The NFL has come fast for the Redskins’ first-round draft pick, their quarterback of the future. But this time, thrust into his second professional game because starter Case Keenum had a concussion, the night had been especially cruel. He had a chance to maybe win the game for Washington, to help end this dreadful slide that has them at 1-7 and the bottom of the NFC East.
This was late in the third quarter, with the Vikings only up 16-9 and the Redskins on Minnesota’s 30-yard line, beneficiaries of a Vikings fourth-down gamble gone wrong. Haskins read the defense, saw wide receiver Terry McLaurin open by the 20, and threw.
The ball sailed, tipped off McLaurin’s hands and landed in the arms of Minnesota safety Anthony Harris. The 66,776 who filled U.S. Bank Stadium roared. Haskins’s shoulders slumped. The Redskins would never be as close again on Thursday night.
“I take it tough and put it on me,” he later said of the interception and loss.
His voice was soft, his words mumbled, barely audible in the loud silence that follows a football defeat. He shook his head.
“I’m competitive,” he said. “If you are playing football and comfortable with losing you shouldn’t be playing football.”
This was supposed to be a night about revenge and redemption. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was going to make the Redskins regret the way they had refused to make him their franchise quarterback. Redskins running back Adrian Peterson was going to tear across the field of the stadium he said he helped build for the Vikings. And Keenum had come back to the place where he had been his best — if only for one magical season.
Then, with Keenum forced out, Thursday night’s Cousins-Peterson-Keenum game became all about the future.
Long after, as the team dressed quietly in the locker room, one Washington player would say he didn’t think Haskins had properly been prepared for what he faced on Thursday night. It likely would have been hard for anyone to fully grasp what he was going to endure. U.S. Bank Stadium is one of the loudest in the NFL, with booming music, a huge pounding drum and moaning Viking horn. Minnesota also has one of the league’s most skilled and aggressive defenses.
In a way, Haskins survived. He completed 3 of 5 passes for 33 yards and was sacked twice. But all that anyone will remember is the interception.
“It came out higher than I wanted it to,” he would later say of the throw.
Though the Redskins season seems lost, a likely chance for interim coach Bill Callahan to put the season in Haskins’s hands, Callahan said Keenum remains the team’s starter — if he has cleared the concussion protocol before the team’s next game, Nov. 3 at Buffalo.
“I do believe Case is our quarterback,” Callahan said, adding that Haskins would start over Colt McCoy if Keenum can’t play.
In the end, Cousins and Peterson had their nights. Cousins threw for 285 yards and Peterson rushed for 76 , moving to sixth on the all-time rushing list and receiving a long standing ovation from the crowd during a fourth-quarter timeout — a tribute that he said left him holding back tears. The game was close for a half, as Keenum was able to connect with wide receivers McLaurin and Paul Richardson on quick, short throws that vexed the Vikings’ defense.
Washington’s defense played well, too, keeping Cousins from producing a huge game and keeping the Vikings from scoring when they got close to the end zone. With 2:00 left in the first half, the score was tied at 6 and it seemed the Redskins were delighted with the result.
“But we didn’t close out,” Callahan said.
Cousins moved Minnesota 75 yards in 1:50 with a flurry of fast throws that went for 15, 39 and 31 yards. Dalvin Cook finished off the march with a four-yard touchdown run, thrusting through several tacklers and then barely crossing the goal line. It was a play that proved to be the real difference in the game.
Haskins started the second half and though he had a few moments, like when he fired a sidearm pass to Peterson that went for 21 yards, he couldn’t do enough. And when the throw to McLaurin went into Harris’s hands, the Redskins were done. They had the ball for just five plays in the fourth quarter.
“By and large the effort of our football team was there tonight,” Callahan said. “We just didn’t close out.”
Much later, after Haskins had been pulled off the stool and led to an interview room, the quarterback of the future met the superstar of the past. Peterson stopped him in a hallway, and they talked.
“He told me I could rely on him,” Haskins said Peterson told him.
It was a night when Haskins couldn’t rely on the one pass he needed to make most.