- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 13, 2020

Dwayne Haskins allowed the tears to come — leaving the field and during his postgame press conference — as he thought about his past few months. After the final whistle blew on Sunday’s victory, he took a moment to appreciate where he really was.

Because he’s learned to take nothing for granted.

“I didn’t know when I would be back out on the grass again,” Haskins said.

Some questioned if Haskins ever would be, at least for the Washington Football Team, after coach Ron Rivera relegated him from starter to third-string quarterback. But after Alex Smith left Sunday’s 23-15 win against the San Francisco 49ers with a tight calf — a decision Rivera said was made “out of an abundance of caution” — Haskins trotted onto the turf.

With five seconds remaining in the first half Sunday, he took the snap and dropped to a knee. And when the second half began, it was Haskins again who led Washington’s offense.

With the way the defense played in Sunday’s victory — scoring two defensive touchdowns — Haskins didn’t need to need to make standout plays. Still, to be back under center at all was an emotional experience for Haskins.

“This is probably the biggest amount of adversity that I’ve faced since coming into this world,” Haskins said, choking up. “I’ve leaned on a lot of people, a lot of mentors, family, close ones. I prayed. I prayed again. And I’m just glad that I’m able to be here right now.”

But Haskins and the offense left something to be desired, even if they did enough to secure the win. With an eight-point lead with just over five minutes to play, Washington had an opportunity to seal the contest with a steady drive.

Haskins had wide receiver Terry McLaurin open over the middle on a third-and-10 deep in Washington’s territory. He badly overshot his former Ohio State teammate, though, and the ball could’ve been picked off, deflecting off one defender before hitting the ground just in front of a second defender.

“It wasn’t perfect,” Haskins said. “I did make some throws I wish could’ve been completed, or that play to Terry — still pisses me off.”

Haskins finished 7-for-12 with 51 yards. He led Washington down the field to open the second half with a field goal. Most of Sunday’s victory can be chalked up to the way the defense played. But in a difficult situation, Haskins did just enough — taking care of the football — to ensure Washington would extend a four-game winning streak.

“He’s showing growth,” Rivera said, “and that’s the kind of thing we look for.”

Before Haskins got here, back on the field playing for Washington, the quarterback had to reach his nadir. Haskins threw four touchdown passes and three interceptions in his first four games this season — Washington lost three of those four contests. Looking around the rest of the division, though, Rivera found reason for optimism.

The other teams in the NFC East had stumbled to start their seasons, too, leaving a door open if Washington could string wins together. In his first season in charge at FedEx Field, Rivera gambled. He figured Kyle Allen, who was Rivera’s backup quarterback when they were both with the Carolina Panthers, would offer the best chance.

Then Allen got injured, and Smith took over the starting job. Still, Rivera has insisted that sequence didn’t spell the end of Haskins’ Washington career. And it’s forced Haskins to put in extra work, attempting to demonstrate his value.

“Finding ways to get better outside of the facility, staying longer at the facility, trying to prove to these coaches that I can be a guy that can be reliable and be someone that can lead this team,” Haskins said.

With Smith under center, Washington pushed its way firmly into the playoff mix. Washington beat the Bengals, Cowboys and previously undefeated Steelers with Smith’s steady performances. When Smith departed with a tight calf, though, Washington was fortunate to have Haskins ready and available to take over Sunday.

He didn’t light up the field in his first action since Week 4. But Haskins took care of the ball, even with his almost-interception, which was enough for a team with a stifling defense. And to be on the field at all was enough for Haskins.

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