London Fletcher gave this big speech last Wednesday at practice, filled with all sorts of conviction: “Lock in,” he said. “Let’s figure out a way to get this thing fixed. If you feel like you’re doing enough, do a little more.”
And then Mike Shanahan’s team went out and didn’t do enough for the third straight week, falling further into the NFL abyss — puncturing not just every grand preseason expectation but also the soul of a 16-year veteran who genuinely believed he had a shot to go out on top in what most likely will be his final season.
“Do you ever remember being 0-3 in your career,” Fletcher was asked late Sunday afternoon as he buttoned his shirt cuffs by his cubicle in the locker room.
“Uh, not that I can recall,” he said.
Robert Griffin III and Aldrick Robinson and a defense determined to give up more land than was acquired through the Alaska Purchase didn’t just let down themselves and their fan base Sunday. The Shanahans’ botched two-minute drill at the end of the first half didn’t just let down the offense; they let down Fletcher, who suited up for the 202nd consecutive time without missing a game Sunday.
In my book, that’s more unacceptable and shameful than dropping a touchdown pass or fumbling away another chance to go on top in the fourth quarter. Since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, just five of 161 teams that have started a season 0-3 have gone on to make the playoffs, and none has advanced past the division round.
So in probably his swan song, Fletcher has historically a 3.1 percent chance of going back to the postseason.
Remember the old Han Solo line from “Star Wars?” “Never tell me the odds,” to a young Luke Skywalker. Well, Fletcher isn’t so young. He’s 38, his impact finally slowing. Against Green Bay in Week 2, he finished with two tackles. Against Detroit on Sunday, Perry Riley Jr. and Nick Barnett gave him an occasional breather. This is it for him.
“That’s what upsets me when we lose: the feeling of letting guys like Fletch down,” Ryan Kerrigan said, adding he feels the same about all the defensive coaches. “That’s what pains me when we lose.”
It’s not just Fletcher, who obviously can do more himself. It’s every survivor past 30 years old who has seen the worst of it here. Sometimes, when the same faces pass through the locker room year after year, people are rooting for more than teams. Fletcher, Santana Moss, Reed Doughty and Kedric Golston have 32 NFL seasons in Washington among them.
They have played for three head coaches, two general managers and six coordinators. They have watched people much less committed with much smaller motors than themselves — Albert Haynesworth, Brandon Lloyd and Adam Archuleta immediately come to mind — be paid much more and do little to justify their millions.
Before last season’s 7-0 run to win the NFC East, they were a part of teams that went 5-11, 6-10 and 4-12 in consecutive years. They have started 6-2 only to finish 2-6. Since Fletcher joined the other three players in 2007, their career record together is 42-57.
This season was supposed to be the payoff for all those years of sacrifice and pain, the year all of them saw it coming together for the franchise’s deepest playoff run in 21 years. And now, three losses in, their contender status has been jettisoned before October.
I understand this is a 53-man roster with an asterisk by one special quarterback’s name. I understand football teams call themselves families and they lose together and win together and play for every single person in the room.
But more than anyone in the organization — more than Daniel Snyder, Mike Shanahan, Bruce Allen or Griffin — these four veterans deserve better.
They’ve overcome front-office idiocy, knee-jerk petulance and Jim Zorn giving up his play-calling duties to a bingo caller.
And after enduring all that — surviving all those cuts, beating out every young stud receiver that was supposed to take the starting job (hello, Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly), outlasting bigger and more talented players that lacked Fletcher’s heart and perseverance, Doughty’s reliability or Golston’s resourcefulness — this is their reward?
What a shame. What a waste.
“London is phenomenal,” Golston said as he made his way to the players’ parking lot on Sunday. “You see the commitment he makes day in and day out: the film study, the treatment, the workouts. You want to go out there and make him proud, in a sense, for the sacrifice he makes with a lot of the other guys.”
Golston shrugs his massive shoulders. “Obviously nobody in the organization, nobody in the NFL, anticipated us being 0-3. But it’s up to us to fix it. London’s message was about continuing to work. We have to hear that now more than ever.”
The hardest part is, after playing with some of the other misfits in Washington the past seven seasons, Fletcher believes in this roster so much more.
“As far as struggles in the past, a lot of that was just the lack of talent, lack of not having the right character on the football team,” he said. “But I think character and talent aren’t issues on this football team right now. We’re just making too many mistakes. Once we get back to playing the way we know how to play, and playing that way for 60 minutes, we’ll start winning ballgames.”
Asked if his teammates could draw inspiration from running the table after starting 3-6 a year ago, he added, “Last year is last year. You can’t hang your hat on what happened last year. The past is not a predictor of the present or the future.”
That’s understood. But something about Fletcher and the survivors of so many wrenching losses and organizational chaos the past seven, eight and nine years made you believe they would finally be rewarded for sticking it out and growing up together.
Three weeks into this sinkhole of a season, that’s now almost impossible, a 3.1 percent chance.
Again, what a shame.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
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