XFL alumni Walker, Heinicke outduel future hall-of-famers Brady, Rodgers on Sunday

Quarterback P.J. Walker leading the Carolina Panthers, 2021.
Quarterback P.J. Walker leading the Carolina Panthers, 2021. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The XFL got some free advertising about how the league can help players get their foot back in the NFL door on Sunday when two former XFL 2020 quarterbacks upset teams led by two future NFL Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks.

Former Houston Roughneck PJ Walker, in his second start of the year for the Carolina Panthers, helped upend the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady, 21-3. Former St. Louis Battlehawk Taylor Heinicke, in his first start of the year for the Washington Commanders, led the defeat of the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers, 23-21.

Walker opened the year as Carolina’s backup quarterback when injuries befell Sam Darnold and Matt Corral, both ahead of him on the depth chart in the summer. Due to an ankle injury to Baker Mayfield, Walker picked up the start last week in a 24-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. This week, Carolina opened up the offense more than they did against LA, and Walker shined. He went 16-of-22 passing for 177 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, he did not turn the ball over.

“PJ had an outstanding performance,” said Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks after the game. He also indicated Walker may have earned another start, depending on the health of Mayfield and Darnold. “It’s going to be hard to pull him (Walker) out,” said Wilks.

Quarterback Taylor Heinicke leading the Washington Football Team, 2021.
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke leading the Washington Football Team, 2021. (Credit Wikimedia Commons)

Washington starter Carson Wentz suffered a broken finger last week against Chicago and was placed on injured reserve this week. That means it will be Taylor Time for the foreseeable future. Heinicke finished 20-of-33 for 201 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He added two carries for four yards.

Commanders head coach Ron Rivera spoke after the game about what makes Heinicke successful. “It is an underdog mentality,” said Rivera of Heinicke’s mindset. “He’s got a tremendous amount of faith in what he can do.”

Walker and Heinicke weren’t the only former XFL quarterbacks active on Sunday: Josh Johnson, who played for the LA Wildcats in 2020, was elevated from the practice squad to back up Brett Rypien for the Denver Broncos. Rypien was starting in place of Russell Wilson, who missed the game against the New York Jets with a torn hamstring. Johnson did not see game action in Denver’s 16-9 loss.

With the XFL draft coming up in a few weeks and the league likely making its final full-court press to convince prospective players to enter their names, there was no better time for Walker and Heinicke to shine, allowing XFL officials to hold them up as examples of what being a part of this league could do for a player’s fledgling career.