What could’ve and should’ve represented a night of redemption and jubilation for the Washington Football Team and quarterback Dwayne Haskins instead came to a nauseating end for the organization and its fans.
Haskins had endured a week of tumult -– albeit self-inflicted -– yet received the perfect opportunity to begin to repair his reputation as Washington needed only to defeat the Carolina Panthers at home to pull off its improbable quest of winning the NFC East and a playoff berth for the first time since 2015.
Instead, a week after he followed up a 20-15 loss in his first start in nine weeks by breaking COVID-19 protocol and attending a party at a D.C. area nightclub with more than 10 people in attendance and without wearing a mask, Haskins turned in one of the worst performances of his career.
Washington lost a very winnable game 20-13 and now needs a win at Philadelphia to clinch the division.
But Haskins most likely is out of chances. He’ll likely have to watch as another man tries to deliver where he failed this week.
With two interceptions and a fumble and a 2-for-7 showing on third downs before a fourth-quarter benching, Haskins appears to have written his Washington Football Team obituary. Ron Rivera will likely turn back to Alex Smith, who missed the last two games with a strained calf, or Taylor Heinicke, who signed with the team three weeks ago and still had a better showing than Haskins in spot duty, as Washington faces the do-or-die Week 17 situation.
Haskins, meanwhile, very well could return to the inactive list, where he spent four weeks earlier this season after his initial benching.
It’s another sad tale in Washington’s long run of futility in the area of quarterback evaluation and development. It’s another reminder of organizational dysfunction.
Haskins had little chance to succeed in this situation. Washington drafted him 15th overall in 2019 out of Ohio State because owner Daniel Snyder loved him after having seen him shine at Potomac, Maryland’s Bullis High School. It didn’t matter that the coaching staff and some Washington talent evaluators at the time were lukewarm on Haskins. Jay Gruden and his assistants needed to win to save their jobs, not invest time in a quarterback they saw as a project and in need of multiple years of seasoning after he started just one year at Ohio State. So, the coach opted for veteran play at QB.
Gruden didn’t last past Week 4, and when Haskins did get onto the field under interim coach Bill Callahan, he did display talent, but he was indeed raw. The pandemic robbed Haskins of his first offseason under new coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner, yet they still named him Week 1 starter (with a short leash) despite Rivera later admitting after the Week 4 benching that Haskins wasn’t really ready for the job in his eyes.
But the coach wasn’t alone. There were always whispers of concern both around the league and within the organization (and even in the locker room) about Haskins’ maturity. The best thing for Haskins probably would have been to sit behind a veteran for a while and to learn the tricks of the trade from a preparation and decision-making standpoint.
A healthy Alex Smith would have done Haskins wonders during his rookie year. But Smith was still recovering from the broken leg that threatened his career.
Haskins did receive that opportunity this year during the five weeks as Smith’s backup, a span in which the 14-year veteran helped lead Washington on a 4-1 surge that positioned the squad to win the division.
But if that time under Smith benefitted Haskins, the fruit didn’t manifest itself in a tangible way. Haskins not only threw four interceptions and one touchdown in the two starts in place of Smith (both losses) but also committed an even more egregious error with his decision to go clubbing after the Week 15 loss to Seattle.
And in another disappointment in the eyes of Haskins’ bosses, he displayed the same questionable decision-making and flawed fundamentals that they hoped his time on the bench would have led him to concentrate on correcting.
On Sunday, Haskins completed 14 of 28 passes for 154 yards, two picks, fumbled once and posted a ghastly 36.9 passer rating. Washington trailed 20-6 when he left the game, and to make matters worse for the quarterback, Heinicke came in and directed a scoring drive and made a sputtering offense suddenly look competent.
As Haskins watched from the sideline as his teammates made a desperate push to overtake Carolina, helpless and with his helmet still strapped on, the finality of the situation seemed painstakingly clear. He grew up dreaming of starring for his hometown team, but failings both on the parts of the organization, and Haskins himself turned that dream into a nightmare.
Haskins couldn’t help the fact that Washington brass brought him into such an untenable situation in 2019. And he couldn’t help the fact that Washington’s offense lacks talent at wide receiver.
But he certainly could have taken greater lengths to control the elements of the situation that were in his power. Greater maturity and understanding of what was asked of him this year could have made a difference. Rivera and Turner never needed him to be Patrick Mahomes and throw a bunch of acrobatic, game-winning passes. Given the strength of Washington’s defense, they simply needed him to take care of the football and manage the game.
But each forced throw-turned-interception proved costly and illuminated the lack of understanding and the inadequate preparation they observed in the quarterback.
Haskins’ time in Washington in all likelihood will end after this season. But he does possess talent. It's said there’s a whole NFL graveyard full of quarterbacks with talent. But, if he’s willing to work and learn and pay attention to the finer details of NFL quarterbacking, Haskins could salvage his career. An ideal scenario would be to land in Tampa Bay, where he could sit behind a highly decorated veteran and learn under a quarterback guru head coach and talented offensive coordinator. There, he could get away from his hometown and focus entirely on football. Maybe then, he’ll have a chance to live up to his potential.
Washington, meanwhile, will find itself starting all over at the quarterback position again. Snyder & Co. must learn from this as well. This time, the football people must receive the freedom to pick the talent and thus commit to grooming that quarterback of the future the right way.