“We didn’t get anything going,” Rivera said later in his postgame virtual news conference.
It was a phrase that could have described all of Haskins’s time with Washington: the bobbled opportunities, the odd moments that lacked self-awareness and the inexplicable decisions such as the one that came last week when he was photographed partying maskless in a room filled with people — an egregious violation of the NFL’s coronavirus protocols.
The only reason Haskins started Sunday was that Alex Smith’s calf was still too sore for him to play. And while Rivera refused to say who would start in Smith’s place next Sunday at Philadelphia should Smith be unable to go, it’s highly unlikely Rivera will choose Haskins again in a game that will decide whether Washington wins the NFC East.
Most telling was the chilling two-word phrase the coach offered after a long pause when asked what he wanted to see from Haskins this week.
“Just improvement,” Rivera said.
In many ways, Washington was always the worst place for Haskins. Hometowns often aren’t good places for stars to return when they become professionals. He started only 14 games at Ohio State, far too few to properly prepare him for the NFL. He needed a quiet place on a team with an experienced quarterback whom he could sit behind for at least a season, learning what it takes to play in this league. Instead, he was anointed the savior just months after Smith’s horrific leg injury.
It was an impossible situation, made worse by the fact Washington never had enough skilled playmakers or offensive linemen to support him. Haskins frustrated two head coaches in his rookie season and squandered the fresh start Rivera offered by failing to work hard enough in practice and in game preparation. Two weeks ago, he wept after replacing Smith in a victory over the San Francisco 49ers because he wasn’t sure he was ever going to play in a game again.
He said he cherished the opportunity provided by Smith’s latest injury. He said he was going to make the most of it. Seven days later, he went partying with his mask off.
Rivera did all a coach who didn’t want to blow a division title could. He fined Haskins $40,000 and stripped him of his captaincy, hoping this latest humiliation would be the one to awaken his young quarterback — all the while praying that Smith would be able to play against Carolina.
“You get a chance, and you got to make the most of it, and I’m just grateful to even have that chance,” Haskins said last week in a virtual news conference he asked the team to set up with local reporters.
But that last chance, like all the others before it, was too much for Haskins at this point in his career. The wretched division was falling to Washington. The New York Giants had already lost, meaning all Washington had to do was beat a Carolina team with nothing to play for to win the most improbable of division titles. All Haskins had to do was not make mistakes. Instead, he made too many.
The end would not be easy, of course. Nothing has been easy for Haskins in his time here. He left the field and the stadium quickly, assuming he would not be asked to speak with reporters. Later, the team’s public relations department reached him by phone and asked whether he would be willing to talk. Haskins, who has struggled to say no to people, agreed.
This led to an agonizing video call in which Haskins sat on a couch at his home, wearing a blue surgical mask and tried — in a low monotone — to explain what had gone wrong. He looked terrible. He sounded empty and broken.
“We just weren’t clicking,” he said.
“Very disappointing,” he mumbled.
When someone asked about his “place” with the team after the previous seven days, he sighed.
“I’m just going to bounce back and move forward, pray and get my life together,” he said.
At one point, he looked up, away from the screen and stared into the distance. For a moment, he said nothing.
“You sign up for this job. It is what it is,” he finally said. “Sometimes being human isn’t enough. Own up to your responsibilities and your mistakes and be a better person moving forward. Put your best foot forward and pray for opportunities when you have them. Seize them and make the most of it. You never know when you’ll get another one.”
The possibility that he will get one more chance seems gone. He has probably thrown his last pass for Washington, maybe in the NFL. The end came hard and fast and probably unfairly. Quarterbacks drafted in the first round aren’t supposed to fall out of football this quickly. Those who know him well say he cares and rave about a bright mind that understands offenses. They seem confused by his self-inflicted failures in the NFL.
Finally, everything came to a stop for Haskins on Sunday night. Wherever this team goes in the next week, to the playoffs or another disappointing finish, it almost certainly will go without him as its quarterback. There are no more chances to give.