In a two-play sequence midway through the second quarter Sunday, Dwayne Haskins displayed the vexing inconsistency that has beleaguered the quarterback since joining the Washington Football Team.
On the first of those plays, Haskins scrambled to his left but kept his head up, scanning the field. He flipped a pass to Steven Sims for a 17-yard completion, the first real successful pass Haskins had all day. But the very next play, Haskins dropped back for a play-action attempt, looked solely at Logan Thomas and never saw Tahir Whitehead, the linebacker in underneath coverage who intercepted Haskins’ throw.
Throughout Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers, Haskins was ineffective at best and a detriment to his team at worst. He finished 14-for-28 with 154 yards and three turnovers, and he was benched for Taylor Heinicke midway through the fourth quarter.
At the end of a trying week — which included Haskins’ second COVID-19 violation of the season — Haskins’ benching could represent the end of his time in Washington. Last year, Haskins was a first-round pick out of Ohio State, perceived to be the franchise’s future.
And now what? If there is a future, it doesn’t seem to be with Washington.
“We’ll have to see,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said of the quarterback situation next week. “We’ll see how Alex [Smith] is doing, and we’ll go from there.”
Haskins started Sunday despite breaking the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols last weekend, when he partied without a mask following a 20-15 loss to the Seattle Seahawks — a game in which Haskins threw two picks.
With Smith out for the second straight game with a calf injury, Rivera turned to Haskins as the team’s best bet under center to clinch an NFC East title. Rivera said he appreciated Haskins’ honesty and how the quarterback took responsibility for the incident.
“I’mma always support Dwayne,” defensive end Chase Young said. “Everybody makes mistakes. You mess up in life, that don’t mean you stop. And I’m going to be supportive, and that’s my bro, so I’m behind him.”
Still, the team fined Haskins $40,000 and stripped him of his captaincy, all while preparing for a start against the Panthers. Haskins apologized on Twitter, apologized to his coach and apologized to his teammates.
“It was definitely the hardest week of my life,” Haskins said. “Just want to bounce back and move forward and pray and get my life together.”
Then he took the field Sunday, and the turnovers soon followed.
After a three-and-out on Washington’s opening drive, Carolina defensive end Marquis Haynes hit Haskins on the quarterback’s blindside, forcing the ball out. Washington’s defense ensured that wouldn’t lead to points.
But Haskins’ interception midway through the second quarter — when he stared down Thomas and missed the linebacker underneath — turned into a touchdown for the Panthers. And Haskins finished his first half with one more interception, throwing into triple coverage and finding the wrong team with just seconds remaining.
He managed to complete six of his 15 first-half attempts for 36 yards, and Washington entered the locker room down 20-3.
“You sign up for this job, and it is what it is,” Haskins said. “Sometimes, being human isn’t enough. So you just got to own up to your responsibilities and mistakes and be a better person moving forward. And put your best foot forward and pray for another opportunity. And when you have it, you make the most of it.”
Rivera said he stuck with Haskins after the intermission because of what Haskins did last week against Seattle. In that loss, Haskins drove Washington down the field twice to narrow the score line. Rivera wanted to see that again, but the Panthers’ opening possession of the second half lasted eight minutes, keeping Haskins sidelined.
And while he did extend plays with his feet to begin the second half, the few highlights weren’t enough. He found Cam Sims for a 50-yard pitch-and-catch to set up a field goal. Later, he hit Robert Foster over the middle for a 28-yard completion.
But at the end of that same drive, Haskins didn’t see an open receiver over the middle, opting to tuck the ball on fourth-and-2. The Panthers sacked him to force a turnover on downs, and that was Haskins’ last contribution Sunday.
“There were some opportunities he had missed,” Rivera said. “And to give us a chance, I wanted to see what Taylor could do.”
So Heinicke entered, led Washington down the field and had a touchdown wiped out due to a holding call. On his second drive, Heinicke fired a lofting 29-yard touchdown pass to J.D. McKissic, giving Washington a pulse. He finished 12-for-19 with 137 yards, a marked improvement over Haskins.
“It was gutsy,” Rivera said of Heinicke’s performance. “I thought he took advantage of what they were doing, in terms of playing soft, allowing him to take the underneath. … He gave us a chance, which is all we can ask.”
That performance casts some doubt over whether Haskins will receive further opportunities in Washington — especially if Smith is healthy. When asked what Rivera needed to see from Haskins this upcoming week, the coach left his answer short: “Just improvement.”
Last week, Haskins admitted he viewed Sunday’s game as a last chance. He said postgame he was confident when he took the field, but that confidence didn’t translate into success. So now Haskins’ future is unclear.
He’s a former first-round quarterback who has only played 16 games in the NFL. Yet he now seems to be on the outside looking in when it comes to Washington’s quarterback situation.
“I have a lot on my mind,” Haskins said. “Can’t really put in words how I feel right now.”
• Andy Kostka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.