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The Redkins Are a Bad Team in a Bad Division, But There May Be Hope Yet

by David Elfin
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David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at...
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Not only will Washington finish in the division cellar for a franchise-record fifth time in six seasons, it’s doing so in the NFC East, the second-worst of the NFL’s eight quartets. Only the absolutely awful AFC North, whose four teams are a staggering 16 games under .500, is worse than the NFC East, which is eight games below even.

Only Buffalo and Cleveland of the AFC can match Washington for the consistency of its last-place finishes since the 2008 election, making the Redskins the NFC’s most incompetent franchise in that respect.

That’s true even though the NFC East will have just one playoff team for a fourth straight year for the first time since its formation in 1970.

When Washington finished at the bottom in 2008 despite an 8-8 record, Dallas, New York and Philadelphia were a combined 13 games over .500. In 2009, the Cowboys, Giants and Eagles were 12 games better than even. By 2010, they were just four games over, and in 2011, that positive margin was cut to two. This year, the Redskins’ three division rivals are plus-1, a number that will rise to plus-2 if New York beats Washington on Sunday and will drop to zero if the reverse happens.

In brief, the Redskins are a really bad team in a pretty lousy division. Just ask the seven players who are unsigned for 2014 and whose Washington tenures pre-date that of embattled coach Mike Shanahan.

While so many of London Fletcher’s teammates felt terrible that they couldn’t send the captain out with a victory in his home finale last Sunday, the 38-year-old inside linebacker’s teams haven’t exactly stacked up with those of fellow Class of 1998 member Peyton Manning.

During Fletcher’s previous 15 seasons with St. Louis, Buffalo and Washington, his teams were a combined six games under .500. The four-time Pro Bowl pick had just six winning records, with three of those coming with the Rams from 1999-2001. The latter season was the last one in which Fletcher played in a postseason victory. For all of his consistent excellence, Fletcher enjoyed just three winning seasons from 2002-12. Maybe he should’ve retired after Washington’s NFC East title last December instead of enduring two offseason surgeries – the first of his career – and training hard afterwards to be part of this mess.

At least receiver Santana Moss, the other remaining member of the Redskins’ 2007 playoff qualifier who previously played elsewhere, was part of three winning teams during his four years with the New York Jets. Moss arrived in 2005 in Washington where his only winning seasons have come in his debut, in 2007, and last year.

Safety Reed Doughty, a sixth-round pick in the 2006 draft, has played all eight of his seasons with the Redskins and is still waiting to celebrate a postseason triumph. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall was signed off waivers in November 2008 when Washington had won 15 of its previous 25 games. The Redskins are 30-56 since.

Outside linebacker Rob Jackson played in just 10 games during the first three years after being chosen in the seventh round in 2008, but at least he got to start last January’s playoff game against Seattle in place of the injured Brian Orakpo.

Tight end Fred Davis, a second-rounder in that 2008 draft, suffered a season-ending torn Achilles’ tendon in Week 7 of 2012. Orakpo, Washington’s top selection in the 2009 draft, had his 2012 season end with a torn pec in Week 2. So neither has suited up in a postseason contest.

All told, Fletcher, Moss, Doughty, Hall, Jackson, Davis and Orakpo have spent 47 seasons with the Redskins, but Moss is the only one to have played in a postseason victory back in 2005 at Tampa Bay.

Makes you wonder why any of those seven veterans would want to re-sign with the Redskins, who are one defeat from their first winless December since 1978 when they only played three games in the final month, not five.

This year, only Houston (2-13) is worse than Washington (3-12). The Redskins rank in the bottom quarter of the NFL in 10 of 12 special teams statistics and in the bottom third of the league in six of 11 defensive statistics. They’re better when they have the ball, but only 11 teams have scored fewer offensive touchdowns. The only NFC teams among those 11 more punchless squads are the Giants, Rams and Bucs.

Shanahan certainly can’t blame injuries for the biggest collapse in Redskins history (seven games in the standings if they complete an eight-game losing streak to end the season on Sunday).

Receiver Pierre Garcon, running back Alfred Morris and the entire five-man offensive line will start all 16 games. Quarterback Robert Griffin III might have, too, if the coach hadn’t sat him after 13 hit-filled contests.

If Orakpo plays against the Giants despite a strained groin he suffered in last Sunday’s 24-23 loss to the Cowboys, all four linebackers will have started every game as will nose tackle Barry Cofield and cornerbacks Hall and Josh Wilson. So if Orakpo guts it out against his better interests, that would be seven of 11 starters on each side of the ball who answered the bell every week. That’s pretty incredible in today’s injury-riddled NFL.

But never say I didn’t leave you with some hope, Redskins fans. Of the 12 teams that won as few three games in any season from 2008-12, only two remained that bad the following year while three soared to the playoffs. That’s a little bit of sunshine on a cloudy day, right?

 
 

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.

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