According to what I read in the papers, the prevailing mood of the Redskins' organization is that this past season could, and should be subdivided into two parts: the 5-5 start, and the 5-1 finish. The first part shrouded the Redskins in gloom. The second part filled them with hope. What is revelatory about this arbitrary division is that it pivots on the second Giants game, in which Joe Theismann's leg was broken. In truth, that particular moment of the second quarter of the 11th game is where the in-house surveyors precisely part the season.
On the before side of that line was an offense welded to Theismann playing every down at quarterback, John Riggins the major running back and Mark Moseley kicking productively. On the after side of that line you'll find Jay Schroeder at quarterback, George Rogers at running back and a discouragingly unproductive Moseley.
Theismann's season lasted 41 1/2 quarters in which he completed 167 passes for 1,774 yards and eight touchdowns; he suffered 16 interceptions. Schroeder's season was the next 22 1/2 quarters -- roughly half as long as Theismann's -- and he completed 108 passes for 1,407 yards and five touchdowns; he was intercepted four times. In whatever ways you compare them, Schroeder was the more effective quarterback.
Riggins had 143 carries and 593 yards before Theismann's injury, basically an equivalent share to Rogers, who had 122 carries and 608 yards. By contrast, after Theismann's injury, Riggins had 33 carries and 84 yards, while Rogers had 109 carries and 485 yards. Rogers worked, Riggo rusted.
Moseley made 11 of 15 field goal attempts before Theismann was injured, and 11 of 19 after. But he had no finishing kick, missing eight of his last 15.
You don't have to look through a magnifying glass to spot the implications of the way the Redskins divided the season; it's not written in fine print. The Redskins no longer are counting on Theismann, Riggins and Moseley. The Redskins have seen the future and decided those three aren't in it. The supposition here is that Riggins will not come back -- he'll either retire, or take a short-yardage specialist role somewhere else -- that Moseley won't make it out of training camp, and that Theismann, however they sugarcoat the semantics, will start the season backing up Schroeder.
The Redskins will say they're optimistic about their chances. They'll point to a defense that was ranked third in the NFL -- first against the pass, and fifth against the run. They might justifiably expect their defense to be even better, owing to the wisdom gained by the rookies -- Raphel Cherry, Barry Wilburn and Dean Hamel -- who played so much this season. What could be more pleasant than having a healthy offensive line? And the case can be made that with that line Rogers and Schroeder will be more effective than Riggins and Theismann. The Redskins might say they're not rebuilding, but reloading.
Now for the other side, the one that has the Redskins going 8-8, or perhaps worse, more easily than it has them going 11-5. Who did the Redskins beat this year? Only one team that finished with more Ws than Ls -- the Giants, by just two points, at home, on Monday night when home teams win at the highest percentage, under what were extraordinary circumstances. The other four wins in the "second season" came against a 5-11 and three 7-9 teams. And who did they lose to? All but one, Philadelphia, were playoff teams: the Giants, by 14; San Francisco, by 27; Dallas twice, once by 30; Chicago, by 35.
There is a top shelf of teams in the NFL, and the Redskins are no longer on it. Chicago has taken their place, joining the Raiders, 49ers and Dolphins. The next shelf has the Redskins, Cowboys, Giants, Jets, Patriots, Broncos and Rams. Some of those teams -- the Jets, Pats, Broncos and Giants -- are clearly on the come. Which way are the Redskins headed? Is it a slow leak, or a puncture?
The Redskins won't have the cushion of the AFC Central next season. Instead they draw the four top finishers in the AFC West, including the Raiders, Denver and Seattle. San Francisco is again on the schedule, as is a game at Green Bay. Yes, the defense was great, but where was the offense? Excluding the 44 against Atlanta, through the first 10 games -- Theismann's season -- the Redskins scored at a rate of 14 points per; lots of people pay a higher rate on their mortgages. The Redskins scored more easily for Schroeder. But how about Rogers and his fumbling? Does he want to carry the ball, or plant it? And what about touchdown passes? Only Buffalo threw fewer. Art Monk had 91 catches, two for scores. You can't say enough in praise of Schroeder this year. Buried in practice and freeze-dried on the bench, he thawed quicker than anyone had a right to expect. But there's a difference between being an incumbent and a challenger. How well will Schroeder run from the front?
From a psychological standpoint, the critical issue is how the Redskins will react to the New Deal. This team did its best work after Theismann went down, a defensive, protectionist strategy of circling the wagons. When team leaders are missing, the remaining players often persuade themselves to hang on until those leaders return. But next season, when the veterans that the Redskins looked for and depended on to bring them through the narrow straits are actually gone, who will steer the course? The poets would save an aging hero for that task, which is why the Redskins should want to keep Theismann around.