by David Elfin

ASHBURN, Va. (CBSDC) — There were some heavy hearts in the Redskins locker room this morning. That’s natural less than 24 hours removed from a season-ending defeat, even if it came in postseason.

But the aftermath of this playoff loss feels much different than the last one, even though Washington led Seattle 14-13 in the fourth quarter of both games and lost both by double digits.

Five years ago, the Redskins knew the circumstances of their four-game run to the playoffs, fueled by the shooting death of star safety Sean Taylor and the incredible play of backup quarterback Todd Collins, would never be repeated. And then Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs retired just three days after the loss to the Seahawks, setting off a month-long search for his replacement that featured the dismissal of defensive boss Gregg Williams and ended with the unproven Jim Zorn filling Gibbs’ shoes.

This time, the Redskins rode rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris on their seven-game tear for coach Mike Shanahan. All three will be back in 2013, assuming that Griffin’s right knee isn’t more seriously injured than it was before he was sidelined during Sunday’s defeat.

The 2007 Redskins were just two years removed from a 10-6 season in which the majority of them had played a role. In contrast, only seven of the 2012 Redskins had ever played on a winning Washington team and only inside linebacker London Fletcher and strong safety Reed Doughty were starters then and now.

“I had my mind set on being here for practice this week,” said receiver Santana Moss, along with tight end Chris Cooley the only current Redskin who has won a playoff game in a Washington uniform. “I really wasn’t ready to be done. This is one of those seasons when you’re just feeling like you can do much more [with] the momentum we had gained going into this postseason. We’ve been looking forward to being where we was at this year for a long time. That was the thing that drove a lot of us. You go out there and put yourself on the line so many years, so many weeks and now you finally have the opportunity [to play in postseason]. You kinda have a little joy about knowing that you had the opportunity, but it still sucks that the opportunity ended that fast.”

It ended just as fast as it did in 2007, but the difference is that Washington’s future seems brighter than it did this time five years ago.

Only three of the regulars during this season’s stretch run, left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, right tackle Tyler Polumbus and free safety Madieu Williams, are unsigned for next year as is tight end Fred Davis, who blew an Achilles in Week 7. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker, starters who were lost for the year in Week 2, will also be back.

Cornerback DeAngelo Hall said this morning that he’s willing to do whatever he has to bring down his huge salary cap number and remain a Redskin. Whether the team wants him back remains a question, but he played his best football at the end of the season.

“I still kinda don’t believe it’s over,” Hall said. “Definitely enjoyed the ride. To run off seven in a row and be up [14-0] on a great Seattle team for much of the game … we definitely have something special. To finally see all the pieces in place, you definitely want to be part of it.”

And this remains a young team. The only expected starters who’ll even be 30 when the 2013 season starts are center Will Montgomery and right guard Chris Chester, who’ll both reach the big 3-0 and Fletcher, who was the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for December at 37.

Not only did Griffin, the second overall pick in April’s draft, exceed his lofty expectations by setting NFL rookie records for passer rating and quarterback rushing yards, but Morris broke the franchise rushing mark en route to becoming the third most prolific rookie back in league history. And the revolving door at kicker might finally have stopped swinging after nearly 20 years with October signee Kai Forbath, who broke the NFL record for most consecutive field goals at the start of a career.

Although Washington has a first-place schedule in 2013 compared to a last-place slate in 2012, it only includes one more game (for a total of eight) against a team that finished the previous year with a winning record.

The Redskins haven’t made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since Gibbs was finishing his stellar first 12-year tenure in 1990-92 and haven’t won back-to-back NFC East titles since 1982-83. The New York Giants are less than a year removed from winning the Super Bowl. The Dallas Cowboys remain talented but enigmatic and who knows what happens to the Philadelphia Eagles under their first new coach since 1999?

But as of now, Washington’s January outlook has to be as upbeat as it has been since everyone involved except Cooley, Moss and special teams coach Danny Smith had yet to arrive in town.

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin


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