When the end came for the Washington Redskins, there was no reason for them to be embarrassed this time. Players who had hung their heads for years could hold them high after unexpectedly accomplishing so much. Finally, the Redskins appear to be moving in the right direction — and even a clunker in the first round of the NFC playoffs doesn’t change that.
The Redskins’ best season in 21 years ended Sunday night in a 24-14 loss to Seattle, which got 132 yards rushing from Marshawn Lynch and benefited by facing an injury-weakened Robert Griffin III. While taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, the Redskins flashed the winning look they displayed throughout their seven-game win streak to close the regular season. It just didn’t last long.
Griffin’s ongoing knee problems derailed Washington’s offense and quickly ended the party-like atmosphere surrounding the organization’s first playoff game at FedEx Field since the 1999 season. What a season it was, however, for the Redskins and their loyal, long-suffering fans.
From 3-6 to winning the NFC East division championship, the Redskins often surprised even themselves.
In Griffin, the Redskins have the franchise quarterback for whom they’ve been waiting since owner Daniel Snyder purchased the team. Rookie running back Alfred Morris emerged as a stunning sixth-round find en route to finishing second in the NFL in rushing. Pierre Garcon displayed the toughness some NFL observers believed he lacked. And the Redskins accomplished more on defense than the sum of their parts indicated they should have.
Pro football in these parts hadn’t been as much fun since the early 1990s. Now, there’s something on which the Redskins can continue to build.
Coach Mike Shanahan began to regain his swagger as an elite team-builder. Yes, he should have pulled Griffin earlier from Sunday’s game and put in backup quarterback Kirk Cousins. But he made the right calls on so many major decisions in the past year, including approving the record price it took to get Griffin, paying Garcon big money to lead the receiving corps and believing that the unheralded Morris was the right guy to carry the load in the running game.
The Redskins still have a long way to go to reach the Super Bowl, which is Shanahan’s top goal. But let’s look at the building blocks now in place that could help them get there:
It was obvious to anyone who watched Griffin the past few weeks: the NFL’s top dual-threat quarterback was essentially playing on one leg. Griffin’s knee injury, which he aggravated late in the first quarter against Seattle, was the biggest factor in Washington producing only 203 total net yards against Seattle.
In the first quarter, Griffin failed to connect with Garcon in the end zone after planting on his right knee and throwing across his body. Although Griffin remained in the game — he teamed with Logan Paulsen on a short touchdown pass two plays later — he limped and was examined by team medical personnel after the drive that gave the Redskins a 14-point cushion.
From that point, the Redskins’ offense was done. The coaching staff’s biggest concern was that Griffin’s knee would prevent him from performing at roughly half-speed. For almost three full quarters, the worst-case scenario played out painfully and slowly for the Redskins and their fans.
Griffin has textbook passing mechanics. He completed 65.6 percent of his passes in the regular season. His 102.4 passer rating established a new rookie record. You just can’t be an accurate passer, though, if you can’t push off on your plant leg without major pain.
Truth is, if the Redskins had been out of contention, Griffin probably wouldn’t have played in the final two games of the regular season. For the first time in a long time, however, the Redskins were finally playing for something at the end of a season. Now that that’s all over, Griffin will get what he needs most: rest.
Next season, the hard-working Griffin figures to be even more polished as a passer. Count on Griffin having a much better understanding of how defenses will try to stop him. He isn’t close to reaching his ceiling, and that’s the best news for the Redskins.
After his first two rocky seasons, Shanahan needed a game-changer. This season definitely qualifies.
Although Shanahan is under contract for two more years, another sub-.500 finish would have stirred speculation about his job security. There would have been questions — rightfully — about his method of roster-building. But none of that is part of the conversation moving forward.
Shanahan is the undisputed leader of the franchise. Everyone is following his lead. The Redskins won’t waste time with internal bickering this offseason, which has happened in the past. There’s only one voice when it comes to trying to improve the team: Shanahan’s.
Offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett are secure in their positions after having strong seasons. Shanahan also considers special teams coordinator Danny Smith integral to the team’s success.
Shanahan is still committed for the long haul and he has his guys in place. That’s a good combination for the Redskins.
Morris isn’t interested in the spotlight. He’s fine with leaving that for Griffin. Morris just wants to help the Redskins win.
After setting a single-season franchise rushing record, Morris added another 80 yards in the playoffs. He has such a hard-charging running style, you wonder how long he’ll be able to remain physically sound while absorbing NFL hits. But as long as Morris can keep rolling, the Redskins have a great combination punch in their running game.
When Garcon was sidelined for most of the first half because of a foot injury, Shanahan kept saying Garcon was exactly what the Redskins needed to improve their passing game. He delivered during the seven-game winning streak.
The Redskins are getting close to reaching the top again. Griffin will continue to push himself to be the greatest quarterback the game has ever known and Shanahan will relentlessly pursue a third Super Bowl championship. Enjoy the next phase of the ride, Redskins fans. It figures to be unlike anything you’ve seen.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.
More on the Redskins:
Summary: Seahawks 24, Redskins 14
Boswell: Seeing the NFL at its best, worst
Photos: Griffin’s injury
Photos: Scenes from the stadium