Regaining his rep
There’s no getting around this: Shanahan’s first two seasons were a disaster.
Even factoring in the mess the head coach inherited (the team’s 2008 draft was awful), it was reasonable for Snyder to expect more from Shanahan than a record of 11-21. Also, the Donovan McNabb debacle and the Rex-Beck fiasco hurt Shanahan’s credibility.
Nothing like a uniquely gifted quarterback to get a two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach back on track. Some would argue that any coach could have won with Griffin, whose combination of arm strength, smarts and speed — he was an Olympic-caliber hurdler — sets him apart from other outstanding first-year players at his position such as Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson.
Don’t buy that. Mike and Kyle Shanahan changed their offense significantly (most teams don’t use college-style option plays) to accentuate what Griffin does best, which eased Griffin’s transition to the NFL. Usually, Mike Shanahan waits until a quarterback proves himself in the offense for at least a season before tailoring it to a quarterback. He broke his rule with Griffin because he believed Griffin would be worth it. He nailed that one.
Morris, who finished the regular season with 13 total touchdowns, broke numerous Redskins records along the way to establishing the new franchise rushing mark. He also finished second in the NFL in rushing to Adrian Peterson.
Griffin benefited from the Shanahans’ decision to incorporate option plays into the team’s base offense. Early in the season, opponents were so worried about Griffin that Morris had big running lanes in the middle of the line and on plays toward the sideline.
When Griffin’s knee forced him to slow down, Morris, at times, carried the offense. The 1-2 punch of Morris and Griffin — who set an NFL rushing record for rookie quarterbacks — enabled Washington to set a new team record in the running game.
In its past two playoff appearances, Washington traveled to Seattle. And twice the Seahawks ended the Redskins’ season.
But that was way back during the 2005 and 2007 seasons — essentially a lifetime ago in the fast-changing NFL. In fact, only tight end Chris Cooley, linebacker London Fletcher, wide receiver Santana Moss, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, defensive lineman Kedric Golston, safety Reed Doughty and linebacker Chris Wilson remain on the roster from the ’07 squad — which was led by former head coach Joe Gibbs in the final season of his second stint with the team — that lost in the first round of the playoffs.
This time, Seattle will have to make the cross-country trip, play in a different time zone and face what should be a pumped-up home crowd for the first postseason game at FedEx Field since the 1999 season.
You can count on the game being hyped as a matchup between two of the top quarterbacks in an outstanding rookie class.
Seattle’s Wilson hasn’t been as productive as Griffin for the entire season. Wilson was, however, one of the league’s best quarterbacks, regardless of experience, in the second half of the Seahawks’ schedule.
Each team is among the best in the game at running the ball. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch finished one spot behind Morris in rushing.
The big difference between the teams is on defense. Seattle is great at it. The Redskins, well, not so much.
Of course, the Redskins were much better at everything on defense during the streak (cornerback DeAngelo Hall had his best game of the season Sunday). And as we’ve come to learn with this bunch, anything is possible.
The turnaround is now complete. Washington has rolled into the postseason hotter than any team not named the Denver Broncos. For the Redskins, one thrilling ride has finished. And another may just be beginning.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.