Reporting David Elfin
We’ve all heard for years how the Redskins play to the level of their competition.
Washington upset eventual Super Bowl winner Green Bay and NFC North champion Chicago last season but lost to Detroit, then 1-5, and St. Louis, which was 0-2.
And in 2009, the Redskins lost to the lowly Lions and to bumbling Kansas City but had New Orleans beaten before letting the eventual Super Bowl champion off the mat and falling in overtime.
But all is not as it seems. The Packers and Bears were only a game ahead of the Redskins when they met in 2010. And of course, the burgundy and gold didn’t quite pull off that shocker of the Saints.
So with scorching San Francisco (6-1) visiting reeling Washington (3-4) on Sunday, I did a little research on how often during the past decade the Redskins have defeated an opponent which had at least three more victories that they did coming into their matchup.
The results might surprise you.
Washington most recently played giant(not Giants)-killer two years ago next weekend. That was a 27-17 home upset of 6-2 Denver in which the Broncos lost quarterback Kyle Orton to an ankle injury and whose biggest play was a touchdown pass from holder Hunter Smith to backup tight end Todd Yoder on a fake field call by mercurial coach Jim Zorn.
It’s hard to legitimately count the 27-6 victory over Dallas in the 2007 finale since the 13-2 Cowboys, with home field advantage in the NFC playoffs clinched, played their starters for barely a half. However, Washington, 8-7 and successfully playing for a wild card berth, did dominate its listless archrival.
The Redskins actually pulled off two upsets down the stretch of their dreadful 2006 season, beating Carolina (6-4 to their 3-7) in quarterback Jason Campbell’s first home start and then stunning New Orleans (9-4 to their 4-9) on the road. A Panthers loss that day still gave the Saints the NFC South title. Washington wound up 5-11.
The Redskins beat another playoff-bound team in the 2004 finale, holding off visiting Minnesota 21-18 to finish 5-11 while the Vikings still claimed a wild card at 8-8.
The only other game during the past decade when the Redskins beat a team that was at least three games better in the standings came eight years ago Wednesday. That was when a late touchdown pass from receiver Rod Gardner to running back Trung Canidate beat the 6-2 Seahawks 27-20 in Seattle.
However, the triumph did little for Steve Spurrier’s Redskins, who improved to 4-5 with the victory but lost six of their remaining seven games, prompting the coach’s resignation after the season.
I don’t expect coach Mike Shanahan to quit any time soon, but I also don’t expect his Redskins, outscored 76-33 the past three games while going 0-3 and losing five offensive starters to injuries to suddenly reverse course and beat the high-flying 49ers.
The Redskins are 69-91 during the last decade. That’s an average record of 7-9, the near-definition of mediocrity. And mediocre teams don’t usually beat ones that are an overtime loss from a perfect season like San Francisco’s.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.