Washington Redskins finish 6-10, but with restored order under Coach Mike Shanahan
Monday, January 3, 2011; 12:39 AM
Exactly one year ago, in the eyes of a genuine professional like linebacker London Fletcher, the Redskins were hardly an NFL team at all, but some kind of bizarre, cruel joke in which he was trapped. The day after their final defeat, as Jim Zorn was fired as head coach, the locker room imploded with self-criticisms as disgusted players blasted teammates for bad practice habits, lack of discipline, too much partying, not knowing assignments, acting like prima donnas and, in a nutshell, epitomizing a culture of defeat.
"Last year, by Week 7, the season just drug on. It was like a recurring nightmare. We defeated ourselves on Mondays and Wednesdays. There were so many dramas. We beat ourselves before we ever went on the field on Sunday," said Fletcher after a season-ending, 17-14 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday that gave Washington a 6-10 mark.
While only a two-win improvement, this season felt like the start of a fundamental change in attitude to some, like Fletcher, who said: "We've had controversies this season . . . but playing [for the Redskins] now is a totally different feeling. You can enjoy coming to work. We have each other's backs."
Of course, veteran leaders are supposed to say such things after 10-loss seasons. So, discount some of what Fletcher says. But do not dismiss it or you'll miss what's worth remembering from this Redskins season. To fans far away, this year will be synonymous with the arrival of Coach Mike Shanahan and his constant tumult of fussing and open conflict with Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb.
Those feuds exposed his simmering fuse, the chip on his shoulder, his high demands and his insistence that his systems, his methods, must be followed absolutely. Oh, and it might not hurt to get along with his son, the offensive coordinator, either. But the other side of Shanahan was what the Redskins themselves saw and felt every day. He brought what the Redskins have lacked so often since 1992: Order, discipline and football sanity.
The Redskins are starting to look like a normal NFL team. Oh, let's not get carried away. Don't ignore that botched extra point with nine seconds to play that meant a 17-16 loss to Tampa Bay. Don't forget the locker room tumult before kickoff about the deactivation of a healthy Haynesworth just a month ago when the Redskins looked unprepared to play and were stomped by these same Giants, 31-7. And don't forget that abysmal pregame "fight" and a 35-0 blowout after 16 minutes against the Eagles.
But those bad moments have been the exception this season. The rule has been games like this one in which the Redskins were competitive, didn't ruin their chances with an abnormally high number of mental mistakes and gave themselves a chance to win.
"We had six wins and there were six or seven other games like this one where with different scenarios it could have been different," Shanahan said. "Hopefully, we will learn how to finish."
The Redskins should also be blunt with themselves. They could have won fewer games. Three of their wins were in overtime. Only four teams had a worse yardage differential and only six had a worse point differential. Under Zorn, the Redskins were outscored by 70 points last year; under Shanahan, by 75. The offense was, unfortunately, typical of the Redskins - awful - scoring barely 300 points (302) and maintaining its position as the second-lowest scoring team in the NFL since 1992. The defense almost reduced the idea of "bend-don't-break" defense to absurdity, allowing the most yards in the NFL.
However, for an organization that has spent most of two decades looking disorganized, undisciplined, internally divided and, in several seasons, on the verge of quitting late in the season, the whole shape and sense of this season represented progress.
The Redskins still need enormous improvement in basic physical talent, especially along both lines of scrimmage. It's not just the maligned offensive line, either. Internally, the Redskins also believe their defensive front seven doesn't yet have the physical skills to play the 3-4 defense.
But at the top, the Redskins don't make you want to scream.