- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2020

Dwayne Haskins hadn’t had a game like this in a while. The kind that hearkened back to an ugly professional debut. The type that prompted coach Ron Rivera to assure the 23-year-old he would still be the starter in the weeks to come.

Still, there was no sugarcoating the Washington quarterback’s performance on Sunday: He was bad. Really bad.

Haskins had four of his team’s five turnovers in Washington’s 34-20 loss to the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. All four — three interceptions and one fumble — resulted in scores for Cleveland. All four gave the Browns great field position.

As a result, Washington fell to 1-2 on the season. Growing pains were to be expected, but Sunday’s loss was frustrating for Washington for a variety of reasons. Chase Young got hurt in the first half. So did Matt Ioannidis. The defense couldn’t contain Cleveland’s lethal running game with backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, giving up 158 rushing yards.

The main story, however, was Haskins. He finished with 224 yards on 21 of 37 passing. Haskins threw for two touchdowns, but they didn’t erase the turnovers. His third interception, in particular, was brutal, given that Cleveland had just taken a 24-20 lead in the fourth and Washington had a chance to answer. Instead, Chubb scored a 20-yard touchdown three plays later.

So much of this season boils down to whether Haskins can become Washington’s quarterback of the future. After three games, that question remains unanswered. But at some point, Haskins is going to have to start convincing people with his play on the field.

Rivera knows it — which is why he told the quarterback after the game that he was sticking by him.

“I’m going to take my lumps with Dwayne right now,” Rivera said. “As long as he continues to do things that show you he can make things happen, I’m going to support the young man. I’m not going to pull the plug on him just because something like this happens.”

Haskins appreciated the support, but understands he needs to play better.

“Coach Rivera and I are very close, but I don’t ever want to just to think, ‘Oh, I’m his guy. He believes in me,’” Haskins said. “That doesn’t matter if I’m not producing on the field.”

Haskins’ three interceptions were his most since his debut last season, when he was thrown into action in the middle of a September 2019 loss against the New York Giants. Against the Browns, each throw that resulted in a pick was a problem. One was too high. The other was too predictable. The last appeared to be a product of poor technique.

Haskins said he didn’t feel like the turnovers were the result of staring down his receivers — though the second interception certainly looked that way as linebacker Malcolm Smith completely jumped the pass intended for receiver Dontrelle Inman. Rather, Haskins said he tried to do “too much” on the throws.

The mistakes, he said, came down to situational football. Haskins said he should have been more aware of when to take a sack or check it down to the running back. “Not make plays worse,” he said.

Now, the question becomes how Haskins will respond. The 2019 first-rounder overcame a poor stretch his rookie year to close the season out strong. Haskins, too, maintains he can deal with adversity.

Even in Sunday’s game, there were moments that showed Haskins was willing to fight back following his errors. Washington took a 20-17 lead with 2:20 left in the third after Haskins needled an 11-yard strike to Inman for the touchdown.

Haskins also had a much better start to the game, taking a 7-0 lead on another dime to Inman. Washington’s offense catered to Haskins strengths: He pushed the pace, made quick throws and spread the ball around.

But Washington’s defense isn’t good enough to overcome being put in bad positions Certainly not without Young (groin) and Ioannidis (arm). Rivera said the two would be reevaluated on Monday.

The unit didn’t do the team any favors when Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (156 yards) led Cleveland down the field for an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to go ahead 24-20.

“When the offense did come around and get us up, we didn’t make the plays that we needed to (in order) to keep the lead,” said cornerback Kendall Fuller, who made his season debut after missing the first two games with a knee injury.

Haskins faces an even more daunting challenge next week: the Baltimore Ravens. While Cleveland entered the afternoon as one of the league’s worst defenses, Baltimore is allowing just 305 yards per game — the third-best mark in the NFL. The Ravens have the type of defense that can make a young quarterback miserable. That doesn’t even take into account the league MVP, quarterback Lamar Jackson, on the other side.

Rivera, though, insisted he’ll allow Haskins to play through his struggles. He will not turn to backup Kyle Allen or veteran Alex Smith. Rivera said that he still views Haskins, in the 10th start of his career, essentially as a rookie. 

“We’re going to live with the mistakes and he’s going to grow from those mistakes,” Rivera said. “The only way to find out if he can do it is keeping him on the football field.”

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