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Have the Redskins learned nothing about handling rookie quarterbacks who "refuse" to come out of the game?

Editorializing about Sunday

Washington Redskins v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

When I first read this John Keim tweet, I thought it was a “just the facts” report; internally, I suspected that Keim was critical of Callahan for being “tone deaf” to the concerns of a Redskins fan base that saw what I saw — a rookie quarterback who was so hobbled that he couldn’t step into throws, struggled to avoid the pass rush, and couldn’t run to escape pressure.

I guess I was wrong.

John Keim answered a Callahan/Haskins critic in the string below this tweet.

I have to say, 99.44% of the time I admire John Keim’s reporting and respect his opinion.

Today is that rare time where I disagree with him, and, after reading Twitter comments in the wake of the Haskins injury, I realize that the fan base is widely split over the question of whether this was a gutsy and admirable “tough guy” move by Haskins that had the full support of his coach and helped him win the respect of his teammates, or a reckless and possibly selfish decision by a young rookie who doesn’t realize or care that he is risking his future and hurting his team’s chances of winning by remaining in the game when he is not close to 100%, and a lack of leadership by the coaching staff.

In this instance, I am with the latter camp. Haskins wasn’t just playing through pain; his mobility was severely hampered for the time he was on the field in the second quarter following the injury, and for all of the third quarter. He didn’t really seem to get any real mobility back until sometime in the mid-to-late fourth quarter.

In the meantime, he wasn’t as effective as he should have been. He couldn’t really step into throws, and was, in fact, hopping on one foot after handoffs. When pass protection broke down, he was unable to escape the pass rushers because he was hobbled. He clearly was no threat to run the ball himself. All of this gave the advantage to the Packers defense.

Asked about the decision to keep his rookie quarterback in the game, Callahan said in his post game press conference:

There was never an instance where we considered taking him out of the game. Never occurred to us.”

This was shocking to me. I can’t imagine how a coach could stand on the sidelines watching his rookie quarterback take an unnecessary beating and his offense stalling and say that it never occurred to him to take him out.

Dwayne Haskins said in his post-game press conference:

I couldn’t move the way I usually could. You saw it; I couldn’t really move too much. There were times where I felt like I could have broken out of the pocket or made a guy miss, but I kinda just sat there. You know, it is what it is.

In Haskins’ own words, then, he couldn’t move normally, couldn’t break out of the pocket or avoid pass rushers. He couldn’t run, hobbled as he was, so he “kinda just sat there” taking punishment.

Yet Bill Callahan as a decision-maker didn’t see any reason to remove Haskins from the game?! In fact, it never occurred to him?!

It occurred to plenty of other people:

Of course, Bill Callahan’s response to reporters came immediately after the game. It was possible that, standing on the sidelines, he couldn’t see the level of distress his quarterback was going through for most of the game, or see how it was limiting the Redskins offense.

Reporters asked at Monday’s press conference, after Callahan had had a chance to look at the film, if he felt he had a responsibility to protect Haskins. Callahan gave more of what he had given on Sunday’s post game comments:

“He’s a tough guy. He played the game, he played through pain. The other guy on the other side [Aaron Rodgers], when he was here last year, played with a sprained ankle and was a lot more immobile than our guy.

So, let’s just get that straight, this is a tough guy. He’s a competitor. Quarterbacks are competitors, tough, tough people and I’ve got a lot of respect for Dwayne and what he went through and totally was fine throughout the game. So, I got no qualms, no other major statement to say that I’m just really proud of his toughness, his ability to get through the game. I thought he competed his butt off.”

There’s so much wrong with this statement that I almost don’t know where to begin.

First of all, the fact that Mike McCarthy allowed Aaron Rodgers limp through a game against the Redskins last season is no justification at all for putting Haskins at risk on Sunday. My mother used to counter my arguments that I was just doing the same stupid stuff that my friends did by asking me if I would jump off a cliff just because they did it.

Beyond that, Bill Callahan’s respect for old-school toughness aside, he, as interim head coach of the Redskins, is the temporary guardian of the team’s present and future resources. He has to think of more than just his pride in seeing Haskins gut out a tough game.

Back to the press conference on Monday — thinking that Callahan might’ve misunderstood the direction of the question, the reporter followed up, stressing that he was asking about Callahan’s responsibility, not Haskins’ toughness. Bill didn’t budge:

“He is on the field competing. He’s competing and helping our team. Look at the drive he put together in the two-minute. He competed as well as any quarterback in the league. Now, if that doesn’t tell you anything, I don’t know what does.”

So, Coach Callahan’s justification for his own lack of leadership, decision-making and action is that Dwayne was out there playing hard, and that he was able to lead the team on a scoring drive in the final two minutes.

We occasionally see hits in the NFL where the player on the receiving end is clearly hurt, and a yellow flag flies. Everyone can see that the hit wasn’t really a personal foul, but the ref throws the flag as a result of the injury. The player who delivered the hit is punished, not for the process, but for the result. The ref shouldn’t have thrown the flag, but he feels justified by the result of the play.

Bill Callahan, now, is relying on the result to justify his poor decision-making... sort of the old playground rule of ‘no blood, no foul’. He is saying that Haskins wasn’t hurt, and he helped the team score late in the game, so, of course everything was alright.

But merely pointing to the lack of a bad result doesn’t make the process all better or relieve Bill Callahan for responsibility for his error of judgement.

Case Keenum was healthy and standing on the sidelines. The job of the backup quarterback, of course, is to play when the starter can’t or shouldn’t. The Redskins’ future is invested in Dwayne Haskins, and the head coach should have been cognizant of what Dwayne told us after the game — he couldn’t move right, he couldn’t avoid tackles, he couldn’t run. Hell, he could barely hand the ball off; he was hopping on one foot after every handoff to the running back, clearly in pain.

Bill Callahan praised Haskins for being a “tough guy”. Others have talked about how Haskins won the respect of his teammates by playing hurt.

Haskins himself told us that he refused to give up his spot on the field:

There was no way I was coming out of the game. I hurt my ankle in the last game of my high school career; I didn’t come out then and I wasn’t gonna come out now. There was talk about it, but I was gonna play through it.

I certainly understand that players play through pain, and that in every game players are hurt, yet continue. I understand that Dwayne was said to have been ‘cleared’ by the doctors. I don’t really have any issues with taping his ankles and sending him back out of the field if he appeared to be okay.

But once he was out there, and it was obvious that he couldn’t move normally, couldn’t hand-off normally, couldn’t avoid pressure, and couldn’t run, then it was time for the head coach to do his job and protect his rookie quarterback from himself.

Redskins fans have seen this movie before.

RG3 was clearly hurt early in the playoff game against Seattle following the 2012 season. The rookie quarterback wanted to stay in and play. His head coach at the time, Mike Shanahan, told us later that Griffin had been cleared by the medical staff. The doctor who was said to have cleared him was a bit more equivocal: maybe, maybe not. Of course, Mike Shanahan is the guy who once sent a running back into a game in Denver knowing that he was blinded by a concussion. Shanahan admired can-do toughness in players, and seemed pretty happy that Robert wanted to continue playing so as not to let down his teammates and fans. We know the end of that story — Griffin’s leg collapsed on him in the middle of a play, and his career never recovered.

This Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field seemed to carry echoes of that long-ago playoff game at FedEx Field. We had the young quarterback who wants to prove his toughness. We had an old school coach on the sideline who admires that kind of toughness. But this time there was a different ending. Haskins didn’t suffer a catastrophic injury as a result of his early-game injury, so, in Bill Callahan’s eyes, that proves that he made the right decision to leave the rookie in the game.

This seems at odds, however, with the early part of the season when, first, Jay Gruden, and later, Bill Callahan, decided to keep Haskins on the bench, saying that he wasn’t able to protect himself. Why would you send Case Keenum and Colt McCoy out to start for the first 9 weeks to protect Haskins from his lack of understanding of NFL defenses, yet leave him in the game against Green Bay when he was endangered by his lack of mobility?!

It doesn’t make any sense. Toughness is a great attribute, but needlessly risking Haskins’ health wasn’t smart.

This was simply bad decision-making on the part of the head coach, and Callahan’s only real justification for his lack of action is that Dwayne is a “tough guy” who wanted to be in the game, and that it all turned out okay in the end.

Trent Williams is a tough guy. For years, he played hurt and he played injured. He was admired for those traits by his teammates, coaches and fans. But his perception that the organization was callous and insensitive to him as a human being led him to hold out this season, and, ultimately, lose around $14m in income. All because he felt that he couldn’t trust the organization. He no longer believed that the organization had his best interests at heart.

Watching Haskins out on the field through most of the game Sunday made me wonder if the coaches had the young quarterback’s best interests at heart.

We’ve seen other quarterbacks on other teams ruined by playing hurt. Andrew Luck’s toughness was never in question, but he cut short what everyone had assumed would be a Hall of Fame career because he tried to be a tough guy and play when he shouldn’t.

Cam Newton’s career may be nearing its end because he got injured and kept trying to play.

Tough guys don’t always last in the NFL.

I don’t want to equate Haskins’ sprained ankle with the more serious injuries that WIlliams and Luck and Newton have played through in their careers, but by praising Haskins for toughing it out instead of taking him off the field when he couldn’t truly protect himself, Callahan is teaching the rookie quarterback the wrong lesson, and failing to exercise his fiduciary responsibility to the Redskins franchise and fanbase. The sprained ankle hampered Haskins’ mobility and put him at risk. He didn’t get further injured, but the chances of greater injury went up dramatically because of his immobility. Just because he and the team were lucky enough to avoid sustaining that second, more serious potential injury doesn’t mean that it was right to expose him that way.

Bill Callahan is 63 years old and has been around the NFL most of his life. Dwayne Haskins is 22 years old and has appeared in 7 professional football games. Whether Haskins wanted to stay in the game isn’t what matters most here. The fact that the sprained ankle was relatively minor and that Haskins escaped the game without further injury isn’t what matters here. What matters is that Bill Callahan should have had the wisdom to have seen that his young quarterback was hobbled and immobile and at much greater risk of serious injury. It is Callahan that is charged with guardianship of the Redskins team, present and future. This past Sunday, he needed to have exercised more care with the human capital, Dwayne Haskins, in which the team is so heavily invested.