Five observations from the Redskins’ loss to the Cowboys

December 23, 2013

The slide continues. The Redskins again proved incapable of protecting a second-half lead, and fell 24-23 to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Yesterday’s game seemed like the whole season wrapped up into one: special teams woes, defensive breakdowns, offensive cold spells, and more shortcomings.

Here are five observations from that game.

1. A new low  The 6-10 finish in Year 1 of the Mike Shanahan era was bad, but at least you could chalk it up to a new regime, roster reconstruction and not having all the pieces in place. The 5-11 campaign the next year also was unfortunate, but the Redskins still had limited offensive weapons, injuries and suspensions to key players and the lack of an elite quarterback to blame. Year 3 represented the turnaround  a rough start followed by a stellar finish and a long-awaited playoff appearance. But this season has been nothing short of a disaster. The Redskins find themselves on a seven-game losing streak  their first since 1994  and face a good possibility of going 3-13, also for the first time since 1994. Mike Shanahan had never lost seven straight games before yesterday, and in 27 years as an NFL head coach, he had never lost more than 11 games in a season. With one game still left on the schedule, this defense has allowed 458 points  the most in franchise history. The team has been outscored by 130 points  the most since 1960, when a 1-9-2 team got outscored by 131 points. The Redskins will finish last in the NFC East for the third time in Shanahan’s four seasons and for the fifth time in the past six years. Mike Shanahan currently owns a .363 winning percentage  the worst by a full-time Redskins head coach since Richie Petitbon’s .250 clip after his 4-12 season in 1993.

2. Shanahan’s future  We could go on and on with the numbers, but what’s the point? It’s clear this is a bad team. And if it wasn’t clear before, this team is in need of a change. It’s hard to believe that Mike Shanahan  a two-time Super Bowl winning coach  took over after the Jim Zorn/Vinny Cerrato blunder years, received more power from Daniel Snyder than any other coach in 14 years, and now actually has the franchise in worse shape. Yes, Snyder still owes Shanahan $7 million and is said to have reluctance about cutting that check, plus the other $6 million that is owed to Shanahan’s assistants. Yes, veteran guys like London Fletcher, DeAngelo Hall and Trent Williams have said that stability would benefit the Redskins. But there’s just no way Snyder can bring Shanahan back for a fifth season after the way things have crashed and burned. You don’t, or shouldn’t, stay in a terrible relationship just for the sake of stability. That’s toxic, and that’s what you have here. You have a talented, young quarterback, who’s coming off of a bad year and doesn’t trust his coach or offensive coordinator. You have a toothless defense with 8 of 11 starters headed for free agency, an offensive line badly in need of an overhaul, a pass-catching unit in need of a true sidekick to Pierre Garcon, and no first-round draft pick in the coming draft  a selection that could wind up being first overall. Oh, and don’t forget an 0-7, and likely an 0-8 finish down the homestretch of this season. Shanahan has only gotten results in one seven-game stretch. It’s time to blow the whole thing up and start fresh.

Kirk Cousins threw his eighth career touchdown pass and eighth interception as well. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
Kirk Cousins threw his eighth career touchdown pass and eighth interception as well. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

3. Cousins’s performance  Kirk Cousins came back to earth after an impressive showing in his first game this season as a starter. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 197 yards, a touchdown and an interception and a passer rating of 71.2. He probably should have been intercepted three more times. He did do a good job of scanning the field. He never seems to lock in on one receiver. And he did get the ball out quickly. He wasn’t sacked all game. But Cousins struggled with leading receivers here and there, and his interception to Moss would have likely resulted in a touchdown had he placed the ball in front of the wideout instead of high and behind him. Cousins said that he thought Moss was supposed to drift upfield, but acknowledged that Moss did the right thing on the play in cutting inside. Cousins said, “That’s where you talk about chemistry, you talk about reps, you talk about an experienced quarterback. It’s a game of inches. I’d like to think down the road, I’m going to know where he’s going to go and I’m going to anticipate that a little better.” Cousins is a smart quarterback, and he has talent. But he needs to work on his turnover tendency. In seven games, he has thrown eight touchdown passes, but he also has thrown eight interceptions and lost one fumble. We’ll see what kind of finish he can put together for his final audition for the future.

4. Garcon’s big day  With his 11-catch day against the Cowboys, Pierre Garcon moved into first place in the NFL with 107 receptions. He also set a franchise record, breaking Art Monk’s mark of 106, which was set in 1984. Garcon didn’t get to celebrate since his team came up short in the end. Monk said Sunday night that he was surprised his record stood as long as it did, but that he was happy for Garcon. And Garcon said himself that he wasn’t surprised that he has been able to have such a strong season (his 1,290 receiving yards rank ninth in the NFL). “When you believe in yourself, you know that you can do things. The records are always meant to be broken, so I just continue to play. I knew I could play. I’m just happy to be in the league, happy to make plays, and happy to be out there every day.” Garcon needs 193 receiving yards to tie Santana Moss’s team record for the most recorded in one season (1,483 in 2005). It’s hard to say if he’ll manage to get it next week against the Giants, but he has had a strong season. Next season, the Redskins need to bring in another wideout that can serve as a consistent threat opposite Garcon, and that will ease pressure on him, and also prevent defenses from being able to double-team Garcon as much.

5.) The final week  It was clear based on their emotions during the game and after the game that the Redskins players had not quit on the season. They badly want to end this season on a positive note. They have one final opportunity for a sliver of redemption as they take on the New York Giants on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. This will represent the last time that many of these players will play together. And then comes a long, miserable, uncertain offseason, and so, because of that, many Redskins said after the loss to Dallas that they aren’t looking forward to getting the next game over with so they can put this campaign behind them. The Giants, like the Redskins, have nothing at stake. We’ll see which team can muster the most significant amount of pride and effort and pull off the win. And then comes an offseason full of change.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.

What’s ahead:

●  Mike Shanahan speaks with reporters Monday at 3 p.m.; The season finale is in New York at 1 p.m. against the Giants.

More from The Post:

Takeaway: Cousins takes a step in the wrong direction

Boswell: One-point loss to Cowboys is another case of harsh reality

Redskins lose heartbreakerAnother letdown for the defense

Box  | Photos | Standings | Scoreboard | Bog: Sunday’s best and worst

The Early Lead: NFC East title on the line in Week 17 | More NFL posts

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @Insider | Insider on Facebook

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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Mark Maske · December 22, 2013