CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The last time John Beck started a regular-season NFL game was 2007, when he was a strong-armed 26-year-old rookie from BYU with the Miami Dolphins.
In the lonely years since, Beck threw 15 passes and played in one game. That came in the Washington Redskins‘ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last week, when he replaced the ineffective and interception-prone Rex Grossman.
And Sunday at Carolina, Beck joined the Redskins‘ starting quarterback merry-go-round. But the fourth starter 22 games into coach Mike Shanahan’s stint with the Redskins couldn’t ignite the team’s offense.
“Winning is the only thing that really matters,” Beck said, after finishing 22-for-37 for 279 yards. “That’s the only thing I really wanted to do today. I wasn’t trying to go out there and be too perfect.”
Expecting a savior? Instead, you saw an up-and-down performance, where Beck flashed the mobility that helped win the job — at least this week — as well as rust from the extended time on the sideline. Playing much of the game at Bank of America Stadium without five injured offensive starters didn’t help.
“It’s kind of hard for John to come in and do what he did today,” receiver Santana Moss said. “But he did a great job. All he could do is keep going to the drawing board like we have been doing and we’ll pull it out.”
There was bad Beck: Three passes tipped at the line of scrimmage. Two near-interceptions dropped by Panthers defenders. Three sacks. An intentional grounding call. And a fumble the Panthers recovered after one of those sacks.
But Beck transformed to a different quarterback in the second half, as the Panthers built a lead and the Redskins were forced to abandon the run. Beck threw for 226 yards in the half and found a rhythm for the offense despite Moss and running back Tim Hightower watching from the sideline with injuries.
Also hurting Beck were five dropped passes.
Same with rookie receiver Leonard Hankerson, making his NFL debut, who appeared to run a different route than Beck expected on the quarterback’s lone interception.
But teammates noted Beck’s calm and poise in the huddle, though the Panthers’ stadium gashed with empty blue seats wasn’t exactly deafening.
“We’ll have to look at the tape,” receiver Jabar Gaffney said of Beck’s outing. “We didn’t get the win, but I thought for the most part he did a good job out there.”
The endorsement of Gaffney and Moss was meaningful, as both lobbied last week for Grossman to remain the starter.
Beck’s mobility brought a different dimension to the offense. He doesn’t have the smooth, powerful strides of Panthers rookie Cam Newton. But on third-and-goal in the third quarter, Beck dropped back, looked right and, seeing his receivers covered, scrambled four yards and dove head-first into the end zone.
An enthusiastic - and somewhat awkward - spike of the football followed.
“He’s always going to have some growing pains,” Shanahan said. “That’s the nature of the business when you just start playing, but I think you could see his athleticism, his quick release.”
Added tight end Fred Davis, who caught a touchdown pass: “John came in and did his part when he had to. He’ll continue to get better as he keeps playing.”