ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Dwayne Haskins’ eyes told his teammates he was ready for this.
Adrian Peterson could tell his rookie teammate was dialed in for the first start of his NFL career, which turned out to be a 24-9 Washington Redskins loss to the Buffalo Bills.
“I saw the confidence in his eyes,” Peterson said. “I thought he came out and did a great job. It wasn’t all perfect — not only at the quarterback position, but the running back position, the offensive line and the receivers as well.”
Wide receiver Paul Richardson, too, mentioned Haskins’ optical organs when discussing him — pertaining more to how he acted in the huddle and on the sideline than during play.
“I like that he came in, he looked us in our eyes,” Richardson said. “He asked us what we saw. He told us what he saw. He asked us about matchups. Whenever he went to one side, and he didn’t go to the other side obviously, he’ll come ask us, like, ‘What did I have on the back side? Do you feel like you could beat him? Did you beat him? Was it man or zone?’”
The Redskins fell to 1-8 with the loss, but Haskins performed better than in his previous outings against the Giants and Vikings, when he entered in the second half after Case Keenum sustained injuries.
Haskins finished 15-for-22 for 144 yards, throwing neither a touchdown nor an interception but took four sacks. Washington’s three scoring drives all ended in field goals, something the offense continues to struggle and grapple with. But it’s still some improvement over what Haskins previously produced, and it could mark the start of the Haskins era, a moment to turn the page — that is, as long as he is named the starter again.
“In my short career and the amount of reps I’ve had throughout my career, I just wanted to play natural and play instinctive,” Haskins said, “and I felt that going into this game the more and more snaps that I got, and hopefully I keep going in the bye week and the rest of the season.”
One of those instinctive plays Haskins made was a scramble on a third-and-6 in the fourth quarter. He quickly recognized the man defense left open field to his left, and he darted out of the pocket to pick up nine yards.
“Yeah, I was like Michael Vick, I needed two hands on the ball,” Haskins said. “One hole, brought a motion in with the zebra. There was no one accounting for the quarterback. We ran a quick seam concept and there was literally nobody there so I said, ‘I’m going to take off,’ and I did.”
Interim coach Bill Callahan didn’t say whether Haskins will start in two weeks against the New York Jets following Washington’s bye week. But he was happy with Haskins’ start, saying he carried a lot over from the classroom to the field.
Callahan and offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell continued to employ a conservative game plan. Since Jay Gruden was fired and Callahan was elevated, the Redskins have doubled down on establishing the run — you could say leaning on it. Haskins rarely threw deep downfield, which Callahan partly attributed to the wind in western New York.
“We just wanted to manage the ball and not to be conservative, but just be effective and be efficient,” he said. “I thought we were, up until we get into those third down situations or penalty situation that would back us up.”
Peterson gained 101 of his 108 rushing yards Sunday in the first half, which surely contributed to keeping Haskins comfortable.
“I’ve been a fan of AP since I was eight years old, so it’s kind of like ‘Oh my god, it’s Adrian Peterson,’” Haskins said, “but it’s like ‘Oh, he’s my teammate now,’ so I’ve been making a couple jokes about him — ‘You’re getting old, man. You got to break that for a touchdown.’”
Haskins added that Peterson talked to him before the game about “taking ownership of this.” Peterson was asked postgame if Haskins showed enough to keep the starting gig.
“I feel like he did a great job. Yeah, of course,” he said, before adding, “Let me look at the film and see.”
Callahan and his staff, too, now will turn to the film; they have almost two weeks to decide whether to keep getting the rookie reps in what’s otherwise a lost season.