PHILADELPHIA — Every season, all NFL teams dream of that one lucky season with freedom from injury, blessed bounces, minor injuries that conveniently remove the star quarterbacks of their foes, weak division rivals and maybe even a miracle win somewhere along the way. But few teams ever get these gifts. When they do, like the Kansas City Chiefs, they normally have spectacular years, even if little was expected of them.
What is far rarer is an NFL team, like Washington this season, that gets almost every break — few injuries, five defensive touchdowns, injuries to five opposing quarterbacks, an insane escape for a win over San Diego, plus a weak schedule — and still totally flops.
Washington may be the luckiest team in the NFL. Yet after a 24-16 defeat here to the Eagles, the Redskins are 3-7, and their good fortune may have run out.
For this game, every Washington player of any importance was fit and suited up, just as they have been for almost every game. That may be changing. Depending on the seriousness of injuries to tight end Jordan Reed, wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, defensive end Stephen Bowen and cornerback E.J. Biggers, the Redskins may soon have normal miseries.
Washington also has faced five foes — half its schedule — that played most of their snaps without their projected starting quarterback. Ten days ago, the Redskins, in near-perfect health, even managed to lose to a one-win Vikings team minus eight injured starters.
“We’ve been blessed not to have the injury bug this year. And we’re 3-7,” perplexed linebacker Brian Orakpo said after the Redskins fell behind 24-0, looked lifeless, then made the score respectable after an unlikely 62-yard bomb (to a fullback) woke them up. “You’d expect the other way around. We don’t have any magic right now.”
Throughout their history, the Redskins often have gone five years at a time with only one or two defensive touchdowns. This year: five already. That’s part opportunistic talent. But it is also right-man-in-the-right-place good fortune. As if that weren’t enough, they play in the NFL’s weakest division, the NFC East.
Finally, the team’s greatest worry before the season was Robert Griffin III’s knee. He has lost a step. His back-footed, sidearm heave for a loss-sealing interception with 40 seconds left Sunday was a brutal young quarterback blunder. But big picture, he has been healthy enough to start every game; the Redskins couldn’t have asked for a bigger break.
Yet they are 21 / 2 games behind the Eagles, who have run up 33-7 and 24-0 leads in their two meetings. Those are the kind of early routs that often says one team was better prepared by its coaches than the other. In the first half, when the Redskins had four net yards passing, Griffin conceded that “in the passing game, they kind of knew what was coming before it was coming. They had us schemed up pretty good.”
“A few of the [Washington] plays, I called them out before they happened,” Eagles linebacker Fletcher Cox said. “From studying film, [we knew] when things were going to happen before they happened.”
Are the Redskins that predictable, or is RGIII that raw at changing to a better play?
The Redskins now have only prayer-soaked scenarios in which they could repeat as NFC East champs. If the rest of the year follows the current chalk, they would end up 4-12.
“These are the kind of [seasons] that can make guys give up,” Griffin said. “But I don’t believe our guys will give up. I believe. And that’s all we need. We need guys to believe.”
That may save Tinkerbell, but resurrecting Washington’s season may be tougher.
Does this team really believe in itself? The Redskins rarely play like it. This is a team that has long stretches of dispirited play in which bad offense begets demoralized defense, and there’s no help from special teams that are comically bad. The result is 30-to-40-minute periods of outright embarrassment, like the first three quarters of this game. The Redskins haven’t just dug themselves huge holes against the Eagles; they’ve also trailed the Packers 31-0, gave up 38 unanswered points in Denver and followed that by yielding 20 straight points to Christian Ponder and Minnesota.
“We need to play better team football . . . so we don’t have these onslaughts of points,” Griffin said. “One unit has to pick up the next unit. . . . We can’t get down on ourselves. We can’t look at ourselves and [say] there’s no chance. . . . That’s cowardly.”
The colorful or controversial details of this loss may distract the team and its followers from seeing the big picture. Colorful quotes and anecdotes get our attention. The Redskins are often better at controversy and intrigue than honest self-evaluation. After the loss, tackle Trent Williams complained that an official called him a “garbage-[expletive] disrespectful [expletive].” The NFL should investigate the serious charge. But that play was in the second quarter and had little or nothing to do with the outcome.
In general, the Washington locker room was a disconcerting scene with two players laughing just minutes after the game, others complaining loudly to each other about calls earlier in the game. Great Washington teams in the past lost hard, especially if their season probably just died. Nobody laughed. No Hog ever complained that a ref talked mean to him. And nobody brought up his own agenda.
Wide receiver Josh Morgan, deactivated before the game, would have been asked whether he might’ve helped after Hankerson was hurt. Wilson cut that short: “Coach said I can’t talk. Coach said I can’t play football and I can’t talk.” That’s a “no comment” with lots of comment.
When the Redskins get most of the breaks for nearly three months yet still have a 3-7 record, what does that say about the state of Coach Mike Shanahan’s four-year building program? Prepare for the usual reaction to a must-win game in which they came out flat, fell far behind and get outschemed for three quarters: Wow, did you see the never-say-die way we fought back and almost — almost what? Almost scored a touchdown that almost led to a two-point conversion that almost might have led to an overtime win?
That would have been mighty lucky indeed. But you only get so much of it.
“A play here and a play there,” Shanahan said of falling behind 24-0.
How about a dozen plays here and a dozen plays there for three entire quarters?
Shanahan seldom answers any question that isn’t scented in lilac and brought to him with bonbons. But a beady stare only works for so long when it’s combined with a 24-34 record in Washington and six straight teams, going back to Denver, that have been poor to awful on defense. The Redskins’ 7-0 finish in 2012 hasn’t been forgotten. But it’s fading fast. The games that matter for 2013 are ending. The tough questions that matter, especially how you can be 3-7 in a season when you get so many great breaks, have just begun.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.