Sunday is not the start of a playoff run. Sunday is also not the end of the season. What the Philadelphia Eagles represent in Week 11 is a chance for Mike Shanahan’s team to be taken seriously as professionals going forward.
Sunday is when we find out whether Jim Haslett’s defensive schemes deserve another year. If that defense, which hasn’t produced a sack in almost a month, cannot get to or at least pressure a rookie making his first start like Nick Foles — behind a Band-Aid Eagles offensive line — it will never pressure anybody.
Sunday is when we find out whether Pierre Garcon and that crew of young receivers deserve to be catching passes from Robert Griffin III in a year.
In Shanahan’s be-healthy-or-else universe, Garcon’s injured foot has been a nuisance. Now that he can play, he needs to be more than a decoy for a guaranteed $21 million. If not, Garcon could be shut down and eventually jettisoned.
And his deal may be the most expensive and wasted $21 million check Daniel Snyder has signed since Albert Haynesworth collected on his last guaranteed payment.
If Aldrick Robinson, Leonard Hankerson, Dezmon Briscoe and friends can’t hang on to balls in traffic in a game their team absolutely has to have, they don’t deserve to be targeted the rest of 2012 or, for that matter, kept in 2013. Go back to Santana Moss and Chris Cooley for eight yards in the seam, where at least you know what you’re getting.
Sunday at FedEx Field is simply when we find out whether these Redskins have a pulse.
This isn’t a must-win game; it’s a can’t-lose game. If they fall to this sorry Eagles outfit and take sole possession of last place in the NFC East at 3-7, the Shanahan era can no longer hide behind the promise of RGIII.
Have you seen what’s going on in Philadelphia? This is one of the rare instances over the past decade where Washington is facing a bigger tire fire than itself.
Andy Reid is Unemployed Coach Walking, all but terminated by an owner who proclaimed 8-8 unacceptable in the preseason. Their 3-6 roster is bloated with big signings. The Eagles have already fired a defensive coordinator and have more injuries than healthy starters. The big one is Michael Vick. Although much of Philly is sadly gleeful about this development, having wanted Foles to get his shot ever since he put up big preseason numbers, Vick has ruined the Redskins on their home field the past two years.
If Washington needs an ounce more of motivation to re-start their season on a winning note, go back a year ago when the Redskins couldn’t wait to show they were for real against Philadelphia after starting 3-1 and Reid’s job was tilting in the balance after a disastrous start.
Rex Grossman almost completed more passes to the other team than his own and was benched for John Beck. Vick and the Eagles started fast. And only a strong defensive showing kept the Redskins from being blown out on a miserable reality-check day.
Go back to Monday Night Football two years ago, when Donovan McNabb was weirdly signed to a five-year contract extension before the Eagles game, a move that only guaranteed him $3 million but almost seemed to be more about alleviating tension between the quarterback and Shanahan, who benched McNabb before the bye week.
The Redskins lost by about 100 that night (Vick actually dropped 59 points on them, 45 by halftime, and he scored six touchdowns.) The season had seven games left but the beating the Eagles put on the Redskins that night effectively siphoned playoff hope.
Turnabout is possible Sunday. For the first time in forever, the Eagles can be the Redskins’ balm. Instead of Shanahan always saving Reid’s job, Philadelphia’s mess can ease Washington’s pain.
If they find a way to beat the Eagles, then the legions of dreamers can start talking Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, the Giants at home. Heck, seven games remaining in which only one, the Ravens, where the Redskins would be a prohibitive underdog.
But that’s all a long way from Sunday, the day the Redskins have the privilege of trying to make next week matter, to be more than a disappointment in Griffin’s rookie year.
It’s not much, certainly not the idealistic start of a playoff run. But it’s a realistic re-start, a needed opportunity to change the course. Again, it’s not must-win; it’s can’t-lose.
For Mike Wise’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/wise.