His arm strength and athleticism drew praise from coach Mike Shanahan, assistant coaches and teammates. Throw in his willingness to make time for anyone with a camera or microphone, and there was so much to like.
Seven weeks into the season, we might finally learn the answer. Shanahan this week will decide whether to start Beck after Grossman threw four interceptions and was benched in the fourth quarter of the Redskins‘ 20-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at FedEx Field.
“We needed a spark,” Shanahan said. “John has been practicing very well the last couple weeks, and with four turnovers there, we thought it was time to make a change and give John an opportunity to show what he could do.”
Instead of burying the consensus preseason favorite, Philadelphia (2-4) resuscitated its season at Washington’s expense.
The stats portray a Redskins team with a significant chasm between it and true playoff contenders. They were outgained by 135 yards. They converted only 1 of 10 third downs. They committed nine penalties for 75 yards.
The Redskins (3-2) averaged 3.0 yards on 14 rushes against a defense that entered the game giving up 5.0 yards per carry. Philadelphia held the ball for 16 minutes longer than Washington did.
Instead of defending home turf against a reeling rival and establishing some clout in first place, the Redskins finished the day in second after New York won.
“It’s very tough, very disappointing,” defensive end Adam Carriker said.
All the positive vibes from the Redskins‘ hot start vanished in a sobering reality check. Their good luck regarding injuries turned. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger was lost for the season with ligament tears in his right knee. Left tackle Trent Williams left the game with a high right ankle sprain. And tight end Chris Cooley suffered a left hand fracture that will require surgery.
Adding insult to those injuries is a fresh round of uncertainty at quarterback.
Beck’s uneven play in the preseason cost him the competition against Grossman for the starting job. Over Labor Day weekend, he went from being a central focus to an anonymous backup. Grossman, however, brought the cycle full-circle with four interceptions.
“We didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that were given to us as an offense,” Grossman said. “We didn’t execute. I didn’t execute.”
The most damaging was pick No. 3. The Redskins trailed 20-6 with 6 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Despite being dominated, they still had a chance. DeAngelo Hall’s interception had just given Washington possession at the Eagles‘ 18-yard line.
After an unsuccessful running play, Grossman tried to find tight end Fred Davis near the goal line.
“I trusted that [Davis] was going to be able to cross the safety’s face on his route,” Grossman said. “I’m not sure what happened, but he wasn’t able to. The safety stepped up in front.”
Beck came in and managed one touchdown drive, running it in himself from 2 yards. He finished 8-of-15 passing for 117 yards and a passer rating of 79.0. He completed several passes by maintaining quality mechanics under pressure.
Those snaps were his first with the first-team offense since the preseason. He practiced exclusively with the scout team since then.
“A handful of weeks of being in on meetings, being out at practice, I tried to visually get as much as I could from practice, standing in a position where my eyes could get reps, just trying to do what I could if this did happen,” Beck said.
“To be honest, I don’t know if I felt a great rhythm because of the way the game had gone, and we were trying to claw for what we could.”
Beck impressed some of his teammates with how he played after coming in cold.
“For John to be in mentally, you have to give him kudos because he was able to come in and give us spark and keep his composure without him being in for the last six weeks,” receiver Donté Stallworth said.
Now it’s up to Shanahan to decide whether Beck is ready to take over permanently. Since languishing in the preseason finale, Beck has had another six weeks to learn. Will that produce a significant improvement?
The Redskins can only hope.
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