Despite the good vibes at Redskins Park after the surprising Week 15 road victory over the New York Giants, the Redskins are 5-10 with one game remaining. Washington is ensured of finishing last or tied for last for the fifth time in the past six seasons, under three head coaches.
Those are just facts. And they’re difficult to accept for players eager to believe the Redskins are finally sprinting, not crawling, toward a revival.
“We definitely took a step back,” inside linebacker and team leader London Fletcher said. “Just very disappointing to come out and play like we played in our final game in front of our home crowd.
“Just extremely disappointed in our defense and extremely disappointed in our team. With everything that happened and what we were trying to do . . . that’s just the way it is. You have to look at it honestly.”
The defense, by far the strength of the team, gave up 241 yards rushing. The Vikings averaged an eye-opening 6.3 yards per attempt. They amassed most of their total after star running back Adrian Peterson was knocked out of the game by a knee injury on the first possession of the third quarter.
Minnesota produced 23 points in the third and fourth quarters combined, after losing starting quarterback Christian Ponder, who departed two plays after Peterson because of a concussion suffered when he absorbed a jarring — but legal — hit from Fletcher.
The Redskins reverted to sloppiness, committing costly penalties that helped the Vikings on one of their touchdown drives and nullified a potential big Washington scoring play.
“I was disappointed we had as many penalties as we did,” Coach Mike Shanahan said, “in some crucial situations.”
And, as usual, with a Rex Grossman-led team, there were turnovers.
Of course, that much wasn’t a shock. I mean, committing turnovers and producing intermittent big plays is what Grossman does. It’s just how the lovable lug rolls. He gets out of bed in the morning with two turnovers.
In the Redskins’ previous game, though, Grossman’s turnovers didn’t derail the team. It went the other way against the Vikings.
The Vikings’ first points came on a field goal shortly after they recovered a Grossman fumble that came when he was stripped of the ball on a sack.
With Washington trailing by seven points midway through the fourth, a high pass by Grossman was intercepted — the Vikings’ first interception in 10 games — and Minnesota kicked a field goal.
You can set your watch to Grossman throwing interceptions, and he’s not a viable option at the game’s most important position, at least not for a team that aspires to win Super Bowls. The Redskins haven’t won one in a long, long time, but that’s what owner Daniel Snyder wants.
In a strange way (okay, very strange), Grossman has been one of the bright spots during another wasted season. His obliviousness to his many turnovers, and his knack for making downfield plays, inspires his teammates to believe that they should “be confident all the time,” Grossman said. “Every week, we are confident, playing for each other. . . . We feel like every week, we can win. And any time you do win, you feel like that is what you’re supposed to do.”
That’s Grossman’s biggest contribution. The Redskins are beginning to believe in the art of the possible. That’s the good stuff he brings to the table.
Granted, Grossman isn’t capable of leading the Redskins where they ultimately want to go. I’m sure Shanahan knows that. But Shanahan inherited a franchise with a battered psyche, so bringing in a guy with Grossman’s upbeat mind-set made sense.
Shanahan still erred in staking his reputation on Grossman and John Beck being able to effectively lead the offense. I’ll never waver on that point.
Grossman’s effect on the team’s attitude, however, is a positive development in an otherwise awful situation. Might as well take something from it.
Then there are the rookie running backs. The Redskins definitely have found something in the hard-working Roy Helu, who had three consecutive 100-yard games, and have seen encouraging signs lately in Evan Royster as well.
Making his first career start for the injured Helu, Royster rushed for 132 yards with a 6.9-yard average. For the first time in Redskins franchise history, two rookies have rushed for at least 100 yards — and that’s an impressive fact, period.
“I thought Evan did a great job,” Shanahan said. “Any time you average nearly seven yards a carry, against a defense that has been doing very good against the run, you feel like you’ve had a great day. He’s got to feel good about his performance.”
Not just Royster. The entire franchise should take satisfaction in anything that’s going right. Obviously, the Redskins haven’t turned a corner. With only a game left, they haven’t found it yet.
“We have to put several games together, not just playing one good game, and we didn’t put three or four games together to show we’re a good team,” special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander said. “Are some good things happening? Yeah, you can see it. I think we all see it. But you’ve got to see more. Until we do that, we’re not a good team.”
With each season, it gets harder to remember the last time they were.