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Bair: How Taylor Heinicke set the tone for vital Falcons win over Colts

The veteran quarterback's passion and play paced Atlanta's dominant showing in a Week 16 victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

ATLANTA – Taylor Heinicke handed the ball to Bijan Robinson, then turned upfield and to his right while executing a run fake. When the Falcons quarterback got beyond the line of scrimmage, he realized that Robinson had reversed field and was right behind him.

There was a Colts defender bearing down to make the tackle, with only Heinicke in the way.

Heinicke isn't a big dude, but that didn't stop him from doing what he had to do: Go make a block.

He'll get a pancake for the effort. Heinicke knocked cornerback JuJu Brents back, gave Robinson a bit of room to run – though he technically tripped the running back himself – and fired up the Falcons sideline.

"I hope it looked better than it felt," Heinicke said with a smile after the game. "… I'll do anything I can to get the guys going and help us go down and score."

Even, it seems, putting his body in harm's way. That's on brand for an NFL journeyman who plays with passion on each snap.

"Every time I go out there, I play like it's my last play, my last game," Heinicke said. "Playing in the NFL's a special opportunity. When you get your number called, it's special. When I go out there, I leave it all on the field on every play."

The entire Falcons roster played that way in Sunday's 29-10 victory over the Indianapolis Colts at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. There was an aggressiveness, a swagger and a devil-may-care attitude to Atlanta's play that, in my opinion, was influenced by the quarterback.

Heinicke played free. He played smart. He played like a guy who has seen it all during his NFL career. He played like a guy who wasn't going to hold back.

"There's a certain feeling you get when you have that freedom, when, in your head you say, 'What's the worst that can happen?'" Heinicke said. "A loss, but if you're going to lose, why do it uptight? Just go out and leave it all on the field. There's not a play where you want to look back and wish you would've done this or that.

"Just go play, see what you see and react. This game is supposed to be fun. That's why we started playing. I think the guys had some juice going out there today and I think we played a good game."

A good, clean game. That was the objective from the start, a point Heinicke made during his Wednesday press conference. He wanted to play smart, critical-mistake-free football from start to finish. For the first time this season, the Falcons were able to do that.

"The story of the season so far has been turnovers and self-inflicted wounds," Heinicke said. "The message this week was to not beat ourselves. It was a good, clean game. I tried to get the ball out of my hands quick and let our playmakers do their thing."

Heinicke had the opportunity to do so after getting promoted to QB1 this week (and for the second time this season). He took over for Desmond Ridder in the middle of a Week 8 loss to Tennessee, and started in losses to Minnesota and Arizona. The Falcons went back to Ridder after that, but some ill-timed turnovers in losses to Tampa Bay and Carolina sent Heinicke back to the top spot.

The Falcons needed a spark and got one, with Heinicke pushing the ball down the field at times, knowing when to check down at others. He orchestrated the offense well, helped operate an explosive run game and even made a block. There's no doubt that Heinicke made a positive impression on this team and this game, one the Falcons simply had to win.

"He kept the offense in rhythm. He continued to be aggressive and certainly executed the plan," Smith said. "It helps that he has a lot of experience, and you could feel it. We got into a lot of drives and a lot of guys contributed. I thought he did a phenomenal job today."

He did a good job in this win, because he was able to play free and be himself.

"Go out there, have fun and play with passion," Heinicke said. "That's when you play your best."

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Indianapolis Colts during Week 16.

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