ATLANTA — With a flair for improvisation, Taylor Heinicke has been pulling off these sort of bizarre football plays most of his life. To do it in front of family and friends really made it special.
Heinicke ad-libbed a 30-yard touchdown pass to J.D. McKissic with 33 seconds remaining, rallying the Washington Football Team to a 34-30 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
Returning to the metro area where he grew up, Heinicke completed 23 of 33 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns — two of them in the final 3:52 to give Washington (2-2) the victory. Both were vintage Heinicke, seemingly created out of thin air.
"I feel like I've kind of been doing that, those kind of plays, throughout my life," he said. "That's the kind of player I am. Hey, I grew up watching Brett Favre. I saw a lot of crazy stuff from him."
First, Heinicke eluded Dante Fowler Jr. and delivered an off-balance throw with another rusher in his face that Terry McLaurin, slipping away from two defenders, managed to catch in the back of the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown.
"No play is ever dead when Taylor's back there," said McLaurin, who finished with six catches for 123 yards. "I just knew Taylor was going to give me a chance."
Two missed PATs by Dustin Hopkins forced Washington to go for a 2-point conversion. It failed, preserving a 30-28 lead for the Falcons (1-3).
Heinicke wasn't done. After the Washington defense forced a punt, Heinicke guided his team into field-goal range. As it turned out, Hopkins wasn't needed.
Rolling to his left, Heinicke didn't see anyone open among four possible targets. McKissic slipped out into the right flat with no one around, Heinicke spotted him, and made a daring throw back across the field.
"He was the fifth read," Heinicke said. "No one was open, so I needed to make a play."
McKissic broke a diving attempt by Deion Jones — the only guy with a chance to make a tackle — took off down the sideline and dove over the pylon for the winning score.
Heinicke's first touchdown pass was a a 33-yarder to McLaurin in the second quarter. DeAndre Carter returned the second-half kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown, giving Washington a 19-14 lead.
Heinicke's heroics ruined a big day for Atlanta's Cordarrelle Patterson, who became the first Atlanta player since 2018 to score three touchdowns in a game.
Patterson hauled in a 42-yard pass from Matt Ryan for Atlanta's longest play from scrimmage this season, giving the Falcons an early 10-0 lead. He added touchdown catches of 12 and 14 yards, but he wasn't even on the field for Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan's 37-yard Hail Mary pass on the game's final play.
"Like I say, when coach calls my name, I'll be ready," Patterson said.
Patterson, who lines up at running back and receiver along with returning kicks, has emerged as one of the league's most dynamic players in his first year in Atlanta. Against Washington, he led the Falcons in receiving and rushing, finishing with five catches for 82 yards and six carries for 34 yards, and he averaged 26 yards on three kickoff returns.
The versatile 30-year-old former University of Tennessee player wasn't eager to elaborate on his big plays. He was too disappointed in the outcome.
"I put all that in the past. I'd give all this back to get a win," he said. "It's not about what I did. It's about this team. We didn't win. That's all that matters."
Ryan threw four touchdown passes, including connecting with Mike Davis on a 7-yarder that stretched Atlanta's lead to 30-22. A disputed personal foul penalty on Chase Young allowed the Falcons to keep the ball after they appeared to be stopped on fourth down.
However, they converted just one first down on the next two possessions and took only 4:43 off the clock in the process.
"If we want to be the kind of football team that we want to be and the type offense we'd like to be, you get in those situations and you want to move the football, burn clock and get some first downs and end that football game," Ryan said. "We didn't do it. That part's disappointing, and we've got to improve there."
Ryan, in his 14th NFL season, has been here before with the Falcons, who started 1-6 last year, were 1-7 to begin 2019 and haven't been to the playoffs since the 2017 season. This was another textbook Atlanta loss: Go back and forth with the opponent in front of a half-empty Mercedes-Benz Stadium and wind up on the losing end.
There were bright spots Sunday.
Ryan was 25-of-42 passing for 283 yards and four scores, Patterson obviously shined, and the Falcons were 10-for-16 on third downs and 3-for-4 in the red zone. But it was untimely drops by receiver Calvin Ridley, two missed interceptions, giving Heinicke too much time to find open receivers and Richie Grant missing a tackle on Carter's kickoff return that doomed Atlanta.
"It's obviously frustrating when you don't finish games," first-year coach Arthur Smith said. "We had multiple opportunities to win that game. We didn't."
Linebacker Foye Oluokun blamed the defense for not consistently pressuring Heinicke.
"We could've played a cleaner game for sure," Oluokun said. "Any time you start dragging out little things here and there into a long drive and then you're tired — as long as you play a cleaner football game, we'll get the outcome we want, but we've got to work on playing cleaner for sure."
Patterson described the mood in the locker room as somber.
"It sucks, but we're all grown men here," he said. "We've got to pick this stuff up, come in tomorrow, watch the film and just learn from it and try to get to 2-3."