“He is learning and gaining experience each week,” longtime Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Bills beat writer Sal Maiorana wrote, “but he remains a raw, unmolded talent who has been put in a difficult situation because he is surrounded with such incompetence on offense.”
But Allen kept his starting job.
Luckily for Allen — and the now-undefeated Bills and their fans — he didn’t get jobbed, which is exactly what happened to Dwayne Haskins this week after just his 11th start for a Washington team in as direful of a situation as exists in the NFL.
Allen got all 16 starts in 2019, a season that ended in a wild-card loss. And this season, he’s a top-five quarterback in the league, sitting among Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes in a few key measurements.
Haskins not only was benched Wednesday, but he was doused with humiliation to boot — either by owner Daniel Snyder, whose franchise has the NFL’s fifth-worst winning percentage over his 21-plus seasons, or by Snyder’s newest coach, Ron Rivera. How else can you describe being dropped to third on the depth chart behind the unremarkable Kyle Allen and Alex Smith, who is remarkably recovered from what was a life-threatening injury?
Neither Haskins, his teammates nor whatever fans remain of this all but moribund franchise deserved what just happened. Consider: On Sunday, Haskins passed for more than 300 yards for the first time. He didn’t manage a touchdown throw against a Ravens defense that is the fourth stingiest in the game, but he didn’t turn over the football, either, while facing a pass defense featuring two of the best cornerbacks in the league.
Furthermore, Haskins answered his coach’s challenge after Rivera announced going into the game that Haskins needed to bounce back from what may have been his worst outing, a loss at Cleveland during which he was picked off three times. So Haskins completed 32 of 45 passes for a 90.4 passer rating, his best of the season and the third highest of his career. He ran for a score against the Ravens, too. All it earned him was a demotion two rungs down, which meant one thing for certain: He was lied to by either Snyder or Rivera.
That is potentially the most damaging outcome from the sidelining of the 20th starting quarterback for this team in the 21st century. It raised the specter in the locker room of the new coach’s honesty. After all, if you meet his demands only to be relegated, how can you maintain trust in him going forward?
Rivera said he pulled the plug on Haskins because the NFC East is so bad that he thinks this team, a mere 3-13 a year ago, has a chance to steal enough wins to make the playoffs. Well, if that is the case, why didn’t he play to win against the Ravens rather than use a sort of test normally reserved for the preseason?
On a fourth-quarter fourth and goal at the Baltimore 13-yard line, Rivera opted against a short kick that could have cut the lead to two scores. Instead, he ordered Haskins to run a play as a test of the quarterback’s “situational awareness.” Haskins didn’t get the ball into the end zone, failing Rivera’s pop quiz. Hence, Haskins was deemed unfit to continue as a starter.
In his first 10 starts, Josh Allen completed 52.3 percent of his passes with seven TDs and 11 interceptions. Even before Haskins finally broke the 300-yard mark Sunday, he had completed 58.2 percent of his attempts for 11 TDs against six picks over his first 10 starts. Buffalo was 4-6 in Allen’s first 10 starts. In its first 10 games under Haskins, Washington went 3-7. That one game evidently made the difference.
“I felt like we had four games if we could come out 2-2, I could stay with Dwayne,” Rivera explained. “But we’re 1-3. Watching the games, Dwayne needs some more work. With the division where it is right now, I’d be stupid not to try to put the ball in the hands of someone who’s been in the system and a guy who knows it.”
Never mind that Haskins doesn’t play defense for a side that surrendered 30 points or more in each of the past three outings, all of which resulted in losses. Never mind that only four quarterbacks have been sacked more than Haskins, who was playing behind an offensive line rated 25th by Pro Football Focus going into the Ravens game. Never mind that Haskins doesn’t have running back Adrian Peterson anymore, although rookie Antonio Gibson is proving to be a find, and that he doesn’t have an experienced wide receiver teamed with the emerging Terry McLaurin.
There is evidence that what happened to Haskins is not anomalous and that we shouldn’t be shocked. A study of NFL starting quarterbacks during the first decade of the 2000s by Assumption University economics professor Brian Volz found that Black starting QBs were twice as likely as White starting quarterbacks to get benched. So even though 2020 is being celebrated as the Year of the Black Quarterback, with 10 teams starting Black quarterbacks to open the season — the most in Week 1 in NFL history — that is not necessarily evidence that trust in Black and White quarterbacks is the same.
Volz concluded his piece by suggesting that Black quarterbacks “may face some level of discrimination” — or, on the flip side, that White quarterbacks may be the beneficiaries of privilege. Indeed, Haskins lost his job with an 80.3 quarterback rating, while two other 23-year-old starters also drafted in the first round — Sam Darnold and Daniel Jones, who are both White — have lower quarterback ratings, zero marks in the win column this season and more leash from their bosses.
Volz added that “… when White quarterbacks are replaced, the team improves by more than when Black quarterbacks are replaced … [providing] evidence that there is a cost to this discrimination.” So the pressure is on Kyle Allen. And Rivera. And Snyder. And all of the new football and business executives, including team president Jason Wright, the first Black president of an NFL club.
Because the truth is, Haskins shouldn’t have been benched. That he was isn’t a solution. It’s just symptomatic of a franchise that is still a grand mess.
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