“He said he was a fan of me,” Haskins said afterward. “That meant a lot. He’s somebody I look up to as far as the position.”
The Packers did not improve to 10-3 solely because of Rodgers, who threw for just 195 yards and was sacked four times. Washington did not fall to 3-10 solely because of Haskins, who was hobbled by an ankle issue en route to an uneven 16-for-27 day in which he, too, was sacked four times and managed just 170 yards. Haskins threw a pick. Rodgers did not. Each had a touchdown pass. The Packers are simply better, and they won because of it.
There is an obvious gulf between these franchises — at so many levels, from the top down — but the quarterback position might demonstrate it best. Green Bay has stability there, and because of it anything is possible. Washington has a turnstile, so the parameters on what’s achievable are inherently limited.
Put it this way: The Packers are headed to the playoffs for the ninth time in the past 11 seasons, all with Rodgers under center. Washington will miss the postseason for the 10th time in a dozen years, a span in which seven different quarterbacks have led the team in passing yards.
So that matters — now and next year and five years from now.
“I feel way more comfortable,” Haskins said. “But I know it’s a long, long road ahead for me to where I feel like I can be in the future.”
That’s what Sunday is about. That’s what the rest of this month is about. We’re coming to a time when a decision must be made on Haskins, even if we don’t know who will be making that choice. Sunday was his fifth start. Should his legs hold up, he will have three more.
The numbers are . . . uh, well, they’re not great. After Sunday, he’s 88 for 160 (55 percent) for 971 yards with three touchdown passes and seven interceptions. The visuals aren’t great, either. His touchdown Sunday came on a ball to fellow rookie Terry McLaurin, who made a spectacular catch. But again, he held the ball for ages. Again, each sensible check-down was matched by an iffy decision.
“He’s really honing in on what he can do every single day to get better,” McLaurin said. “He’s not just worrying about the games. He’s worrying about his practice reps. He’s worrying about his study habits. He’s worrying about making sure he’s just minding his P’s and Q’s.”
That’s great. Five starts in, do we know everything? No. But we will be close enough soon enough. When all the information’s in, it will be the most important decision Washington must make in the coming months.
Well, maybe not more important than whether Bruce Allen remains as team president because Washington may be the one market where there’s a strong and strident view among the fan base that who’s calling the shots off the field is far more important than who’s calling them on it. To the burn-Bruce-at-the-stake set, Haskins just happens to occupy the quarterback’s chair at the moment. Fundamental change won’t come without a transfer of leadership.
But it’s unarguable that Washington’s inability to find a franchise quarterback has contributed to its decades-long malaise, which now seems baked-in. Look to the other sideline Sunday at Lambeau Field to see how the other half lives.
Rodgers, a Hall of Famer in the future, replaced Brett Favre, who’s in the Hall of Fame, as the full-time starter in 2008. Other than Rodgers, only one Packers quarterback has made more than six starts in that stretch — Brett Hundley, who filled in for an injured Rodgers in the second half of 2017.
The difference in Washington: Since 2008, eight quarterbacks have started more than six games. In a couple of weeks, Haskins will be the ninth. That takes into account the Rex Grossmans and Donovan McNabbs and Alex Smiths, all of whom arrived with varying degrees of fanfare and flamed out for vastly different reasons. It doesn’t account for the John Becks and Josh Johnsons and Mark Sanchezes who have also held the title of Redskins starting quarterback, at least for one week.
There’s a direct correlation between the instability in Washington, the stability in Green Bay and winning and losing. In Rodgers’s time as a starter, only New England, Pittsburgh and New Orleans have won more regular season games than the Packers. Hmmm, what do those franchises have in common with the Packers? Could it be that Tom Brady has 170 starts, Ben Roethlisberger 161 and Drew Brees 181 during that span? Seems likely.
In that same period, Washington has toggled from a first-round project (Jason Campbell) to a star acquired in a trade (McNabb) to a drifter from elsewhere (Grossman) to the second pick after a trade up in the draft (Robert Griffin III) to the guy drafted lower that same year (Kirk Cousins) to a veteran acquired via trade (Smith) to another first-round pick (Haskins). So there’s no consistency. As a result, only Oakland, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Cleveland have won fewer games than Washington in that time.
This is serious, franchise-defining stuff. Leading the week-to-week evaluation of Haskins, for now, is Allen in his role as head of football operations, former quarterback Doug Williams and Bill Callahan, who took over as coach midway through this season after Jay Gruden was fired.
“I think he continues to improve” was Callahan’s bland assessment of Haskins after Sunday’s effort.
Callahan only has input in the interim. The franchise’s official stance must come from whoever’s running football operations, whether that’s Allen or (hopefully) someone else. It must come from whoever is installed as the coach because there can be no discord on whether they’re going forward with Haskins — or moving on.
What an array of decisions that must be made.
Meanwhile, on Sunday afternoon, Rodgers emerged from the home locker room to take questions. Most of them were about the inconsistency of the Green Bay offense.
“I can tell you it feels really good to be 10-3,” Rodgers finally said. “It feels good to be on that side where you’re answering questions about, ‘How can you be more dynamic?’ after a win than, ‘What the hell is wrong with the team?’ ”
For more than a decade, Aaron Rodgers has been the man answering the questions — good or bad — for all of Wisconsin. Washington’s decision-makers have three more games to determine whether they’re ready to try to make Dwayne Haskins that same guy for a franchise annually trying to find its way. They have to get it right, or they will face more of the same.
More from Barry Svrluga: