Here’s a radical notion: maybe the Redskins winning their final seven games of 2012 was a negative.
How can winning seven straight and capturing the franchise’s first NFC East title in 13 years be a bad thing, you ask?
Apparently, the lightning in a bottle magic that the Redskins caught down the stretch last season convinced me, Coach Mike Shanahan and most NFL observers that the team was much better than it was.
The only starter that Washington didn’t retain was free safety Madieu Williams, whose career ended with that decision. Bringing 21 regulars back seemed a sign of the stability that Shanahan had finally re-established for a franchise that had been in constant churn since impetuous young owner Dan Snyder took command in 1999.
Trouble is that few of us considered that 14 of those 21 starters were also regulars for the 2011 Redskins, a team that went 5-11 while finishing in the division basement for a fourth straight season.
To be fair, I scoffed when some forecast Washington to go 12-4 in 2013. I wrote that the Redskins were somewhere between the team that started last year at 3-6 and the team that finished on that 7-0 run. Given its first-place schedule, I figured that Washington would go 9-7 this season and finish a shade behind the New York Giants and a shade ahead of Dallas in the division.
How wrong we all were. The Redskins fell behind the Eagles 24-0 en route to losing 24-16 yesterday in Philadelphia to fall to 3-7 and sayonara status as far as playoff contention is concerned.
Yesterday’s big deficit marked the fifth time in 10 games that Washington has allowed a run of at least 20 points — 26 straight in the opening loss to Philadelphia; the first 31 in Week 2 at Green Bay; the final 38 in Week 8 at Denver; and the last 20 in Week 10 at Minnesota. So yesterday’s tear by the Eagles made it three times in four weeks that the Redskins have been stampeded for a significant portion of a game. The outlier was the overtime victory over San Diego which would have ended with the Chargers scoring the final 17 points to win in the final minute if not for a touchdown being reversed by replay.
Playoff teams don’t play like this. Heck, mediocre teams don’t. Only bad teams do. And with six games left, the Redskins are a bad team. By my count only eight current starters – quarterback Robert Griffin III, running back Alfred Morris, fullback Darrel Young, receiver Pierre Garcon, left tackle Trent Williams, nose tackle Barry Cofield, outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and cornerback DeAngelo Hall (a free agent-to-be) – should definitely be back in their roles next season.
Sure, Washington, led by second-year men Morris and Griffin, runs as well as anybody. Shanahan and his son/offensive coordinator Kyle do get everybody to block. However, Griffin isn’t the dynamic passer he was as a rookie in 2012 despite the return to health of Garcon and the addition of record-setting rookie tight end Jordan Reed.
Griffin made it look so easy last season while having the best season ever by a neophyte quarterback that foolish decisions like his throw it up for grabs interception on third-and-1 from the Philadelphia 18 yard line with 40 seconds left look even worse. Griffin’s fabulous 20/5 touchdown/interception ratio of 2012 has crashed to a pedestrian 14/10 balance in 2013. Other than Williams, the pass protection has crumpled way too often allowing Griffin to be constantly pounded.
Defensively, the Redskins make fewer stops than a yellow light at rush hour for coordinator Jim Haslett, whose job security has to be in question with his unit headed for a bottom quarter finish in the league rankings for a third year in four.
Supposed elite pass-rushers Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo produced just four sacks between them during the past six games. London Fletcher started his 209th consecutive game yesterday, the longest streak ever by an NFL linebacker, but has seemingly finally hit the inevitable wall at age 38. Jarvis Jenkins, Washington’s second-round selection in 2011, simply hasn’t been a playmaker even as a 3-4 end.
The secondary, save the resurgent Hall, who’s in his 10th season but doesn’t turn 30 until tomorrow, has been awful. If safety Brandon Meriweather isn’t being flagged or suspended for illegal hits, he’s being juked to the ground by opposing ball-carriers.
As for newcomer Keith Burns’ special teams, yikes! Punter Sav Rocca, who’ll be 40 on Wednesday, is done. The return game and the punt coverage have been atrocious. Two of kicker Kai Forbath’s four failures among his 11 field goal tries were blocked after he missed just once in 18 attempts last year.
I still believe that winning the NFC East last season ensured that Shanahan would be back in 2014 for the final year of his contract, but I can’t see Snyder giving the 61-year-old coach an extension after this debacle of a season. But if the seriously proud Shanahan considers it an insult to return as a lame duck, then it will be time to push the re-start button in Ashburn. All things considered, that might be for the best.
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.