Redskins have a (short) week to show how much they’ve changed

Mike Wise
Columnist September 27, 2011

Today, after Rex Grossman held the ball out as if he were auctioning it off, is Recrimination Day. Today, seeing the replay of the game-ending fumble, there are not just two but three quarterbacks in one: Good Rex, Bad Rex and Train Rex.

Today, even the Pro Bowl cornerback has an evil twin. There’sDeAngelo Hall and there’s MeAngelo Hall, who blamed the defensive coordinator instead of the player who lost Dez Bryant on a third-and-21 play and then grabbed Bryant’s face mask to put the Dallas Cowboys in field goal range.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Today, the coordinators are at fault. Kyle Shanahan should have called more running plays with the lead. Jim Haslett should have swallowed his stubborn pride and not gambled by siccing all but three of his players on an ailing Tony Romo, who found Bryant amid a near-vacant secondary.

Today is also the day to let go and move on.

Between the buildup and the letdown, take the Redskins’ 18-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys for what it was: a crushing late-game defeat but, possibly, an aberration.

This week will reveal more about Mike Shanahan’s team than anything that happened Monday night on national television. This week will either show genuine progression in the Shanahan era or will expose the coach’s aspirations as more fantasy than reality.

Short week, playing against a winless St. Louis Rams team, in a stadium where the Redskins were soundly beaten a year ago.

“We definitely got to win this game, go [to] 3-1 going into the bye week — for team morale and also for the city,” said Lorenzo Alexander, the veteran linebacker who now plays primarily on special teams. “You drop this game, you know, people start reminiscing about last year and, ‘Oh, okay, this team isn’t as good as we thought.’ . . .

“Just from a dynamic of the culture around here, we need to win this game to show we have changed from past performances.”

If they melt down against the Rams in a regionally televised game at 1 p.m. on Sunday, then London Fletcher’s declarations of a “special team” fall flat. The good vibes of the last few months felt by the tired, poor, huddled masses in their ketchup-and-mustard rain ponchos start to dissolve into another depressing downward spiral of a season.

Shanahan would enter the bye week 2-2, but it would be the most hollow and scrutinized 2-2 imaginable.

The Redskins need to beat the Rams in St. Louis for one simple reason: Because if they don’t, this year will begin to look like every other over the past decade or so around here. All of a sudden, Grossman would be a three-turnover day from hearing pleas for John Beck. Hall wouldn’t be the only one in the locker room pointing fingers elsewhere.

At least tied atop the NFC East, the Redskins would be 3-1 in the conference with two weeks to prepare for the Eagles at FedEx Field on Oct. 16. That’s a long way from a rough loss to your archrival.

Beating a desperate Rams team that was embarrassed at home against the Ravens Sunday, with just five days of preparation and three days of genuine practice, is hugely meaningful in the scope of what Shanahan is trying to instill, including the end of the circus.

Indeed, when Hall, the highest-paid player on the defense, called out his coordinator a year ago, it became a needless distraction. Now that he’s sounded off again — and, yes, Haslett has put him out an island with Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant in consecutive weeks — let’s see how quickly talking out of school fades this time.

Now that the quarterback with a history of making fans fearful coughed up the ball at the end of a loss again, let’s see whether Grossman compounds the doubt against the Rams.

Heck, now that Shanahan’s team has absorbed a crushing defeat, let’s see how the coach responds. Do we hear that if Grossman were in better cardiovascular condition he would have beaten Anthony Spencer to the left sideline and not have allowed to the ball to be stripped away? Okay, he probably is not going to get the Donovan treatment.

This franchise felt really good about itself at 2-0.

Dallas and New York started 0-1 and are now 2-1. Each showed resilience after losses. Now it’s Washington’s turn.

St. Louis presents the Redskins the best opportunity of the season, to see if Washington can figure it out on the road in a short week, to see if the Redskins have something here or if this the same old song and dance in Ashburn.

Dallas is for recrimination, for the Redskins to beat themselves up and ponder how close they were to 3-0. But St. Louis says more accurately who they are and how far they have come nearly 20 games into Shanahan’s tenure.

“We’ll find out a lot about ourselves once we get out there and play the game,” Alexander said. “It’s easy to say what we have done and what’s changed. But until we continue to prove that over a consistent basis, it’s fair for people to compare us to [the recent] Redskins of old.”

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