NFL fans tuning in to watch the Washington Football Team play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were sure shocked to discover that the game would involve a matchup between Tampa’s future hall-of-fame quarterback Tom Brady and Washington’s unknown quarterback whose name reminded them of an imported beer brand.
That player is Taylor Heinicke (27), a former engineering major from Old Dominion University who joined the Washington Football Team last month as an emergency quarantine quarterback. Heinicke’s professional career was on hold this fall because no NFL team even invited him to pre-season training camp to try out, so he had returned to ODU to finish his degree.
The expedient path to graduation while continuing to prepare for football meant a switch to a mathematics major rather than engineering, according to ODU public affairs spokesperson Harry Minium. Heinicke was midway through his exams in four math classes when Washington called looking for a quarterback.
His courses for the fall semester were partial differential equations, applied numerical methods, mathematics in nature, and number theory and discrete mathematics, Heinicke told The Washington Post.
After the Denver Broncos’ season was interrupted by all of their quarterbacks having COVID exposure and the team had to play a game with a converted wide receiver playing quarterback, other teams scrambled to sign “quarantine quarterbacks” whose job it was to learn the offense, but stay far away from other players so they wouldn’t have the same exposure.
Washington signed Heinicke in early December, in the middle of ODU’s final exams. He finished two of the exams before pivoting back to football to help save Washington’s season, getting an A on one and a B on the other. Heinicke’s heroic performance in the game wasn’t enough to extend Washington’s run through the playoffs, leaving him to finish up the other two exams. “I’m not really looking forward to those,” he told The Post.
ODU says the school’s flexibility in letting Heinicke finish his finals later is normal school policy for any student who had something come up and needed to postpone some exams.
“It’s somewhat unique to get incompletes because he had to join the football team,” said ODU math department chair Gordon Melrose, to The Washington Post. Melrose, who taught Heinicke Calculus III several years ago added, “He can make them up whenever Washington’s finished with the season. It’s good that an ODU player is making it right now in the NFL, and I hope he does well on Sunday.”
In that playoff game, Heinicke accumulated 352 total offensive yards and scored two touchdowns, including a dramatic running touchdown capped by a dive for the end zone.
The result was that Heinicke had the second-highest ranking in offensive performance of any player in the opening round of the playoffs, with a number that outscored every Washington quarterback in every game for the last 14 years.
That end-zone dive resulted in a separate AC joint in his left shoulder, yet Heinicke returned to the game to throw a perfect touchdown pass on Washington’s next possession, drawing the team to within two points of Tampa’s score.
“I reached out my arm, and when I hit the ground, I felt a little click or pop, and it didn’t feel good after that,” he said in the post-game press conference. “The next series, I got hit and hit the ground a couple of times and decided we should go in and look at it. It was an AC joint separation.”
Heinicke becomes only the sixth Washington quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards in a playoff game. The others have been Kirk Cousins, Mark Rypien, Doug Williams, Joe Theismann, and Sammy Baugh. Rypien, Williams, and Theismann all did it on their way to winning Super Bowls for Washington.
Heinicke’s performance caught the attention of reigning league Most Valuable Player and Super Bowl champion quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who tweeted “Regardless of the outcome, what a great game by Heinicke!”
Hopefully, Heinicke’s performance will serve as the launchpad for a long and successful NFL career. After which, he can employ his math degree and engineering aptitude in his post-football STEM career, as did former San Francisco 49er, Brandon Lloyd.