Reporting David Elfin
After thumping visiting Buffalo 30-7 two days ago, Washington’s NFL team is on the verge of an amazing streak. With an asterisk, that is. If the Redskins win Thursday’s usually starter-less preseason finale at Tampa Bay, they’ll head into the Sept. 9 regular season opener against Philadelphia riding a 11-game tear, non-playoff variety.
If not for the divisional round loss to Seattle, which Washington led 14-0 before then-22-year-old franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III re-injured his right knee on the way to the operating table three days later, the guys in burgundy and gold wouldn’t have lost in 10 months.
That would be wonderful for the Redskins as long as they keep their expectations under control. They only need to look at their baseball brethren to realize what happens when you get ahead of yourselves.
After the Nationals won a major-league high 98 games last year, veteran manager Davey Johnson proclaimed “World Series or Bust” in 2013. Barring a miraculous final five weeks, it’s going to be bust.
So it was eerie that Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, like Johnson a championship winner elsewhere, said last week, “[The players] have set the expectations: anything short of a Super Bowl is a failure.”
Anything short of a Super Bowl is failure for a team that: after losing to Carolina at home was 3-6 at its bye week last fall; a team that finished last in the NFC East from 2008-11; a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005 or a Super Bowl since before Griffin turned 2?
Also, Shanahan has won only one playoff game since the second of his back-to-back Super Bowl titles with Denver in January 1999.
Third-string quarterback Rex Grossman, who’s heading into his 11th NFL season, noted that the Redskins have momentum on their side.
“Momentum means everything,” said Grossman, who started against the Bills because backup quarterback Kirk Cousins sprained a foot in the 24-13 victory over Pittsburgh five days earlier. “It’s in every sport. You start to have success and it breeds more success.”
Maybe, but I was a lot more impressed by Washington running the table last November and December against the likes of eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore, the-then defending champion New York Giants and a solid Dallas team (twice) than I am by recent triumphs over Tennessee, 6-10 last year (22-21 on a late touchdown pass by fourth-string quarterback Pat White), Pittsburgh (coming off its worst season in six years and which might continue its descent from the NFL’s elite) and Buffalo, which has a rookie coach, was minus its starting quarterback and hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999. The Buccaneers were 7-9 last year and have missed postseason five years running.
Seventh-year defensive end Kedric Golston said that facing Buffalo’s hurry-up offense provided timely preparation for the up-tempo scheme new Eagles coach Chip Kelly brought with him from Oregon.
“It was a great opportunity for us,” Golston said. “When we come out here to compete, we want to [give] our best effort. The mindset has been where it has need to be from day one. This was probably the most competitive training camp I’ve been a part of. I think that has a lot to do with the way we’ve been playing.”
The Redskins outgained the Bills by a whopping 452-155.
“It’s only preseason, but [as] coach always says, it doesn’t count, but it still matters,” said seventh-year safety Reed Doughty. “It’s an opportunity to prove yourself. You always want to win, but I’m more impressed by the way the offense moved the ball and the way the defense held our own. You take away a lot of good things and try to get rid of the penalties [24 for 267 yards in the three games].”
It should be noted that 10 of the 12 teams who made the playoffs in 2012 finished .500 or better in preseason. That included the Redskins, who went 3-1 – with two laughers — against a similarly non-formidable slate before struggling during the first nine games that mattered.
“These games don’t count,” Golston said. “Talk is cheap. We gotta wait for the regular season [to show what we can do].”
Given that three of this season’s first four games are against teams that went 4-12 in 2012 (Philadelphia, Detroit and Oakland), we might not have a true sense of the 2013 Redskins until they come out of their Week 5 bye with dates at Dallas and Denver sandwiched around a visit from Chicago. The Cowboys, Broncos and Bears were a combined 31-17 last season and Denver is favored to win the AFC this year.
That means that both franchises that Shanahan has coached over the last two decades have the “Super Bowl or Bust” mentality that helped doom the 2000 Redskins, who started 6-2 but finished 8-8 and got coach Norv Turner fired in the process. Having to win it all to make it a successful season is a hard road to travel in the parity-driven NFL.
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 three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin