Football demands a certain level of toughness and bravado from players, who must be genuine only on the former front. Acting like a tough guy is a whole lot easier than proving you’re the real deal.
Washington Redskins interim coach Bill Callahan gave Dwayne Haskins an opportunity to display his fortitude Sunday at Green Bay, and the quarterback aced the test. He hobbled around on an injured right ankle for most of the game, a 20-15 loss to the Packers, earning the respect of his teammates.
But watching Haskins limp badly on handoffs and resemble a crippled statue on pass attempts created a new round of “What are you thinking?” incredulity regarding Washington, specifically its handling of a first-round rookie quarterback.
Callahan was an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys the last time it happened, in 2012, when coach Mike Shanahan let Robert Griffin III continue to play against the Seattle Seahawks. At least that malfeasance occurred in the playoffs, the time of year when decisions can skew toward reckless abandon.
Griffin, who suffered a sprained LCL in Week 14, walked with a limp and wore a knee brace entering the wild card game. He re-aggravated the injury in the first half and was severely compromised, but he didn’t come out until the fourth quarter — after his knee collapsed in grotesque fashion with a torn LCL, ACL and meniscus.
He hasn’t been the same since.
Sprained ankles are much less worrisome and problematic than sprained knees, and Haskins apparently survived Sunday without any significant damage. But that doesn’t mean playing him the entire game made sense.
In fact, with Washington at 3-9 and needing Powerball-luck to keep playoff hopes on life support, continuing to play Haskins amounted to gross negligence.
“There was never an instance where we were thinking of taking him out of the game,” Callahan said afterward. “It never occurred to us.”
I guess something’s wrong with everyone else who wondered why in the world Haskins remained in the game.
“I thought he played hard and tough,” Callahan said. “He was cleared. We noticed he was gimping around, but he was fine. He battled tough. I give him a lot of credit for hanging in there and playing tough when he was banged up.”
Haskins might’ve been cleared, but he wasn’t fine. It was clear from watching him plant his foot on pass plays, execute rollouts, or simply hand the ball to a halfback. The training staff might’ve determined that the risk of injuring the ankle further wasn’t increased, but the risk of absorbing more hits due to limited mobility definitely increased.
“I couldn’t move too much,” Haskins said. “There were times it felt like I could’ve broken out of the pocket and made a guy miss. But I just kind of sat there.”
His inability to avoid pressure could’ve led to something far more serious than a sprained ankle. He proved how tough he is, but the result wasn’t worth the venture. We’d blame bad luck if the ankle injury led to additional damage.
But poor management would’ve been the real culprit.
This franchise has both ends covered. They went from waiting longer than necessary to play Haskins, to keeping him on the field longer than necessary against Green Bay. Callahan even mentioned that the rookie “didn’t want to come out,” as if that’s a sound reason.
Haskins took the ultimate tough-guy stance, suggesting that coaches were powerless to stop him, regardless. “There was no way I was coming out of the game,” he said. “There was talk about it, but I was going to play through.”
Teammates praised his grit and resiliency, which indeed was impressive. However, his final statistics were pedestrian as ever — 16-of-27 passing for 170 yards, one touchdown, one interception and four sacks — though he performed better in the second half with his bum ankle.
“He showed his character,” halfback Adrian Peterson told reporters. “He’s going to fight. It’s going to be hard to knock him out of a game.”
But not all games are created equally and nothing about Sunday’s contest was urgent. When you’ve reached the develop-and-evaluate portion of a lost season, discretion is the better part of valor. Especially as it pertains to a would-be franchise QB.
“You just have to sit there and take it on the chin,” Haskins said about being hobbled in the pocket.
If the intent is to prove your manhood, he’s right. Willingly offering yourself as a sacrifice for target practice will do the trick. Now we know he’s tough, which admittedly is something.
I just thought Washington had bigger goals for Haskins.
• Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.