Does Dwayne Haskins have a future in Washington? Sunday’s loss didn’t provide the answer.

Fifteen minutes of football doesn’t determine a player’s future, and in Haskins’s case, a fine fourth quarter of a 20-15 loss to Seattle...

Fifteen minutes of football doesn’t determine a player’s future, and in Haskins’s case, a fine fourth quarter of a 20-15 loss to Seattle on Sunday at FedEx Field won’t mean he’s the Washington Football Team’s quarterback in 2021 or beyond. Indeed, Coach Ron Rivera said without hesitation Sunday: “Alex Smith’s our starting quarterback right now. If he’s healthy and he’s ready to roll, he will.”

Washington’s roll — a four-game winning streak in which it became both interesting and relevant — stopped Sunday, but the NFC East title is still within reach. That’s the narrow view: Beat Carolina at home next week and close with a victory at Philadelphia — realistic goals — and hosting a playoff game is a strong possibility.

But it’s hard to step away from this performance Sunday and not be befuddled by Haskins. For almost three quarters, he was perhaps the biggest factor in what looked as if it would be a blowout Washington loss. And then over the final three possessions, he calmly and professionally put his team in position to win.

What the heck happened here?

“I got mad,” Haskins said.

Note to Rivera: Tick this kid off, would you?

I’ll be honest: When Haskins threw his second interception Sunday — this on a poor read of a defensive back and decision to throw to a crossing Cam Sims — I was done. The path to the playoffs was with the veteran Smith, who sat out against Seattle with a calf injury. There seemed no other choice.

Washington trailed 20-3. Haskins was 16 of 25 for 119 yards and the two picks, and the yardage came almost all on checkdowns and short completions to tight end Logan Thomas. Name a quarterback who had this career trajectory — uneven half of a rookie season, four games as the starter in 2020, benched, and returned because of injury to more poor decision-making — who ended up as a success?

And over the next three possessions, he salvaged the day — and maybe his career. Sound dramatic? At some point, to play anywhere, he has to have good performances on tape. He can now put Sunday’s fourth quarter on his resume.

“I feel like he just continued to stick with it,” said wide receiver Terry McLaurin, Washington’s top threat and Haskins’s old teammate at Ohio State. “Oftentimes, you may have seen where he made a few mistakes and it was like a snowball effect. But I feel like it was just a next-play mentality.”

With all the drama around Haskins’s career — one staff that didn’t want to draft him, another that benched him after just four games — there has been all sorts of reporting and even more conjecture about how he prepares. That’s behind-closed-doors stuff. But what we know about him since he relieved Smith in last week’s victory over San Francisco, when he teared up at the mere notion of getting on the field again: He cares.

“I’m a competitor, and I hate losing,” Haskins said. “Hate being down on myself.”

And so Sunday, he collected himself. On Washington’s final three drives, he went 20 for 28 for 170 yards. Two of them resulted in touchdowns, including a 6-yard scoring toss to running back J.D. McKissic. Had Dustin Hopkins not missed an extra point — which forced Washington to go for two after it closed to 20-15 — then the final drive would have almost certainly led to a game-tying field goal attempt. Instead, with Washington having moved to the Seattle 23-yard line, Haskins took two sacks — neither his fault — before one final heave into the end zone in an attempt to create the game-winning touchdown.

He almost seemed like two different players.

“Just kept playing, man,” said Thomas, who has developed into the safety net for whichever quarterback takes the snap for Washington. “Super-excited for the way he bounced back and the way he competed and the want-to he showed. I’m happy that he carried himself the way he did. … He could’ve shut it down, but he didn’t.”

So here we are, with Christmas upon us and the division still at stake. But the primary issue for Washington is the same now as it was at the time of the draft, the same as it was in the preseason, the same as it was when Haskins was benched, the same as it was when Kyle Allen was lost for the season with an ankle injury, the same as it was when Smith started those four straight wins: What is the long-term solution at quarterback?

(There’s a caveat: Since the start of this century, the biggest issue for Washington has been its ownership. If the legal fight between Daniel Snyder and his minority partners somehow forced a change in that status, then the quarterback situation could jump in the back seat, because then there could be fundamental change in how the franchise was both operated and perceived. Hey, we can dream, can’t we?)

Rivera has made loads of progress in his first season. Part of that is just in attitude and expectations. Sunday was a loss that could have been a win. But the aftermath isn’t about what might have been. Rather, it’s about what could be.

“We have a chance,” Rivera said. “We have a legitimate opportunity to win the football games to get ourselves in position. A lot can happen between now and two Sundays from now.”

One possibility: Smith could return, and Washington could win the division. That would yield a home playoff game, and who knows what could happen from there? Even though the Seahawks ran the ball effectively Sunday, Washington’s defense is likely to keep it in games against most opponents. It would be fun to see how that played out, and it would continue this remarkable trend: Since 2018, Washington is 10-5 when Smith starts, 6-25 when anyone else does.

But the problem with Smith returning is that it teaches you nothing further about Haskins’s ability not just to adjust from drive-to-drive and play-to-play — as he did Sunday — but whether he can show steady improvement in the areas that have limited him thus far: decision-making, accuracy, awareness, all of it.

The final quarter Sunday didn’t yield a comeback win, nor did it secure Haskins’s spot as the starter next week or next year. What it did was confound anyone looking to define Haskins’s career in absolute terms at age 23. What it didn’t do: Offer any clarity as to who Washington’s quarterback should be in 2021 and beyond.

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Newsrust: Does Dwayne Haskins have a future in Washington? Sunday’s loss didn’t provide the answer.
Does Dwayne Haskins have a future in Washington? Sunday’s loss didn’t provide the answer.
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