Quarterback position -- and decision process -- remains iffy in District
Washington’s NFL team broke a four-game losing streak Sunday, keeping its playoff hopes alive behind its fourth starting quarterback and 44th offensive line combination. The victory reminded us of the team’s resilience from time to time when least expected.
The 16-13 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars reminded us of something else, too, which seems more unfathomable today than it did last month:
Washington’s brain trust believed Mark Sanchez was the best choice as this season’s third starting quarterback.
Josh Johnson’s performance Sunday, in his first start since 2011, and the week before, in garbage time against the New York Giants, is an indictment of the decision-makers in Ashburn. Nothing against Sanchez who seems like a great guy and enjoyed a moment a decade ago with the New York Jets but no team still envisioned him as an NFL quarterback before Washington signed him off the couch.
Johnson’s phone wasn’t ringing either, and his playing drought was two years longer (2014 vs. 2016). However, the San Diego Fleet saw enough to make Johnson the AAF’s inaugural No. 1 draft pick on Nov. 27, a week after Washington bypassed him for Sanchez as Colt McCoy’s replacement.
Maybe Johnson looked better in front of AAF personnel. Maybe Sanchez was sharper in his workout for Washington. Maybe coach Jay Gruden wanted someone closer to McCoy’s height.
Whatever the reason, it boggles the mind when comparing the quarterbacks’ brief sample sizes.
Aside from a picture-perfect handoff for a 90-yard touchdown on his first snap in burgundy and gold, Sanchez looked like he doesn’t belong in the league. Yes, he engineered a field-goal drive in the two-minute drill (5-of-7 for 53 yards) against Philadelphia as the first half ended. But he was totally ineffective the rest of that game and completely hapless in his start against the Giants.
Conversely, Johnson looked like a serviceable professional and provided an undeniable spark in relief. His QB rating was 104.9 as he helped Washington avoid a shutout against New York, and Sunday’s outing (93.9) was more proof that he should’ve gotten the job initially.
“I’ve always had belief in myself that I can do things like this,” he told reporters after completing 16-of-25 passes for 151 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. “But I’ve never been one to talk about it, because talking does nothing. I’m into action. To have it go our way and be able to just have everything that’s been bottled up in me and let it out, it was a relief. ”
Johnson had never led a team to victory in five previous games as a starter, with his last shot coming seven years prior. Elias Sports Bureau said that’s the longest gap between starts since Todd Collins went between a December 1997 start for Buffalo and a December 2007 start for ... Washington. (You can’t make this stuff up with this team).
The offense now features an added dimension with Johnson’s ability to run. He has taken off 16 times for 94 yards, an average of 5.8 yards per carry. On Washington’s opening possession after halftime, he scrambled three times for 22 yards on a 60-yard scoring drive.
Sliding wasn’t part of his game plan and it showed in his limp afterward. “I haven’t been hit in two years,” he said with a laugh. “I haven’t fought off 300-pound defensive linemen. My body is getting acclimated.”
Speaking of the physical pounding, here’s a sobering thought: Sanchez is one snap away (no pun intended) from being pressed into action.
The decision to sign him hangs overhead like a guillotine.
How can anyone have faith in the team’s thought process moving forward? Alex Smith, thankfully, has returned home after suffering complications from his broken right leg, but there’s no guarantee he’ll ever return to the field. Gruden remains hopeful that Colt McCoy (broken right leg) might be available again this season, but Johnson hasn’t done anything to lose the job.
As for who plays the position next season, it’s among the NFL’s biggest mysteries. Signing a veteran like, say, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco is virtually impossible due to Smith’s financial obligations. The 2019 quarterback draft class is considered weak. Young, promising stop-gap options are hard to find.
Of course, Colin Kaepernick likely could perform as well or better than Johnson, but Washington lacks the intestinal fortitude for that move. Otherwise, Kaep would be in the building today and Sanchez would home where he belongs.
But whoever starts under center the next year, here’s hoping the team exercises better judgment than it displayed in bypassing Johnson the first time.
Decisions like that can distinguish chumps from champs.
⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.