The grit of a champion is gone.
The Washington Redskins were unable to beat a mediocre visitor in a close game. After losing 27-20 to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, the defending NFC East champs have work to do if they’re going to become the first team in 15 years to reach the postseason after an 0-3 start.
It doesn’t matter that Washington trails division-leader Dallas by two games with two meetings still to come against the Cowboys while New York is 0-3 and Philadelphia 1-2. That fuzzy math doesn’t address the truth: The Redskins are woefully underachieving.
Washington travels to Oakland on Sunday seeking to salvage a season and quarterback Robert Griffin III’s confidence. It’s about avoiding 0-4 entering the bye, when demons can overtake a locker room and pink slips can replace postseason glory.
“You find out how tough you are,” coach Mike Shanahan said of the team’s current state.
The Redskins better be tougher than cafeteria ladies because the schedule gets harder after the bye. Finishing 8-8 would be a success, but returning to the postseason is an impossible dream and an offseason of major change a bitter reality.
“Anything can happen,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said, “but you can’t hang your hat on winning seven in a row. We can’t live on what we did last year. That means nothing right now.”
Redskins fans like to remember last year’s improbable seven-game winning streak after a 3-6 start. But that team was barely losing early games, not getting punked each week.
Now the Redskins are getting slapped around in all three phases. Oh, what this team wouldn’t do for a game-changing returner, a safety, a run stopper, a healthy tight end, an interior offensive line and a mobile quarterback.
Last year’s smoke and mirrors are this season’s shattered dreams.
Defensive coordinators spent the offseason figuring out the zone read that had fueled Griffin’s success. Now they know how to trick the quarterback into bad decisions. Griffin already has four interceptions, one fewer than he threw all of last year.
It’s not a bad knee that’s hampering Griffin. It’s a lack of confidence. That swagger and toothy grin of 2012 have been missing since training camp. Getting knocked down last season wasn’t the hard part. Getting up this season is.
Coaches appear too tentative to risk Griffin in the zone read, but he’s not a pocket passer. Washington won’t win with Griffin throwing 40-plus times per game. He needs to run free and be RGIII. Of course, Griffin badly needs a course in sliding. That face-forward fumble against Detroit was embarrassing.
Washington gets a chance in Oakland to prevent a free fall. Otherwise, who’s getting benched or beheaded will be the buzz.
“I don’t know if desperation is the right word,” Griffin said after Sunday’s game.
Actually, it’s the perfect word.