- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 4, 2020

LANDOVER — A more conventional coach might have taken the points. But after a week in which his quarterback faced so much scrutiny, Ron Rivera wanted to test Dwayne Haskins. Again.

On fourth-and-goal from the 13, down more than two scores in Sunday’s 31-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Rivera called on Haskins to try and score. The quarterback dropped back and fired a pass to the 9-yard line to Isaiah Wright, who was promptly pushed out of bounds.

No touchdown.

“I wanted to see what would happen,” Rivera said. “I really did.”

“I hope I passed it,” said Haskins, who said he had “no idea” he was being tested in that situation.

The play left Rivera a “little disappointed” in Haskins’ situational awareness, with the coach noting the better option would have been a shot at the end zone on fourth down.

But in all, Rivera said there was a “lot of good tape” from Haskins’ performance. After tossing three interceptions in last week’s loss to the Browns, Haskins responded with a career-high 314 yards while going 32 of 45 for a 71% completion rate. It came after days of speculation on whether he was playing himself out of the starting job. Rivera even hinted at a “cutoff point” for the quarterback.

On Sunday, Haskins showed the growth Rivera has demanded. Haskins wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but he took advantage of Scott Turner’s play-calling. He executed quick throws and completed a variety of screen passes. His arm strength was impressive, especially on a 39-yard connection to wideout Terry McLaurin that set up Washington’s final touchdown in the fourth.

Haskins, who ran in one score himself, said he wasn’t satisfied, but pleased with the effort.

“I thought I did a good job today just taking what the defense gives me,” said Haskins. “Some things to improve on and work on for next week versus the [Los Angeles] Rams. … I want to play football, fundamental football, have fun most importantly ou there. I don’t want to force anything. Last week wasn’t fun.”

In the lead-up to the Ravens game, local sports radio and even national television shows discussed whether a quarterback change was coming for Washington as Rivera’s comments set off a firestorm. Rivera, though, said he thought Haskins handled the week “very well,” not letting the outside noise affect him. Rivera said he thought Haskins stuck to playing his style of game, which suited him well.

Haskins took it all in stride. “I felt like I was in great control,” he said. 

“I gotta have confidence in myself every week,” he said. “I wanted to forget whatever happened previously, block out the noise and most importantly, have fun and trust what we’re doing schematically.”

Against Cleveland, the 23-year-old forced too many throws and got away from his fundamentals. For Baltimore, Rivera said that if Haskins had a five-yard throw available on third-and-8, he wanted to see Haskins execute the play.

Haskins, in his second season, appeared to do that. His accuracy was much improved from the first three games, Before Sunday, Haskins was second-to-last in completion percentage among qualified throwers at 56.4%. NFL Next Gen Stats, too, had graded Haskins last in expected completion percentage.

But Haskins found his targets. McLaurin, his old Ohio State teammate, remains his go-to receiver. McLaurin hauled in 10 catches for 110 yards. Haskins also fed J.D. McKissic (seven catches, 40 yards) and Antonio Gibson (four catches, 82 yards), and avoided turning the ball over.

Occasionally, Washington’s offense was derailed by moments of miscommunication. Haskins almost snapped the ball with seconds ticking away before halftime before Rivera rushed to call a timeout in order to kick a field goal. There was another sequence, early on, in which the quarterback and the offensive line weren’t on the same page, leading to a free shot for Ravens pass rusher Matthew Judon on Haskins for the sack.

“I thought Dwayne had his moments,” Rivera said. “There are still some things that, again, we’re still working through and we’re still developing and learning. … This is all a growing and learning process for him.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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