Taylor Heinicke has epitomized the narrative of the "person of low status or importance who unexpectedly achieves great success or public recognition," aka the "Cinderella story," in the NFL, and perhaps in all of pro sports. When he took over as quarterback for the Washington Commanders early this season, Heinicke led his team to five wins and one tie over eight games. NBC analyst Chris Collinsworth said that Heinicke emanated "pixie dust," referring to the 29-year-old QB's ability to improvise big plays leading to improbable wins. Heinicke and the Commanders even managed to hand the Philadelphia Eagles their only loss of the season back in Week 10.
It would appear, however, that there's only so much pixie dust to go around.
Coming into yesterday's game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium, analysts were drawing parallels between the two unlikely starting quarterbacks. When it was over, Brock Purdy had wrestled the glass slipper from Heinicke, leading the 49ers to a 37-20 win. It was a history-making game for Purdy as a starting rookie QB, who chalked up his fourth-straight win, extending the Niners' eight-game winning streak, and making fans wonder just how far this fairy tale can go.
Taylor Heinicke certainly lived up to his Cinderella-esque reputation through the first half yesterday. Both the Niners and Commanders had gone for it and come up short on 4th and short yardage deep in their opponents territory, turning the ball over on downs, and keeping the game scoreless early. Ray-Ray McCloud broke the goose eggs with a 70-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter to make it 7-0 Niners.
San Francisco's famous defense forced Washington to punt on their next possession, and the Niners were driving from around their own 15-yard line when Brock Purdy fired a pass a little behind Jauan Jennings, who bobbled the pass, sending the ricochet into the air and into the hands of a Commander. It was only Purdy's second interception in his short, magnificent tenure at the Niners' helm.
Washington took over deep in Niners' territory with about three minutes left in the half. Nick Bosa logged one of his two sacks on the day, but Heinicke managed a few first downs, then evaded Bosa and Talanoa Hufanga masterfully for a 20-yard pass, setting up an eventual touchdown throw to make it a 7-7 game at halftime.
That Taylor Heinicke magic was still sparkling bright, while Brock Purdy was "finally resembling a barely drafted rookie for two quarters," the San Francisco Chronicle wrote. Purdy was 5 of 10 for 62 yards with one interception to start the second half.
And history was against him: No rookie quarterback had won their first three starts for the last 72 years.
Purdy came out slinging in the second half before firing a deep, 40-ish yard pass up the middle to George Kittle, who snagged the ball in the end zone to make it 14-7.
Another Purdy-to-Kittle pass made it 21-7 Niners late in the third quarter when Taylor Heinicke launched his own deep, almost 50-yard shot to Terry McLaurin who made a spectacular grab, setting up another touchdown pass to bring the Commanders to within a touchdown at 21-14.
The 49ers scored the first of several field goals to start the fourth quarter and extend the lead. But the clock had struck midnight for Taylor Heinicke, who turned back into a turnover-prone pumpkin.
He fumbled the ball on a Nick Bosa sack leading to another Niners' field goal; on the next Commanders' possession, Heinicke threw an interception to the Niners' Jimmie Ward, leading to yet another Niners' three-pointer and a 30-14 score. Heinicke was benched for starter-turned backup Carson Wentz, who went on to throw a touchdown pass in the Commanders' losing effort.
Brock Purdy was 15 of 22 yesterday for 234 yards and a 68.2% completion rate; he threw for two touchdowns, one interception, and took three sacks. Purdy and "undrafted Hall of Famer Kurt Warner are the only QBs since 1950 to have a 3-0 start to their career while throwing multiple touchdown passes in each game," the Chronicle reported.
"I don't really think about getting more and more comfortable or anything like that," Brock Purdy said after yesterday's win. "I still have that same fire and drive as before when I wasn’t playing. I want to go in and I want to prove to my teammates and earn the respect every play, every snap, every drive."
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