The game was long since over when the young Redskins made their presence felt.
Quarterback Dwayne Haskins and running back Derrius Guice combined for their first career touchdowns. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin had a 67-yard catch wiped out by a holding penalty, but later in the game made a spectacular play on a ball thrown 41 yards down field.
That trio, for now, comprises what little hope Washington has for its immediate future. But if you chose to see their performance in the second half of a 34-17 loss to the woeful New York Jets as a small sign of progress, don’t bother. They don’t.
“It was okay. It wasn’t good enough,” Haskins said when asked to evaluate his play. “We didn’t win.”
If Guice seemed hard on himself afterward, too, there was good reason. At halftime the Jets led 20-3. New York punched in two quick touchdowns early in the fourth quarter and it was 34-3. Nothing that came after by any player really mattered.
“It was embarrassing,” veteran linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said.
Kerrigan is 31 now. He’s seen far too many days like this in his nine years with the Redskins. Haskins was making his second career NFL start. He’s not used to losing like this. He and McLaurin went to Ohio State, not Rutgers. Guice was a star at LSU. Kerrigan knows a hard lesson that they do not: You don’t control much in the NFL.
It’s hard for any rookie to see a bright future when you walk off the field drubbed by a 3-7 team. Garbage time numbers don’t do much for anyone – even for top draft picks who should be the foundation going forward.
“No, because it’s not just about us,” Guice said. “We’ve got to have linemen up there that’s going to block for all us. We’ve got to have all of that. It’s more than just three people.”
Haskins completed nine passes in the first half for just 52 yards. He was sacked four times. There are plenty of things he needs to learn about playing quarterback at this level and pocket awareness is one of them.
Guice played behind veteran Adrian Peterson in his return from a torn meniscus in his right knee during the first game of the season on Sept. 8. He carried the ball just four times for 16 yards in the first half.
McLaurin barely had time to celebrate his 67-yard catch with 13:22 to go in the second quarter. Instead of setting up the Redskins with 1st-and-10 at the 12, a holding call and unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on right guard Brandon Scherff made it 1st-and-24 at the 6. It was the story of the day.
By the end of the afternoon the numbers didn’t look so bad. McLaurin, a 2019 third-round draft pick, had three catches for 69 yards. Guice, last year’s second-round draft pick, showed how dynamic he can be taking a screen pass 45 yards for a touchdown. For a player who missed his rookie season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee and missed eight games this season with the meniscus tear, it had to feel great.
“A lot of emotions going through my head at the time,” Guice said. “But I knew I had to put it aside because we were losing. It’s not about me. It’s about the team losing that really stinks. It took the excitement out of it.”
Haskins completed 19 of 35 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns. There were more big plays than in his first start, a 24-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 3 before the bye week.
But his numbers were ugly after a drive stalled with 3:38 left in the third quarter following another sack. While the Redskins punted, Haskins gathered his offense together on the sideline and gave an impassioned speech caught by NBC television cameras. It was a fire we haven’t seen from him before.
“He’s a guy that’s taking on a role and we’re all following,” 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.’”
Added Guice: “He has to lead us and we’ve got to all follow. It’s team, it’s a team, it’s a team. We’ve got to play as a team, we’ve got to win as a team and we’ve got to lose as a team. It’s on all of us. We all made mistakes, we all made errors. We’ve got to fix it fast.”
Haskins’ numbers before his outburst were 12-for-20, 95 yards. In the fourth quarter they were 7-for-15, 119 yards, two touchdowns. Encouraging? Sure. But there’s so much more work to be done for the small group that comprises this 1-9 team’s future.
The veterans who have been around, who have lost more than they’ve won, know promise and potential isn’t worth much in a league with such a short shelf life. The young players aren’t going to turn this around on their own. They need to play better and they need help.
“You have guys who have been in the league a long time. As a young dude with a new voice, you have to earn their trust,” Haskins said. “You have to earn that ability to ask for what you see out there. As the game went on telling them what I want and what I think would help us make plays. They started listening to me, but I have to keep earning that.”
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