Dwayne Haskins was standing almost exactly in the middle of the field when he gave a glimmer of hope to the Redskins fans who soldiered on through Sunday’s loss to the New York Jets.
Center Chase Roullier snapped the ball, and Haskins felt pressure almost immediately. Safety Jamal Adams, who already had three sacks, came bursting through the line of scrimmage unblocked in hopes of getting his fourth.
Running back Derrius Guice, who had just returned from a torn meniscus, was open in the flat, and Haskins, who had Adams and two other Jets defenders bearing down on him, couldn’t wait any longer. With a flick of his wrist, he sent the ball over to Guice, who caught the pass and sprinted past a wall of burgundy and white jerseys on his way to a 45-yard touchdown -- the first in 16 quarters and the first of Guice's and Haskins’ careers.
“He was probably more excited than me,” Haskins said. “I know he really wanted that touchdown, and he’d seen a lot of plays to get there. I gave him the ball, and I hope we can do some more touchdowns like that.”
The score, while not enough to fight off an eventual 34-17 loss, was a preview the Redskins’ future with Haskins as the starting quarterback. The qualities that made him a first-round pick -- his arm strength, accuracy and ability to make smart decisions -- were on display throughout the game, while his two fourth-quarter touchdowns also showed there is optimism for the team’s future.
“Dwayne, at times, had good decisions, had good reads,” said interim head coach Bill Callahan. “He made some good throws down the field that created big plays. Overall, there were some good plays he made and some plays he’ll learn from and get better from.”
There was some of the latter in the first half against the Jets. While Haskins had a solid completion percentage -- he was 9 of 13 for 69% -- he only had 52 yards and was sacked four times. And the biggest play of the game -- a 67-yard completion to wide receiver Terry McLaurin -- was called back because of a holding penalty.
But Redskins fans got to see Haskins’ arm strength in person, which the rookie showed with ease during that sequence. He made the throw while drifting to the left and without setting his feet, yet the pass was on target to a streaking McLaurin with two defenders in coverage. It was as though the former Ohio State teammates were back in college.
Haskins said he’s glad he has McLaurin on his team, and the ball was going to him no matter what.
“…Regardless of what the coverage was, I was going to Terry,” Haskins said, which drew a couple of laughs during Sunday’s postgame press conference. “I put it out there for him to make a play, and that’s what he is good at doing.”
As the game progressed, Haskins started to look more comfortable in the pocket directing the offense, and it came from making some changes at halftime that gave him the chance to make plays with his ability.
“It was just, ‘Give me the ball and let me play,’” Haskins said. “Give me plays where I’m comfortable. I could throw the ball on time and on rhythm. That was the biggest thing.”
Callahan said the coaching staff tried to make the game plan more “player-friendly” for Haskins with simple protections and decisions.
“We tried to simplify the progressions, the reads that he had in the game,” Callahan said. “I didn’t think it was anything too elaborate or anything that was really too much or that can congest his mind with a lot of thinking.”
With about 12 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the changes paid off. With the Redskins set up at their own 31-yard line, Haskins completed three of five passes prior to Guice’s scamper to the end zone.
Haskins had the offense rolling again later in the quarter, as he opened the drive with a 41-yard heave to McLaurin, who made a highlight-reel catch that put the Redskins at the Jets’ 13-yard line. Once again, Haskins trusted his longtime teammate.
“No matter what the coverage was, Terry is getting the ball,” Haskins said. “That’s just him making plays and being the beast that he is.”
Six plays later, Haskins topped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeremy Sprinkle -- his second of the day and of his career.
There’s no hiding that Haskins’s high points came in the final minutes of a loss, and Haskins himself evaluated his performance by saying “it was okay.”
Still, it was clear the offense is now Haskins' to lead. Guice said as much after the game.
“It’s his offense,” Guice said. “Like I always tell him, ‘It’s your offense, you’ve got to tell me where to go with protections, tell the line where to go, tell us what routes to run. That’s on you.’ He has to lead us and we’ve all got to follow.”
Check out photos of the Washington Redskins during their regular season Week 11 game against the New York Jets.