The Redskins got a harsh dose of reality on Thursday night when Kirk Cousins surgically carved up the Washington defense while rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins struggled.
Haskins still has a bright future and a ton of potential, but on the field at US Bank Stadium, it became very obvious that the Redskins got significantly worse at the sports most important position when the team lost Cousins two seasons ago.
Sure, things would be quite different if Alex Smith never broke his leg. The truth, however, is that Smith did break his leg, and this year he’s a $20 million hole in the Redskins salary cap.
Cousins played a good version of his game. Not his best, but strong and precise. He completed 23 of 26 passes and did not turn the ball over. The Vikings did not blow out the Redskins as many predicted but for most of the second half, Minnesota seemed firmly in control.
Then comes Haskins.
He came in after halftime when veteran QB Case Keenum got diagnosed with a concussion. Keenum was playing quite well in the first half, though he was struggling with ball security. Haskins was not able to match Keenum’s level of play.
He completed three of five passes but threw an untimely interception that effectively buried the Redskins chances at a comeback win. The Washington defense made perhaps their best play all season, stopping Cousins on a QB sneak on fourth down. The Redskins got the ball back in great field position and looked poised to at least get a field goal.
Only Haskins sailed a ball intended for Terry McLaurin and it popped right to Vikings safety Anthony Harris.
"It happened so fast. It was there," Haskins said. "I couldn't really step into it the way that I wanted to, but it came out higher than I thought and I missed him and I need to make it better."
After the game, Haskins looked gutted. He wanted so bad to deliver for his team, to show his talent and skill and ability. It’s entirely reasonable to think that had Haskins come in and brought the Redskins back for a come from behind victory, the rookie would lay claim to the starting QB job.
That didn’t happen.
Beyond the INT, Haskins also had some situations where he didn’t seem to command the line of scrimmage. The results were penalties and confusion.
"Those are growing pains. You can't pinpoint one specific thing. I wish I could, I wish I could say it's this or it's that. It's just a whole experience," Redskins interim head coach Bill Callahan said of Haskins. "There's something new every day that is going to come up for a rookie quarterback. The game is pretty complex."
This is not an indictment on Haskins. He’s young and needs to learn the speed of the NFL.
This is also not an attempt at relitigating the Redskins decisions with Kirk Cousins. The team erred early on with Cousins by not getting a long-term deal done, but by late in his tenure in Washington, the relationship was broken.
The point here is just how gigantic the delta is from what the Redskins had at quarterback to what they have now.
At his best, Keenum can duel with Cousins. But in a Redskins uniform, Keenum hasn’t consistently played his best. Nor anywhere close.
Since the firing of Jay Gruden, the team refuses to play Colt McCoy, and that leaves Haskins on the field in relief of Keenum. In Week 4 the rookie played because Keenum was wholly ineffective in New York. In Week 8, Haskins got the call because Keenum got hurt.
Different situations but similar results.
Haskins has thrown four interceptions in just 22 NFL pass attempts. That’s a historically bad ratio. Things will improve. He has elite arm talent and the coaching staff believes he’s working hard to harness that for the Burgundy and Gold.
At the same time, at this time, Haskins is not ready for NFL game speed. That’s not an agenda, there is no conspiracy, it’s just obvious when watching him on the play. Haskins understands that too.
"I hate losing. I feel like I played a part in that and it's tough," the rookie passer said after the game. "But it's only year one for me. I got a lot of years left and this is all a learning experience."
Because of spite or vindictiveness or being short-sighted or just simply not believing in him as an elite passer, about 18 months ago, the Redskins moved on from Cousins. Until Smith got hurt, the team had adequately replaced Cousins. Maybe even improved.
Now, at 1-7 and with so much uncertainty at the quarterback position, it’s hard not to think about the series of decisions and events that landed the Redskins in such an awful place at the season's halfway mark.
Bill Parcells famously said that in the NFL, the record is the ultimate truth.
The Redskins record is terrible, and Haskins doesn’t look ready to improve it. At least right now.
MORE REDSKINS NEWS:
- NFL's Worst?: Why the Redskins are one of the worst teams in NFL
- Return of Trent?: Could Trent Williams come back Week 10?
- Bruce Allen on Gruden: 'We had to fire Jay'