“He looked us in our eye and spoke to us,” wide receiver Paul Richardson said after the Redskins’ 24-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills. “You need a leader, you need a connection like that.”
In many ways, this was Washington’s bleakest loss yet, coming on a frosty field as a Canadian wind howled through the New Era Field stands and the stadium sound system blasted freight train whistles before every third-and-long. The defeat followed a similar pattern of previous losses, with mistakes compromising promising offensive drives and keeping opponents on the field longer than they should.
The Redskins are 1-8, haven’t scored a touchdown in 13 quarters and look every bit like one of the worst teams in the NFL.
But there glowed a hope on Sunday. Their rookie quarterback, starting for the first time, in another team’s stadium, against one of the league’s best defenses — and did pretty well. The final numbers won’t show this. He went 15 for 22 for 144 yards. He had no touchdown passes and was sacked four times. But in the opinions of many of his teammates after the game, Haskins’s performance was cause for optimism.
His teammates thought he grew as the game went on. He seemed to read a complicated Bills defense reasonably well. He knew what was coming. He made the right call a lot of the time. None of his passes were intercepted. And later, the Redskins players nodded when asked about him.
“I thought he did really well considering the circumstances,” tackle Donald Penn said.
“Completely different,” is how guard Tony Bergstrom described the way Haskins prepared for this game.
There had been a lot of worry about Haskins going into this start. In the parts of two games that he had played before Sunday, he looked overwhelmed, unsure of what to do and every bit of a 22-year-old with 14 college starts. But with starter Case Keenum still in the concussion protocol after a hit 10 days earlier in Minnesota, Haskins got to prepare all week as if he would start. The certainty appeared to help him, as his teammates saw his confidence grow. He struck them as the most assured he has been since arriving.
On Sunday, inside the frigid stadium, it showed. He completed several key passes to receivers Richardson and Terry McLaurin — the latter his teammate at Ohio State. He was aided by several big runs from Adrian Peterson, who had 101 yards by halftime and looked to be doing everything he could to help the rookie in his first start. And the Redskins moved the ball more than anyone probably expected.
In their two second-quarter possessions, they moved 71 and 55 yards, twice ending up inside Buffalo’s 15-yard line. Still, they could do little with their success. Already down 10-0 after the Bills scored a touchdown and field goal on their first two drives, the Redskins settled for two field goals, with a sack ending one drive and a pair of failed runs and a missed pass ending another. Wrapped around a Bills touchdown following a 66-yard kickoff return, those field goals did little to help Washington on Sunday. The Redskins went into halftime down by nine, despite having more first-half yards, and did little in the second half to get back into the game.
This has been a theme for Washington, one that started when Jay Gruden was the coach and has continued under his replacement, Bill Callahan. Missed chances and mistakes continue to vex the Redskins. As in their previous two losses, against San Francisco and at Minnesota, they kept the game close enough to make the score look good, yet never appeared to be in position to win.
“It’s frustrating,” Callahan said after the game, calling it “a similar template of how we’ve been playing in recent weeks.”
He lamented the inopportune penalties, incomplete passes inside the 20-yard line and stuffed runs. The failure to score inside the red zone seemed to bother him most.
“We’ve worked on it,” he added. “We focused hard, but we’ve got to go back this bye weekend and really zero in and find a new way, a new plan of attacking the red zone area, because it hasn’t been productive.”
But it was Haskins the Redskins talked about most after the game. Callahan said he thought Haskins had “a pretty efficient day,” though he would not commit to starting him in two weeks against the New York Jets.
Haskins, himself, seemed more satisfied than he has in the past, saying he was “very detail-oriented, more laser focused.”
Asked if he thought this had helped, he said, “yeah.”
“But [we] didn’t win,” he added. “So not enough.”
Then again, that could be the theme of this broken Redskins season: Not enough.