So this is how the dance ends between the new coach and the former Washington Football Team first round pick.
After a week where he was scrutinized for partying without a mask at a club following a tough loss to Seattle, Dwayne Haskins was named the starter against Carolina after it was apparent the injured Alex Smith (a bad calf that two years ago was being reconstructed after a compound fracture) could not play. After the New York Giants lost at Baltimore, it was a simple win-and-they’re-in situation.
Only they didn’t win, and after a nightmare first half, Haskins was benched after a pair of third quarter possessions in the Washington Football Team’s 20-13 loss to Carolina. He then left FedEx Field before speaking with the media (he’d later join via Zoom from his home).
The drama continued Monday morning, when Coach Ron Rivera stated that if Smith couldn’t play in Week 17, Taylor Heinicke would be the starter against the Eagles.
“Sometimes you have to reach rock bottom before you can dig your way back out of it,” Rivera said. He also added “sometimes a change helps.”
On Monday afternoon, we learned what “a change” meant for both parties when the Washington Football Team released Haskins.
We’ll look at his performance against the Panthers below, but in 16 games played for the Burgundy & Gold, Haskins completed 60.1% of his passes for 2,804 yards with 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He posted a passer rating of 74.4 (bottom tier in today’s offense-friendly league) and a 3-10 mark as a starter.
Now he’s gone. And the man who starts the majority of the team’s games in 2021 could very well not currently be with the organization. Haskins goes the way of other first rounders this century: Patrick Ramsey (75.0 rating and a 10-14 record as a starter over four years), Jason Campbell (82.3 rating and a 20-32 mark as a starter over four seasons), and Robert Griffin III (90.6 rating and a 14-21 record as a starter over three years) each had their moments but wound up leaving town after a coach that didn’t draft them took over.
But while Haskins was one of the reasons Washington lost this week, he wasn’t the only reason. Our look behind and beyond the numbers:
Quarterback Carousel —Taylor Heinicke came off the bench to complete 12-19 passes for 137 yards and a fourth quarter touchdown. He also scrambled for a pair of third down conversions. The Old Dominion product was actually studying for finals a month ago when he was first contacted by WFT.
He is somewhat familiar with Rivera, having started one game in 2018 with Carolina. Haskins finished with 154 passing yards before being benched. His first half was a nightmare: 6-15 for 36 yards and two interceptions for a passer rating of 8.3. He also lost a fumble. By the way, all three turnovers took place in Panther territory.
Running in Place, Catching in the Flat — Antonio Gibson’s return saw the rookie rush for 61 yards on 10 carries. Sadly, he won’t come near 1,000 yards despite having a shot before his toe injury, but the future looks bright at that position. J.D. McKissic ran four times for 15 yards, but caught eight passes for 77 yards and the team’s lone touchdown.
His 75 catches are second most on the team, and with Terry McLaurin injured, he needs six more grabs to take the team lead.
Sprained Ankle, Walking Boot — Terry McLaurin missed Sunday’s game with a high ankle sprain. His 80 catches for 1,078 yards lead the team at this time. Getting him help this offseason should be a priority. While Logan Thomas (seven catches for 63 yards) remains the security blanket for whoever is throwing passes (his 69 grabs is third on the team and his 633 yards is second), the Sims duo of wide receivers in Cam and Steven have yet to click.
They’ve only combined for 53 receptions and 693 yards on the year.
Third and Uneven — The team converted 7-15 money downs, with Heinicke moving the chains on 3-5 attempts and Haskins doing so on 4-10 tries (he was 2-6 in the first half). Haskins completed 4-8 passes for three conversions, while Heinicke completed 1-2 attempts while scrambling for a pair of conversions.
J.D. McKissic moved the chains on both of his runs, while Logan Thomas was held short on a direct snap carry. The top target? Cam Sims caught one of three passes headed his way for one conversion. Yardage breakdown: 4-6 in short-yardage, 0-1 when needing 4-6 yards, and 3-8 in long-yardage.
“D” earns first half F — Yes, they held their opponent to 20 points again. But once again, the defense fell behind in the first half. This time, it allowed a soul-crushing 10 play, 80 yard march that put the team behind 13-0 that featured nothing but running plays.
They then allowed a touchdown on the next Panthers possession to fall behind 20-0 on a day when the offense was misfiring every which way possible in the first half. The defense recorded a fumble recovery on the Panthers’ first second half drive, but that was after Carolina had the ball for eight minutes.
They did get finally get a game-changing play when Jeremy Reaves returned a fumble for a touchdown the next time the Panthers had the ball…only to have the play whistled dead before the turnover. Those are the breaks. Cole Holcomb tallied 10 tackles and a sack to lead the D, while Kamren Curl notched nine tackles plus an interception.
Not So Special Teams — Steven Sims’ muffed punt put the Panthers on the board in the first quarter. He’s averaging 6.4 yards per return on the season, good enough for 12th best among those with 20 or more returns. But that muff gave a visiting 4-10 team its biggest first half lead in over a month.
Danny Johnson had a 22-yard kickoff return. Tress Way averaged 51.3 yards per punt. Dustin Hopkins kicked field goals of 26 and 48 yards while making his lone extra point. Two of his three non-onside kickoffs were for touchbacks.
Flying Flags — Washington was whistled six times, while Carolina accepted five penalties for 26 yards. The team’s 82 penalties on the season is 16th fewest in the NFL, while its 641 penalty yards is the eighth fewest. Three were on defense (neutral zone infraction, illegal use of hands, 12 men on the field), one on offense (holding) and one was on special teams (offsides on an extra point).
Montez Sweat’s neutral zone infraction give him a team-high 10 penalties this fall. Jimmy Moreland’s special teams offsides give him five flags for the second-most on the team. False starts remains the leader (13), while there are 11 offensive holding calls this year.
Sunday’s most costly flags? Wes Schweitzer was flagged for a hold on a 4th & 8 at the Carolina 12 that wiped out Heinicke’s touchdown pass to Logan Thomas. They’d turn the ball over on downs on 4th & 18, going without points on their second to last possession of the game.
Digesting the Division — With one week remaining, Washington (6-9) somehow still leads the NFC East despite a sub-500 record and two game losing streak. Dallas (6-9) is in second place due to getting swept by the WFT this year but has won four straight, including Sunday’s 37-17 victory over Philadelphia.
The third place New York Giants (5-10), despite their third straight loss (a 27-13 defeat at Baltimore), are still in contention for the division title. Only woeful Philadelphia (4-10-1) is out of the playoff race, as the Eagles are one more loss away from assuring a first-to-worst 2020.
Week 17 Scenarios — It’s fairly simple. Again. Washington wraps up the NFC East with a win at Philadelphia on Sunday night. They also take the division with a tie if Dallas loses to or ties the New York Giants (those two teams play at 1 p.m.).
A WFT loss means the winner of the Cowboys and Giants takes the East, while a Giants-Cowboys tie in that scenario would move Dallas into first place. Dallas wins the division by beating or tying the Giants plus a Washington loss, while the Giants prevail if they beat the Cowboys and WFT loses at Philly.
North Stars — The AFC North (36-23-1) locks up its spot as the top quartet, with the NFC West (34-26) that many thought would have four playoff teams way back in week two fading at the finish. The AFC West (32-28) on the strength of 14-1 Kansas City will finish third, while the NFC North (31-29) is in fourth due in large part to 12-3 Green Bay.
The NFC East? While the 21-38-1 mark is no longer in danger of being the worst in modern times, it’s a world that could deliver a home playoff game for a 10-loss Giants team.
Elimination Island — Eighteen teams remain in contention for 14 playoff berths, as three more teams saw their playoff possibilities end this past weekend. Philadelphia (4-10-1) gets bounced from the postseason picture Sunday, Las Vegas (7-8) completed its fall from 6-3 Saturday night by snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against Miami and Minnesota (6-9) couldn’t overcome the Alvin Kamara tidal wave Friday.
The Vikings defeat may garner interest around D.C. as Kirk Cousins, despite decent statistics (his 103.1 passer rating ranks ninth in the NFL), will miss the playoff party for the second time in three years since he signed with a 13-3 team coming off a trip to the NFC Championship Game.
For whatever reason, his numbers in D.C. always outpaced the team’s performance: ranking 12th in passing for a 7-9 team and 7th for an 8-7-1 squad. This fall, for every big win at Green Bay or Chicago, there was a home loss to Dallas or Atlanta when each was in last place.
He signed a two-year extension before 2020, and he’s the conundrum the Vikings have to deal with. (But at least when he was the Washington starter he stayed healthy and was never benched).