Shanahan, who had called Sunday’s contest with the Carolina Panthers a “must-win” game, said after the 21-13 loss: “When you lose a game like that, now you’re playing to see who, obviously, is going to be on your football team for years to come. Now we get a chance to evaluate players and see where we’re at.
“Obviously we’re not out of it statistically,” he said. “But now we find out what type of character we’ve got and how guys keep on fighting through the rest of the season.”
He said Monday that his statements were not meant to imply he was giving up on this season and looking to the future.
But perhaps the bigger issue as the Redskins began their bye week was that more than halfway into Shanahan’s third season, the team is in last place in the NFC East and there is reason to wonder how much progress has been made since he was hired by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.
The Redskins have a record of 3-6, and are 14-27 under Shanahan, who won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos. Shanahan, who has two more seasons remaining on his contract, said Monday he believes progress has been made.
“I see some tremendous strides,” Shanahan said. “Hopefully it’s not only me. Hopefully it’s Dan as well.”
Shanahan said he would explain his postgame remarks to the team’s players when he addresses them Tuesday and attempted to do that Monday when he spoke to reporters.
“You’ll find out if you’ve got guys that are going to give everything,” he said. “I don’t care if they’re a five-year player, a 10-year player, a first-year player. When your backs are against the wall, how do you stand up with adversity? I would never say that we’re going to play young players. I’ve never said that since I’ve been here. . . . We’re always going to play the people that give us the best chance to win.”
He acknowledged, however, that “I’m not saying I gave the perfect quote.”
Shanahan also added that the Redskins must treat each of their seven remaining games as if they are playoff contests.
“You know there’s only three teams since ’90 that have been in the playoffs [after starting] 3-6,” Shanahan said. “So you understand those stats. . . . You’ve got to play your best football now because you’ve got to treat each game like a playoff game.”
Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III said Monday he had no problem with what Shanahan said Sunday.
“I know a lot of people are taking that statement and running with it, but I don’t feel like he’s throwing in the towel, per se, as what other people are saying . . . Right now we are in must-win territory. Even this last game was a must-win, and we didn’t win it. The rest of the league is definitely helping us out by giving the rest of the NFC East teams some losses. So we have to win out, and if we win out, we have a really good chance to make the playoffs . . . It’s a time where guys either have to perform or they won’t be here next year, and that’s what it comes down to.”
Shanahan has said the rebuilding project that he had to undertake is larger than he originally realized. He reiterated that Monday, saying: “We started over again.”
The Redskins at least have a quarterback around whom they can build, after trading up to select Griffin in April’s draft. The Redskins, with Griffin leading the way, were ranked seventh in the NFL in total offense entering Monday night’s play. But their defense was ranked 28th overall.
Still, it is a quarterback-first league, and the Redskins can take considerable solace in the fact that their primary building block is in place.
“This is the first year we’ve actually had a quarterback, for the most part,” linebacker London Fletcher said after Sunday’s game. “So that definitely makes a difference. And you see with Robert, he’s going to be a great player and he’s going to give you a great chance to win. Now you just continue to build pieces around him.”
Griffin’s presence probably provides job security beyond this season for Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The two have earned praise for the work they’ve done developing Griffin during his rookie season and designing an offense that takes advantage of Griffin’s varied skills. The Redskins would be foolish, some people in the sport say, to make a change at head coach or offensive coordinator that would force Griffin to start over next season.
Shanahan was asked Monday whether Snyder remains supportive of him and measures progress the same way.
“You’ll have to ask Dan Snyder that,” Shanahan said. “If he feels like this team is going in the right direction, then you ask him, not me. I know I’m going in the right direction.”
Snyder was not available to comment.
Shanahan said Monday there would be no changes to his coaching staff during the bye week. He has expressed support for defensive coordinator Jim Haslett as the team’s defense has struggled without four starters. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker were lost to season-ending injuries. Safety Tanard Jackson won’t play this season while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Safety Brandon Meriweather hasn’t played at all this season because of a knee injury, but the Redskins hope he joins the lineup after the bye.
But the Redskins still have needs, some of them glaring, at a variety of positions, including wide receiver, right tackle, cornerback and safety. They may need pass-rushing help if Orakpo can’t recover fully from injuries to a pectoral muscle. Tight end Fred Davis, whose contract expires after this season, ruptured an Achilles’ tendon, ending his season early.
With all these holes in the lineup, the Redskins are without a first-round draft choice for the next two years, thanks to the trade with the St. Louis Rams that enabled them to select Griffin. They also must absorb another $18 million salary cap reduction next year as part of the penalty imposed by the NFL in March for the way they structured player contracts during the 2010 season, when the NFL had no salary cap.
“I think I’ve told you a long time ago it was going to take awhile,” Shanahan said Monday. “And I like the direction we’re going, both on offense and defense.”
— Staff writer Mike Jones contributed to this report.