PITTSBURGH – Quarterback Taylor Heinicke started Thursday’s preseason finale against the Steelers and finished 7-of-12 for 68 yards and a touchdown.
Was that, combined with everything else he’s done this summer, enough to edge Garrett Gilbert for the backup role to Cam Newton?
“I hope so,” Heinicke said following Carolina’s 39-24 defeat. “There are a lot of plays in those four games – and even in practice – that we wish we could have back. But I think we both did a good job. We laid it all out there.”
Heinicke got off to a rough start, completing just one of his first five passes. But he settled down and went on to connect on six of his next seven attempts.
His last throw was a perfectly placed back-shoulder toss to wide receiver Mose Frazier for a 6-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.
Heinicke finished the preseason 24-of-36 passing for 323 yards and two touchdowns with one interception (102 passer rating). He also rushed five times for 23 yards and one score.
“Taylor is really instinctual. He finds a way to make it work,” said quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, who along with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, coached Heinicke in Minnesota. “He sees things well. He’s got that ability to make plays when things break down. He’s got good decision-making and accuracy, and if you do those things, you can play in this league.”
Gilbert has been battling Heinicke all summer, but it was a frustrating night for Gilbert against the Steelers. A holding penalty led to a three-and-out on his first series and a strip-sack ended his second drive. Gilbert’s third and final series resulted in another three-and-out, so he finished just 4-of-7 for 23 yards.
“Unfortunately in that second quarter we put ourselves behind the eight-ball,” said Gilbert, who concluded preseason play completing 19-of-33 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns (93.6 rating). “Have to play smarter football.”
But this competition was never going to come down to one night, and Turner has been happy with the play of both young quarterbacks throughout this entire process.
“Overall, I’m proud of the way (Taylor and Garrett) worked from all the way back in April,” Turner said. “They really pushed each other and pushed themselves.”
All the reps have been taken and all the throws have been made. Now all that’s left is the waiting game.
“It’s nerve-wreaking. This is our livelihood. Your job is on the line,” Heinicke said. “Last year (at this time) I kind of had a feeling I was going to be released (by the Vikings), and this year it’s totally different. I’m going to try to keep my mind off it. Just going to try and enjoy the weekend.
“It’s out of our hands now.”