinicke said, “I was being a cheesehead.”

The Commanders handed the Packers their third straight loss, which marks Green Bay’s longest losing streak since 2018 – the year before coach Matt LaFleur took over for Mike McCarthy – with a 23-21 victory at FedExField. Heinicke, making his first start of the season in place of the injured Carson Wentz (finger), overcame a slow start that included a pick-six to finish 20 of 33 for 201 yards and two touchdowns.

It was the second straight week a young quarterback took down his childhood idol – Zach Wilson and the New York Jets defeated the Packers last week, and it’s another type of streak Green Bay is desperate to stop. Things don’t get much easier with a matchup against the Buffalo Bills on “Sunday Night Football” on deck.

Heinicke and Rodgers shared a moment after the game on the field. Don’t ask the Washington quarterback what was exchanged, though.

“Honestly, I don’t remember,” said Heinicke, who started 15 games for the Commanders. “I’m a little star-struck when I see those guys.”

The Packers went 0-for-6 on third downs and had 232 yards of total offense, compared to the Commanders’ 364. Rodgers managed to put his team in position for a last-second Hail Mary that was actually a lateral play. Rodgers fired a pass across the field on what was the fifth pitch and the ball bounced out of bounds to end the game.

On the first drive of the second half, Heinicke connected with receiver Terry McLaurin (five catches, 73 yards) on a 37-yard touchdown down the right side to give the Commanders their first lead. McLaurin and Heinicke connected twice on Washington’s final drive to pick up key first-down conversions and leave Rodgers with less time.

“Taylor has a little bit of an athletic knack that can stretch and elongate plays and give him an opportunity to improvise a little bit, and we see that,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said.

Heinicke has an underdog mentality, Rivera said, and the coaching staff rewards that with a “tremendous” amount of faith.

“You the look at things that he does and the way he handles it. Understanding what his mistake was, understanding what he had to correct,” Rivera said. “It’s one of those things where he’s up there and he’s playing fearless and very quick. He gets that ball out on time and it allows for those types of plays.”

Rodgers went 23-for-35 for 194 yards and attempted four passes more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Washington rushed four all game and dropped the rest of the defense into the secondary, forcing the Packers to make plays in front of them. Green Bay struggled with that task, as the absence of starting left tackle and two-time All-Pro David Bakhtiari with a lingering knee issue and receiver Allen Lazard suffering a shoulder injury Sunday exacerbated the issues on offense.

“We still couldn’t move the football,” LaFleur said. “So, whatever we’re doing offensively, it’s not good enough.”

After the game, Rodgers was asked about a deep pass down the right side out of the reach of Amari Rodgers, who almost made the catch. It was one of several plays Rodgers thought the Packers left on field.

“There were probably seven or eight other passes that could have been caught, for sure,” Rodgers said. “Right now we’ve got have all of them, because we’re just not good enough right now to win.”

The Packers ran the ball 12 times for 38 yards. Running back Aaron Jones made himself useful in the passing game for Rodgers, catching nine balls for 53 yards and two touchdowns – one on a shovel pass in the first quarter, and the second with 3:33 left in the fourth quarter to make it a one-possession game.

Heinicke started slow, converting one of his first seven attempts, including an interception by De’Vondre Campbell and returned 63 yards to make it 14-3. Heinicke blamed the early going on “jitters” and having not playing a full game in a long time.

“I was excited, so there were a lot of missed throws in the first half, but the promising thing is that I was on all the right reads,” he said.

Heinicke avoided a second fatal mistake with less than five minutes until halftime and ended up being a pivotal momentum swing. When it appeared Green Bay had its second defensive score of the game, this time on a Heinicke fumble that Rasul Douglas scooped and scored, a flag lay on the far side of the field.

An illegal contact penalty on cornerback Eric Stokes nullified the play and the score stood at 14-10. Although Washington kicker Joey Slye missed a 47-yard field goal to end the drive, the Packers left the door open.

Washington also relied on its developing one-two punch at running back, with rookie Brian Robinson carrying 20 times for 73 yards, while Antonio Gibson caught Heinicke’s first touchdown pass of the game and averaged 5.9 yards per rush on 10 attempts. A 16-play, 72-yard drive that took 8:48 off the clock later in the third quarter ended with Slye field goal to make it 20-14. Slye added another field goal in the fourth quarter to make it a two-possession game.

Heinicke said he kept the jersey from this game – for obvious reasons. Brett Heinicke is looking down with a smile, even if his son took down the Packers.

“He’s up there right now drinking beers, having a good time,” Heinicke said. “I know he would be proud of me and this one was for him, for sure.”