The Washington Football Team beat the Carolina Panthers 27-21 on Nov. 21. (Courtesy Photo)

By Mark F. Gray
Special to the AFRO

Ron Rivera proved he knows how to beat Superman.

He and his former quarterback Cam Newton met in their old stomping grounds, but it was the steady, somewhat spectacular play of the Washington quarterback that was the story once again.  The Washington Football Team defeated the Carolina Panthers 27-21 which altered queen city’s hopes of a triumphant return from their prodigal son.

Newton was the attraction for fans at Bank of America Stadium, but it was another former Panthers quarterback who stole the show.  Washington’s Taylor Heinicke was the best quarterback on the field and proved to be the star once again.  For the second consecutive week he outdueled a former Super Bowl and MVP quarterback to pull Washington to the brink of the .500 mark, which keeps them in the hunt for postseason.  

This win also makes the Football Team a viable playoff contender.  Washington’s 4-6 record pulls them within a game of the NFC’s final playoff spot.  They trail the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints who hold the last two wild-card spots in the NFC which are 5-5.

In back to back weeks he has beaten Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home and Newton on the road.  

Heinicke threw for 206 yards and three touchdowns against the league’s top-ranked pass defense.  He was 16 of 22 passing, using Terry McLaurin as his primary big play target. “Scary Terry” was a nightmare in Charlotte for the Panthers secondary and caught five passes for 103 yards and a touchdown against a Panthers defense that was giving up only 173.3 yards passing per game.

As a team Washington produced 369 yards of offense.  They ran for 109 yards, led by Antonio Gibson, who rushed for 95 yards on 19 carries.  He would have probably eclipsed the 100 yard plateau, while pushing the team over .500.

His legs were as damaging as his arm was against the Panthers.  Heinicke used his feet when he needed to keep the chains moving as Washington played with a confidence and newfound swagger with the ball in his hands. Heinicke is playing without fear and it appears Washington feels that with him as their signal caller. His comfort and command of the offense was evident as he spread the ball around too.

Newton was box office quality in making his first start at home since signing a one-year contract to return to the Panthers. He threw for 189 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score. Newton’s  short pass across the middle to  DJ gMoore for 10 yards capped their opening drive and gave them the early lead. He also ran for a 24-yard score to cap a 65-yard second quarter drive that tied the game.  

Washington looks to be peaking as they head into the final stretch of the season.  Heinicke now has the confidence of the team and, despite playing without two vital cogs on defense, they seem to have come together as a unit in time for the last push to make their run at the playoffs.

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