Success is often a measure of relativity.
Back when I was working in Syracuse, I was sent to Los Angeles on assignment in December. Thrilled to be freed from the upstate New York winter, I happily walked around Southern California in a polo shirt and slacks while the natives were wearing thick coats and gloves in 60-degree weather.
Another example is Maryland’s 7-5 football season, which, while prompting plenty of smiles in College Park, would be a cause for panic at Ohio State.
If the Wizards reach the playoffs for the first time in six years, no matter their record, that will be a sign of progress. In contrast, the Miami Heat would be embarrassed to begin postseason with fewer than 50 victories.
Which brings us to the Redskins, who were eliminated from contention with Sunday night’s 24-17 loss to the visiting New York Giants.
It’s not just that the Redskins are losing, it’s how they’re losing.
Losing to the surging Giants, who had won four of five before last night, by a touchdown wasn’t far off pregame expectations. However, the defeat felt worse because Washington led 14-0 just 3:15 into the second quarter before being outscored 24-3 the rest of the way.
That has become an all-too familiar pattern of late for the Redskins, who: led Denver 21-7 in the third quarter of Week 8 before surrendering the game’s final 38 points; led San Diego 24-10 in the third quarter of Week 9 before forcing overtime with a last-minute goal line stand and then pulling out a 30-24 victory; and led Minnesota 27-14 in the third quarter of Week 10 but lost 34-27.
That’s four of their last six games in which the Redskins had double-digit leads after halftime but produced just a 1-3 record. Choking isn’t supposed to happen on a regular basis, but Washington does it so often that owner Dan Snyder might have to apply for a patent.
It’s a similar story with Washington’s overall season. Not being playoff-bound is a normal state of affairs for the Redskins, who have now failed to qualify for postseason in 17 of the last 21 years.
However, this season feels worse for the coaches, players and fans because there were such high hopes after last fall’s 7-0 finishing tear that won the franchise’s first NFC East title since 1999.
If the unexpected success of 2012 hadn’t happened, their current 3-9 record would fit neatly into recent Redskins history. Washington finished 4-12 in 2009, 6-10 in 2010, and 5-11 in 2011. However, last season’s 10-6 mark makes this season feel so much worse.
In fact, the Redskins have a chance to set a record this month. They can’t match their 1-12-1 predecessors of 1961 for pure incompetence, but they can suffer the worst dropoff in franchise history.
The burgundy and gold sunk five games in the standings from one season to the next three times during its previous 81 years.
After a dominant 14-2 season in 1991 that culminated in its third Super Bowl victory in a decade, Washington slipped to 9-7 in 1992. That fall didn’t feel as bad because the Redskins backed into the playoffs when Green Bay joined them in losing its finale.
The plunge continued in 1993 as the aging Redskins went 4-12 under Richie Petitbon, the long-time defensive coordinator who had been promoted upon Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs’ shocking March retirement.
The crash from a 10-6 wild card in 2005, the second season of Gibbs’ second tenure, to 5-11 in 2006 was equal on the scoreboard but didn’t feel quite as bad because the previous year’s playoff run had been an outlier after five straight seasons at no better than .500.
Last year’s success came after four straight seasons at no better than .500 so this reversal feels more like that of 2006 than those of 1992 or 1993.
However, if Washington doesn’t win two or more of its final four games against division leaders Kansas City and Dallas, bumbling Atlanta, and the Giants to finish at least 5-11, this season will be as Boon says in Animal House, “a new low.” Falling from 10-6 to 4-12 or 3-13 will make Redskins history. Just not the kind of history anyone expected.
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.