Did the Patriots Just Find Their Next Quarterback?

Perry: Time for a Taylor Heinicke, Patriots reunion? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Taylor Heinicke put on a show. 

Washington's quarterback was dynamic with his legs. He made accurate throws down the field, along the sideline and into the end zone. He helped take the Bucs to the brink in their Wild Card matchup Saturday, having an opportunity to tie the game with his final possession. And a chunk of his damage was done after leaving the game briefly due to what looked like a left shoulder injury.

Heinicke finished 26-for-44 for 306 yards, with one touchdown pass, one touchdown run and a pick. According to the NFL's research team, it was the first time a sixth-round pick or later (including undrafted players) had thrown for 250 yards and rushed for a touchdown in his playoff debut since . . . Tom Brady in 2001.

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For many across the country, Heinicke's name had to have been new to them. But there's a section of Patriots fans who'd seen it before. Maybe even knew a little about him. 

He was theirs for about five minutes.

In September of 2017, after going undrafted in 2015 and spending two seasons with the Vikings, he signed to the Patriots practice squad. Less than three weeks later, he was released.

Bill Belichick was asked about signing Heinicke and another practice-squad player a few days after Heinicke was signed.

"I mean, we really don't know much about either player," Belichick said at the time. "So, we'll see how it goes."

The question now for Belichick and the Patriots is, would they want him back? Would Heinicke make sense as one of the occupants of the quarterback room that was, for a brief moment in time, shared by Brady, Heinicke and Jimmy Garoppolo?

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Heinicke will be a free agent come the offseason . . . and there's no doubt he'll have interest after Saturday. Remember, he'd only just signed with Washington back in early December. Earlier in the year he'd been with the St. Louis BattleHawks of the XFL. Just before linking up with the Football Team, he was finishing out his engineering degree at Old Dominion and had some exams coming up.

"I had to email them and tell them the whole situation and ask them if I could take them after the season, and they were pretty nice about it," Heinicke told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "So I'm thankful for that -- didn't have to do a whole semester of work for nothing."

To do what he did will catch the eyes of more than fans on Twitter who professed their love for the Football Team's great underdog story. Everyone from NBC's Rodney Harrison to 2019 MVP Patrick Mahomes shouted out Heinicke during his moment Saturday. Personnel people across the NFL must have been impressed, too.

How about the ones in Foxboro?

The Patriots are without any clear-cut answers at the quarterback position for 2021 scheduled to be on the roster. Cam Newton will be an unrestricted free agent. Same with Brian Hoyer. Jarrett Stidham is under contract, and Jake Dolegala just signed a futures deal to stick with the team after sticking with the practice squad in 2020.

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Why not add Heinicke to the list of potential options for next season at One Patriots Place? Not necessarily as a No. 1. But an option? 

Could be a long list as Jacoby Brissett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen and Mitch Trubisky are all free agents. There should be passers available via trade, too. Garoppolo, perhaps? Maybe Marcus Mariota? And there's always the draft.

But with what Heinicke showed on Saturday -- toughness, accuracy in critical situations, flashes of mobility -- it'd be no surprise if he landed back on Belichick's radar. He was three years ago, and now he's coming off the game of his life.

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