The Washington Redskins had it rubbed in their faces Sunday. Anything their quarterback could do, the Carolina Panthers' rookie QB could do better.
John Beck can complete 59.5 percent of his passes? Cam Newton can complete 78.3.
Beck can run 4 yards for a touchdown? Newton can run 16.
Newton also can execute a nifty option pitch and, because he's 6-foot-5, 248 pounds, catapult his body in the direction of the end zone from the 5-yard line. Beck would love to be 6-5, 248, and tries his darnedest to be, but the best he can do, unless he stands on his tiptoes, is 6-2, 215.
There were lots of reasons the Redskins lost 33-20 to previously 1-5 Carolina at Bank of America Stadium, but none was bigger than the difference between the two quarterbacks — or rather, the difference between where the two franchises are in solving every team's QB Issue. The Panthers, blessed with the first pick in the 2011 draft because of their total wretchedness last season, had Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn, land in their laps. The Redskins, meanwhile, are still scuffing along with retreads like Rex Grossman and now Beck, who, when he took the field against Carolina, hadn't started an NFL game in four years.
Beck didn't do too many things Sunday that should make Mike Shanahan want to howl at the moon. He threw for a touchdown. He scored on a scramble. He had a 80.8 passer rating — which is thoroughly average but better than Grossman has been managing lately. All in all, it wasn't the worst debut you'll ever see, especially given the injuries in the offensive line and loss of Santana Moss (broken hand) and Tim Hightower (knee) during the game.
It's just that he wasn't Cam Newton. Newton, you see, is no mere mortal. He's a force of nature. Seven games into his career, the only question seems to be: Can he stay in one piece until the Panthers accumulate more talent?
Shanahan was impressed not only with Newton's ability to run the option - which kept the Redskins "off balance," he said - but with the kid's passing accuracy. The latter is the scary part. After all, it sometimes takes young quarterbacks a while to put up the kind of numbers in the pros that they did in college. But Cam is already hitting 60.3 percent of his throws, while still doing a nice job of getting the ball downfield (8.3 yards per attempt).
"He's a great quarterback," said Brian Orakpo, who sacked Newton once but could only wave at him a number of other times. "We knew that from what we saw of him on film."
He also has something else Beck doesn't have: an elite receiver like Steve Smith. Smith was the only wideout the Redskins had to worry about, but he still caught seven balls for a game-high 143 yards. His longest reception was a backbreaker, a 36-yard gain to the Washington 1 that helped give Carolina a 30-13 cushion. The Redskins haven't had nearly enough plays like that this year. In fact, their longest completion is 45 yards.
And now Moss, their most reliable option, is out for at least the short term. Still, he said, whether he's in the lineup or not, "We're still a football team. You go through these lumps. It's a long season."
Yes, it is a long season. And for the Redskins, it's getting lumpier. Kory Lichtensteiger, Trent Williams and Chris Cooley all fell by the wayside last week — the last two will be back at some point — and Sunday there were more casualties on offense. That just makes it tougher on Beck, who isn't exactly the type of quarterback who can do it alone. (Newton, on the other hand, pretty much is the type of quarterback who can do it alone.)
To his credit, Beck didn't throw an interception until the late going, when the outcome was already decided, and it was the result of a "miscommunication" with rookie Leonard Hankerson, who was playing in his first NFL game. He also lost a fumble on a sack, giving him two turnovers on the afternoon - more than you'd prefer, but nothing like the Great Grossman Giveaway against Philadelphia.
Shanahan and his play-calling son Kyle were very protective of Beck in the first half, though. They didn't ask him to do much more than hand off to Hightower (whose 78 rushing yards in the first two quarters topped Beck's 53 passing). Also, Carolina penalties figured prominently in the Redskins' first two scoring drives.
The coaches took the handcuffs off Beck in the second half, but it was out of necessity as much as anything: The Redskins kept falling further and further behind. (And toward the end, Beck was operating against a prevent defense, so his final stats were a tad padded.)
The Shanahans probably won't be able to get away with such conservatism in the weeks ahead. They'll have to ask Beck to shoulder more of the load, as all quarterbacks must. If they don't, they'll simply be advertising to the whole world that they don't think their QB is up to the task. But then, we already know that, don't we?
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Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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