Reporting David Elfin
Three years ago this week, the American electorate gambled and elected an upbeat smooth talker named Barack Obama to the highest office in the land. Although the economy was tanking and our troops were under fire in Afghanistan and Iraq, hope was the operative word.
At the same time, despite having just taken it on the chin from the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Washington Redskins were riding high under an upbeat, smooth-talking coach named Jim Zorn, who was as inexperienced being in command as Obama was.
Unfortunately for the nation and for the Redskins, that was the high-water mark for both Obama and Zorn. Washington won just two of its final seven games and went 4-12 in 2009, prompting owner Dan Snyder to fire Zorn and hire Mike Shanahan, a proven winner in Denver, who’s now 9-15 with the Redskins after Sunday’s 19-11 home loss to San Francisco.
Not only is that a game worse than Zorn’s record at the same juncture, but the Redskins’ 11 points over their last two games are their fewest in consecutive contests since they opened their lone season under coach Marty Schottenheimer with just three points at San Diego and Green Bay, the two outings sandwiched around the 9/11 terrorist attacks more than a decade ago.
Since Shanahan took charge of the Redskins, 22 teams have won more games and two others – Buffalo, which dealt him the first shutout of his 17 seasons eight days ago, and Seattle, whom they visit in three weeks, are the same dreary 9-15.
The only teams worse are: Carolina (which beat them two weeks ago); Arizona (whom they rallied to edge 22-21 at home in Week 2); Denver; Week 16 visitor Minnesota; Cleveland; St. Louis; and Miami, whom they visit on Sunday fresh off a thumping of Kansas City.
What has to be especially distressing to one-time offensive mastermind Shanahan is how popgun his offense has become. Only five teams: Buffalo, Carolina, Cleveland, Miami and St. Louis have scored fewer points than Washington’s 429 (a 17.9-point average).
Shanahan has started three quarterbacks (Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman and John Beck) and five running backs (Clinton Portis, Ryan Torain, Keiland Williams, Tim Hightower and Roy Helu) but has managed 30 points just once. Take away the defensive touchdown by rookie Ryan Kerrigan in the opener and this year’s top production was the 22 points against the lowly Cardinals. Washington is averaging just 15.9 points in 2011.
Sure, the offense has been devastated by injuries this season with playmakers Santana Moss, Chris Cooley and Hightower all having been laid low along with blockers Kory Lichtensteiger and Trent Williams (for most of three games).
But the much-lampooned Zorn lost Portis and replacement Ladell Betts, Cooley, left tackle Chris Samuels, right guard Randy Thomas and replacement Chad Rinehart during his second season and got fired after going 4-12 while averaging 16.6 points.
It seems to me that Snyder is giving Shanahan the benefit of the doubt for what he accomplished with the Broncos from 1996-2005 (114-59 including back-to-back Super Bowl triumphs in 1997 and 1998) instead of acknowledging that the coach is 33-39 during his 4-1/2 seasons since.
That’s barely better than Washington’s 31-41 record during that same span under Zorn and Joe Gibbs. But while the former was canned and the latter retired, Shanahan bumbles on with nary a peep from Snyder.
So much for the famously meddlesome owner being a “what have you done for me lately?” boss this decade. Maybe Snyder’s too busy with his newly-acquired $70 million boat to worry too much about his football team becoming a laughingstock again.
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.