Reporting David Elfin
Not all 0-2 starts in the NFL are created equal.
In 1989, Washington opened the season by losing wild home games to NFC East rivals New York and Philadelphia by a combined eight points. The Redskins recovered to go 10-4 the rest of the way but still missed the playoffs. Another wild card qualifier was added to postseason in each conference the next year, making a 0-2 start not as difficult to overcome. During the past 23 years, 22 teams — 11.5 percent of those which started 0-2 — reached the playoffs.
But the 2013 Redskins sure aren’t playing like they’re capable of joining that resilient group. Washington trailed underdog Philadelphia 33-7 early in the third quarter a week ago Monday (having only scored on defense) before the Eagles ran out of gas and took the pedal off the metal and the hosts scored three touchdowns in near-garbage time.
On Sunday, the Redskins were sliced and diced by Green Bay’s All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers to the tune of a 31-0 deficit early in the third quarter before the Packers seemingly relaxed a little en route to the final 38-20 verdict.
Rodgers topped 300 yards, with three touchdown passes, before halftime. James Starks, who came into the game as a backup, became the first Packers running back to top 100 yards in 45 games. Rodgers finished with a franchise-record 480 yards while Starks went for 132, making Green Bay the first team to have a quarterback top 450 and a running back top 125 in the same game. The Packers’ 580 yards were their most in 51 years.
A week after Washington coordinator Jim Haslett’s defense had no answers for Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy, Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson triumvirate, Green Bay receivers Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson combined for 24 catches, a staggering 372 yards and three touchdowns.
On the flip side, Robert Griffin III passed for more than 320 yards for the second straight week, but most of his damage came when Washington was hopelessly behind (17 of 21 for 167 yards and three touchdowns once the score reached 31-0).
“We definitely came out flat again,” said Redskins Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams.
Losing in Lambeau Field where Rodgers and the Packers have been near-perfect since early 2010 is not only nothing to be ashamed of, it’s expected as opposed to last week’s home loss to a team that went 4-12 in 2012 and had a rookie coach and new schemes on both sides of the ball.
The Redskins trailed the Eagles and Packers by a stunning 64-7 combined deficit when the games were still in play. That’s simply inexcusable for a team with playoff hopes, let alone a defending division champion with Super Bowl aspirations.
“We know this isn’t who we are as a team and we’re going to work to figure this out,” Griffin said. “I’m the quarterback and the responsibility falls on me.”
Washington was outclassed by both Philadelphia and Green Bay. Suddenly, Sunday’s game against visiting Detroit and the potent offensive trio of quarterback Matthew Stafford, All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush is now a proverbial must-win, a tougher proposition than expected two weeks ago thanks to the inability of the Redskins to slow the Eagles or the Packers.
“You can’t overreact, but you know there’s a sense of urgency,” said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, whose only 0-2 start came with Denver in 1999 en route to a 6-10 finish, the worst of his 14 seasons with the Broncos.
After facing the Lions, the Redskins still have to visit the NFL’s only 13-3 teams of 2012, Denver and Atlanta, as well as the Eagles and their other division rivals, Dallas and the New York Giants. The latter two plus defending NFC champion San Francisco, Chicago and surprising Kansas City come to Landover. Those are 11 pretty tough games. If Washington goes 6-5, that would mean the trips to Oakland and Minnesota and the home game against San Diego have to be W’s just for a 9-7 record.
The only good news for the Redskins is that the Giants are also 0-2 and the Cowboys and Eagles are 1-1 in the shockingly poor NFC East. Not that those facts will lighten the mood this week at Redskins Park.
Since Washington recovered from an 0-2 start to go 11-5 and win the division in 1984, it averaged a 7-9 record without qualifying for the playoffs once during the four full seasons (1989, 1998, 2001 and 2006) that it started 0-2.
A 7-9 record this year would be a huge disappointment, especially considering that that the Redskins had such lofty expectations, their highest since 2006 or maybe the Super Bowl or bust 2000 campaign. They didn’t make the playoffs either of those seasons.
In fact, the last time that the Redskins dreamed big and still reached postseason was in 1992. That was so long ago that Griffin was a toddler and Shanahan was looking to resurrect his career as an offensive coordinator in San Francisco after an abbreviated, sub-.500 stint in command of the Raiders.
Two weeks into 2013, despite a smooth offseason, training camp and preseason, Washington is stumbling towards a similar ugly outcome.
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.