The Redskins go over 4,100 passing yards for the first time since the 1980s, but Washington’s turnover margin dips from slightly positive to slightly negative, leading to an 8-8 record and a second-place finish in the NFC East.
As it turned out, the Redskins went over 4,100 yards for the first time since the ’80s, their turnover margin dipped from plus-four to zero, and they finished in third place at 8-7-1. This capped the team’s best two-year stretch in almost 20 years, a sign that its latest rebuilding project might actually be working. And it also left many people severely disappointed and looking for scapegoats, with some justification. To reconcile these feelings, I’ve been having some deep conversations with myself.
Why aren’t you filled with righteous indignation and bright-green bile at the horrendous and despicable end to the season?
Well, because when General Manager Scot McCloughan was hired two years ago — a real and independent GM for the first time since Daniel Snyder bought the team — I did some media appearances. And in those media appearances, I argued that the only good thing about Washington bottoming out was that the franchise, its leaders and its fans were now, finally, willing to embrace patience, gradual progress, and steady growth. No massive free agent spending sprees. No historic draft-day deals to land a franchise quarterback. No annual offseason championships. No July predictions of 11-5 or 12-4.
Instead, there would be an experienced personnel man — one enthralled by boring linemen, schooled in building through the draft, and convinced he needed to acquire as many picks as possible. Progress via the draft might be slow, and the payoff might not be immediate. But everyone here was so beaten down by years of inconsistency — punctuated by dismal and comical failures — that Washington was finally willing to give patience a shot.
And the Redskins — aided by a miserably weak NFC East — screwed everything up by winning their division in McCloughan’s first year. Which was great, and fun, but also brought up a potential problem. If the team made some strides in 2016, but — against a tougher schedule, and with fewer lucky breaks — finished with a worse record, would people panic? Would that long-missing patience go into hiding again? Would 2016 be considered a failure?
But look, 2016 WAS kind of a failure, right? The team had a playoff berth in its grasp, twice. It fumbled that chance, twice — both times at home, both times as heavy favorites, both times against an opponent with nothing at stake. If you’re trying to argue that 8-7-1 was in any way a success, you’re setting the goal posts so close that they’re almost behind us. The Redskins aren’t a charity! They don’t need that much benefit of the doubt!
There’s an argument in favor of skepticism, sure. As my pal Steve Czaban has often pointed out, NFL progress does not inevitably flow from one season to the next. Seasons sometimes feel unmoored from the past. The Cowboys have gone from 12-4 to 4-12 to 13-3. The Panthers went from 7-8-1 to 15-1 to 6-10. The Vikings have gone from 7-9 to 11-5 to 8-8. Plot those records on a graph, and then tell me about the arc of history.
Just look at the last time the Redskins had a winning record in back-to-back seasons. That was in 1996-97, when the team went 9-7 and then 8-7-1. Does that look familiar? And here was Darrell Green, after the last game of the ’97 season, a win that wasn’t enough to make the playoffs.
“There’s great satisfaction that we accomplished our part,” he said. “You’re not going to win it every year, but I know this team is a better team, we’re better people, we’re more unified. And we’re going to continue to get better.”
The next year, the Redskins went 6-10, kicking off 18 years of blah. Progress, in the NFL, can run right off the cliff between January and September.
Exactly right. So why not feel miserable at this wasted chance?
Well, listen, you can rue the wasted chance while also applauding the more basic accomplishment.
Get out of here with that. You can’t do epic [*&$%] with basic accomplishments.
I know, I know. You don’t agree. In fact, I’ve gotten in multiple online arguments this week, in which the ultimate comeback to my moderation was “What, do you want to be the Bengals?” The implication is that no fate is as horrid as Cincinnati’s, whose Bengals went to the playoffs five straight years — averaging more than 10 wins a season — but didn’t win a single playoff game. What gall. What shame.
And you know what? My answer is heck yes, I want to be the Bengals. Annual relevance like that sounds glorious. Am I judging on a curve? Yes, I’m judging on a curve the size of the Delaware Bay. How else can you judge the Daniel Snyder Redskins?
Look around the NFL. The Bills’ GM just admitted he didn’t know why Rex Ryan was fired or how a new coach would be hired. The 49ers owner was essentially asked by San Francisco media members to fire himself. The Browns’ quarterback bragged that he proved to the world he could still play, after a season in which he threw two touchdowns and was sacked 22 times in five games. The Eagles kicked a reporter out of their press box. The Jets started three different quarterbacks. The Rams fired their coach days after news broke that they had signed that coach to a contract extension. The Jaguars failed to reach six wins for the sixth straight year.
Those are all Washington stories. Except this time, they weren’t. We’ve been showered with a never-ending storm of embarrassments over the last 15 years: one-year coaching stints, offensive consultants hired out of the bingo parlor, self-inflicted PR gaffes, combative news conferences filled with cringe-worthy sound bites, quarterback carousels, fan crusades, national scorn, ripped-out stadium seats, Winning Off the Field.
Now think of the absolute worst, most embarrassing, most abysmal thing that happened to the Redskins this season. It was Sunday’s loss, against a damn good defense that inexplicably decided to play hard in a meaningless game. Go ahead and throw rotten fruit at me, but when Washington’s biggest problem is a Week 17 loss that knocks the Redskins out of the playoffs at the last possible moment, that’s progress. It just is.
See, this is what’s wrong with Washington media outlets? Where’s the bite? Where’s the edge?
Got me there. If this town only had someone who would label its unsuccessful teams choking dogs for 20 or 30 years, things would surely improve. That’s why the Jets and Eagles have been such glorious successes over the past two decades.
So what you’re saying is, we all have to shut up and enjoy 8-7-1, just because things could be worse? Isn’t that defeatist pablum?
If you accept 8-7-1 in perpetuity, yes. But when McCloughan was hired, I — like others — wanted some patience, a slow build through the draft, a multiyear plan. I wanted him to use high first-round picks on big boring dudes from Iowa. I wanted the world not to end if a first-round pick couldn’t contribute in his first season. Two offseasons just isn’t enough. If, two years ago, you had told me that within 24 months McCloughan would rescue a drowning team from national scorn, craft two winning records, and establish a baseline of competence, I would have judged those two years a step in the right direction. That the big jump came in Year 1 shouldn’t change that bigger picture.
The goals change, and they probably change now. Three years of just-above-. 500 mediocrity won’t be cheered. The thrill of competence will have worn off by this time next year. The front office will have money to spend, and it needs to remake something like half its defense over the next two offseasons. It probably needs an experienced defensive coordinator. It can’t strike out on a draft class, and the latest class didn’t start strong. “Better Than 2013!” can’t be the slogan forever. But I remember 2013 and 2014, and this was better, and I’m not gonna ignore that fact.
But aren’t there major risks in assuming positive momentum?
Oh my gosh, yes. It’s possible that both coordinators could depart this offseason, bringing uncertainty, if nothing else. The quarterback could leave, or he could return with bad feelings toward his employer. The GM hasn’t stayed long at his previous stops, and there’s no guarantee he will stay long here. He’s also not infallible; McCloughan’s latest first-round pick was a skill-position luxury who missed virtually the entire season with an injury that still isn’t healed. The Redskins do not deserve your faith.
And look, you only get like 70 or 80 chances to see your favorite NFL team make the playoffs, and then you die. There will be some currently alive Redskins fans who die before the team’s next playoff berth. The frustration and sadness makes sense.
But I just go back to the brutal end to the 2014 season. I wanted basic competence, a long-term plan, and a willingness to do things the right way, even if that took time. That means you don’t freak out after two years.
“I think we might have been more optimistic than we should have been this year,” linebacker Will Compton said on Monday, speaking for all of us. “But I do, I think we’re on the right track. I think with a GM like we have with Scot, it wasn’t going to be a quick fix. . . . You want it to be a quick fix, and you expect it to be. As a player, you think you’re going to get it corrected right away. But when it’s not, and then you take a deep breath and step back and look at it all, you can manage the thought — and maybe I’m just justifying it — but it wasn’t meant for us to get it turned around in one year. . . . So you take a step back and know that you believe in the culture that they’re trying to instill here, the progress we’re trying to make. And then you move forward.”
(P.S.: Sign the damn quarterback.)