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The Redskins and the power of expectations

Griffin during the 40-32 season-opening win over the Saints last year. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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Think back to the 2012 opener. It’s likely etched in your memory because it was Robert Griffin III’s very successful debut, as well as the beginning of a new era of Washington football. I don’t think I’m overstating it by saying the Redskins, after one game, had hope again — hope they’d have a winner, that the Mike Shanahan plan would work, that a Super Bowl might again be in the cards.

It didn’t happen immediately, but the way it happened, the way the Redskins took New Orleans by storm, scoring 10 points in each quarter, leading Drew Brees and the we-thought-they-were-mighty Saints 30-14 at one point en route to a 40-32 win.

One of the anecdotes from the game is Redskins fans in the Superdome singing ‘Hail to the Redskins.’ One of the memorable photos, besides Griffin on the ground with his arms raised in triumph after the touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon, is fans holding an image of Griffin. In the opponent’s building.

All that doesn’t seem so weird now — Griffin being a star, the league being enthralled with the Redskins. But this time last year it was but a dream for Redskins fans.

Look at this year’s opener. The division-rival Philadelphia Eagles, debuting a new coach and coming off a 4-12 season. Though they’ve probably got more offensive firepower than your average four-win team — between Chip Kelly, considered an offensive guru in the college ranks, and LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick, et. al. — and could be a dangerous opener, most Redskins fans expect to win that game easily. When we asked you in Redskins Predictor 2013, 94 percent of 5,108 fans picked Washington to win the Monday night home opener.

What if the Redskins lost?

The opening four games, before the bye, look luscious. September features a game at Green Bay and three against teams — the Eagles, Lions and Raiders — that were 4-12 last season. Losing the opener wouldn’t mean a lost month, let alone a lost season.

It certainly wasn’t 94 percent of you who thought they’d beat the Saints. And wasn’t part of the fun of it that it was so convincing and so unexpected?

Couldn’t we say the same about Griffin’s rookie season? Most everyone knew he’d be good, but we weren’t so sure it would be from jump. But it was. In Monday’s mailbag, Mike Jones wrote that Griffin sees some areas where he can improve. Some in the comments feigned shock. Twenty touchdowns to five interceptions and a 102.4 rating is great, especially for a rookie, but it can be improved on. Aaron Rodgers had a 39-8 TD:INT ratio, and a 108 rating. Peyton Manning’s 4,659 yards were almost 1,500 more than Griffin. The Redskins had a top-notch running game and didn’t need all the TDs to come by air, and Griffin missed some time, but I included those numbers to show he hasn’t topped out.

Still, part of the fun of watching him last season was the idea that he could be so good so soon.

Part of the fun of the run to the playoffs was that it came as a seven-game win streak after the team hit the bye at 3-6. Some had given up on the season, and it unexpectedly became a year to remember.

This season, expectations are high, for the opener, for Griffin and for the 16-game season and beyond. Anything less than a win, or 20:5 or 10-6 would be regarded as disappointment, wouldn’t it?

Expectations change everything.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.

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