In danger of wasting his second chance, quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. "got mad."
He knew he was capable of more than his first seven offensive drives Sunday when errant passes and poor decisions resulted in underwhelming statistics and a pair of giveaways. It seemed like whenever Haskins made a positive play, he followed it up with a mistake. None were as costly as his second interception, which came immediately after a 30-yard connection with Terry McLaurin and gave the Seattle Seahawks the ball back with a 20-3 lead. It seemed the Washington Football Team would suffer a blowout loss for the first time since Week 5.
Having already overcome a 17-point deficit in the season opener, Haskins challenged himself to do whatever he could to give his team a chance to win at the end. And in Washington's 20-15 defeat, the second-year signal-caller did just that. He completed 19 of his final 26 passes, which led to back-to-back touchdowns in the fourth quarter and another drive deep into Seattle territory. With less than 90 seconds to play, Washington was 23 yards away from pulling off yet another upset.
Back-to-back sacks dashed those comeback hopes, but Haskins' late-game surge should evoke hope for the second-year signal-caller if Alex Smith, who missed Sunday's game with a calf injury, cannot play next weekend against the Carolina Panthers.
"He started a little bit slow and was kind of feeling his way around things," head coach Ron Rivera said of Haskins, who set career highs in completions (38) and attempts (55) to go along with 295 yards and a touchdown. "Then as he started to find his way a little later, you started to see him get more effective and make some things happen."
Haskins, who made his first start since Week 4, began the game with quick, horizontal passes that went almost nowhere. Washington gained a combined 34 yards and punted three times to open the contest, while Haskins' first eight pass attempts yielded eight yards.
The offense sustained its first drive in the second quarter on the hands and legs of tight end Logan Thomas, who at one point had 53 receiving yards compared to just 52 passing yards for Haskins. But from inside the Seahawks' 30-yard line with a chance to, at worst, cut the lead in half, Haskins fell back into his old habits of forcing throws that were not there.
With time in the pocket, he could have hit J.D. McKissic underneath for a short gain. And even when he scrambled out to his right, there was room to pick up a few yards with his legs to create manageable third downs. Instead, Haskins threw into traffic, and the ball was tipped before Shaquill Griffin made a diving interception near the goal line. Ten plays and 97 yards later, the Seahawks took a commanding 13-3 lead into halftime.
"We moved the ball in the first half," Rivera noted, "and unfortunately, we turned it over. You get across the 50, you've got to put points on the board to give yourself a chance to win football games."
Rivera said he saw what Haskins saw on the interception, and while a more experienced quarterback might have thrown the ball sooner or tucked it and ran, he did not fault his young signal-caller for "trying to make a play."
That was not the case on the second turnover, when Rivera said Haskins attempted a "tough throw." Having just crossed midfield with a deep strike to McLaurin, Haskins immediately tried for another chunk play to wide receiver Cam Sims. As Sims ran a deep cross towards the left sideline, Haskins thought the outside cornerback would stay with McLaurin on a skinny post. Instead, he stopped to pick up Sims and was in perfect position to corral the Seahawks' second interception of the game.
"I've got to see him and check the ball down to the running back," Haskins admitted. "Got a little gun triggery right there trying to make a big play. I should have just checked the ball down."
After the turnover, FOX cameras showed Haskins talking to Smith on the sideline. They discussed the passing concept on that play, Haskins said, and Smith told him how to let his feet dictate when he should throw the outlet pass. Haskins admitted he "took an extra hitch," which allowed the defensive back to fall back underneath.
In the past, Haskins would have dwelled on these game-changing mistakes. But with Washington trailing, 20-3, in the third quarter, he knew he had to start making plays -- and fast.
A three-and-out followed the interception, but from there Haskins flourished. Rivera noticed Haskins being more patient to allow route concepts to develop downfield. If his pass-catchers were open, he delivered rhythmic, on-target throws to several different receivers. If not, he quickly worked through his progressions to find either McKissic or Thomas, who combined for 10 receptions on the final three possessions. Haskins even used his legs to extend drives, scrambling for 28 yards and three first downs.
"I feel like he tried to do the best that he could, bouncing back from turnovers," McLaurin said of Haskins. "He had us in a position to win the game. He had a short-term memory, so I felt like we made some plays and we left some out on the field. But that just doesn't fall on him. We have to make some of those bang-bang plays to help out the quarterback."
Washington totaled 209 yards and 14 points during that stretch and nearly erased its third double-digit deficit of the season, but in the end Haskins suffered his 13th loss in 17 career starts. "I thought we had them," a somber Haskins said afterwards.
Still, Haskins showed the resilience and competitive fire that Rivera covets. Even after his worst moments, he was able to spearhead a valiant comeback against one of the NFC's best teams. And while that does not guarantee him another start -- Rivera said Smith will be back in the lineup if healthy -- it will provide a jumping off point whenever Haskins sees the field again.
"He just kept playing man," Thomas said of Haskins. "Super excited for the way he bounced back and the way he competed and the want that he showed. I'm happy that he carried himself the way he did."