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Commanders QB Taylor Heinicke 'more comfortable' as he prepares to make return as starter

Taylor Heinicke has been here before.

When Ryan Fitzpatrick went down with a hip injury in Week 1 of the 2021 season, it wasn't long before the Washington Commanders -- still known as the Football Team then -- became Heinicke's team. Heinicke started 15 of Washington's 17 games, going 7-8 as a starter and posting a respectable passing line that included a completion percentage of 65 for 3,419 yards and a 20-15 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Still, that wasn't enough to convince Ron Rivera and the newly renamed Commanders that he could be their guy going forward, leading Washington to acquire Carson Wentz in the offseason. Now that Wentz -- who wasn't playing great football in his first six weeks with Washington -- is out due to a fractured finger, Heinicke is back in the driver's seat, starting this Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

This time around, he knows what to expect.

"I feel a lot more comfortable, a lot more confident," Heinicke said Wednesday, via ESPN. "I was a little overwhelmed last year; it was my first time starting 15 games and it gets to you a little bit."

It sounds as if Heinicke is getting a second chance to prove his worthiness, but it's truly his third. In 2020, a year that was strange for so much more than just football, Washington encountered its own unexpected twists and turns, inserting Heinicke in the middle of a Week 16 game against Carolina. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 137 yards and one touchdown before returning to the bench in favor of Alex Smith. An injury to the eventual Comeback Player of the Year meant Heinicke would be needed in a once-unlikely playoff game against the Buccaneers.

Heinicke thrilled Washington fans, completing 26 of 44 passes for 306 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and a memorable rushing touchdown that required Heinicke to fully lay out for the pylon. The celebration included rookie edge rusher Chase Young pointing at Heinicke's nameplate on the back of his jersey, as if to tell the rest of the world remember his name.

The football world happily obliged, but the struggles of 2021 eventually made them forget. Now, Heinicke has a chance to remind them of who he is with a play style that never comes up short on guts.

"His ability to extend plays is really big for us," Washington receiver Terry McLaurin said. "The heart he plays with, a lot of guys galvanize behind that. You never know what you'll get with Taylor and that's the fun part of it.

"He's a guy who you have confidence in his ability to make plays. It may not be the prettiest or what you're used to every Sunday. ... He's playing like it's backyard football, but playing within himself."

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