One guy, Jones, is on a New York Giants team in the midst of an orderly rebuilding process, marked by rational thinking and a coherent succession plan, led by a professional front office with confidence in Coach Pat Shurmur. The other guy, Haskins, is playing for the Washington Redskins, the organizational equivalent of a drunken bar car.
As was clear early in their 24-3 loss at Met Life Stadium, they are a team careening noisily down the track careless of their destination, full of sloppy passengers with neckties askew. By the time Coach Jay Gruden put Haskins in to replace a sore-footed Case Keenum for his rookie debut just before halftime, the Redskins were down 14-0, and there was no reversing or excusing this clumsy, jersey-grabbing, tackle-whiffing performance.
“Let’s see. How do I explain it?” a clipped-worded, sarcastic, job-imperiled Gruden said afterward.
The offense, with four turnovers and a pitiful 2-for-11 performance on third down, was “pretty much inept in all phases,” the coach said. Of a dozen penalty flags, Gruden said, “I don’t know what’s going on.” Asked who the quarterback will be next week or in the future, Gruden said, “We’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.” If there is one for him.
As for owner Daniel Snyder’s thoughts about all of it, those were impenetrable behind the black shades he wore even as he stalked through the stadium tunnel afterward, muttering in a low staccato stream to team president Bruce Allen, who bent low to his ear.
It’s hard to envision Haskins or anyone else succeeding in these circumstances, given what has been built around him — and what hasn’t. Haskins turned in a decidedly underwhelming performance, with three interceptions to a handful of nice completions and some effective scrambling. It’s impossible to put the performance into context and judge his long-term potential, because it comes amid such team-wide malaise.
Maybe it was a mercy that he was so blithely, youthfully unaware of just what a mess he’s in. “We’re going to keep getting better, and that’s not happening again,” Haskins said.
The only proper conclusion to draw from his performance is that Gruden was entirely right when he said last week that, right now, it’s better for Haskins to “sit back and learn.” This is such a poor, dispirited outfit that no quarterback change will make it decidedly better, or worse, in the space of a week, especially with the undefeated New England Patriots coming up.
Instead, dysfunction and disagreement are likely to continue to brew on the inside about whether Haskins should play or not. There was a hint of that in the snap of Gruden’s voice when he was asked who will start henceforth, given that Haskins is management’s anointed future of the franchise. Keenum has been ineffective and Colt McCoy is still hobbling on a surgically repaired broken leg, and that may give Snyder and Allen the temptation they need to push for their top draft choice.
“He’s got to earn that right first,” Gruden said sharply. “I don’t care where you’re drafted, when you’re drafted. You need to earn that. He’s got to come in here and perform when he’s asked to perform.”
Make no mistake: Haskins is not ready to perform on command yet. He started just 14 games before coming out of Ohio State, as opposed to the 36 that Daniel Jones started at Duke under David Cutcliffe. Jones, too, had his rough moments during Sunday’s game, including back-to-back interceptions, but he has a better cast around him and overall better recognition of what’s coming his way. “He’s smarter than me,” Shurmur said. Haskins simply doesn’t have the wherewithal to avoid mistakes, nor does his team have the support system to cushion him from them.
The Redskins are not just a losing team; they are a mysteriously demoralized one. Sure, it’s terrible luck that they lost some key players in the first quarter of the season. They were playing Sunday with a backup center and right guard, given injuries to Chase Roullier and Brandon Scherff, not to mention a left tackle they signed off the street during training camp when Trent Williams’s holdout began. Their list of wounded also includes tight end Jordan Reed, running back Derrius Guice and nascent star wide receiver Terry McLaurin. “We’ve got some pretty good players who are not here,” Gruden said.
But that’s not really a legitimate excuse — not in this league. Injuries are where well-built teams emerge and separate from the bad ones. They find competent third stringers culled from low rounds of the draft or undrafted free agents.
You know who else has suffered some key injuries? The Giants. They were playing without brilliant running back Saquon Barkley, sidelined by an ankle sprain. They still managed to rush for 164 yards, behind reserve Wayne Gallman Jr. and a fourth-stringer — yes, fourth — in Jon Hilliman. They “stepped in with a heavy load and did a really nice job,” Shurmur said.
The Redskins never have a coherent plan — only round robins of backstabbing and blame-shifting, repetitive cycles that culminate in crisis seasons with lame-duck coaches like this one, which has 3-13 written all over it.
And the players know it. These are professionals who have reputations and future contracts at stake, and yet they have seemed utterly unwilling to muster a modicum of consistency against any opponent during this 0-4 start. That suggests a couple of things. One, they don’t care what this coaching staff and front office thinks of them. And two, they don’t seem inclined to pour any more wasted effort into this dark hole. It’s just as well not to infect a kid with all this losing and embarrassment.
For more by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.