Granted, the competition isn’t exactly stiff. Most of Washington’s seasons under Snyder blend together, a ghastly mush of failed quarterbacks, free agent busts and general ineptitude. Deciding whether one miserable 16-game stretch was better or worse than another is a bit like choosing between a root canal and visiting the Department of Motor Vehicles on a Saturday morning, but I tried anyway.
Here’s a look back at the 22 years of the Snyder era, ranked from the least to the most fun.
When a friend’s uncle’s name came up on the “waiting list” in 2009, I jumped at the chance to realize a childhood dream and purchase season tickets. Dream bigger, kids. This was the second year of the Jim Zorn experience, the season of Albert Haynesworth, of snapping the Lions’ 19-game losing streak, of Sherman Lewis going from calling Bingo numbers to calling plays, of the Swinging Gate and the Burgundy Revolution. Zero stars, would not recommend. I did not renew my tickets for 2010.
Mike Shanahan’s final season in Washington was an abject disaster. Though Robert Griffin III was all in for Week 1, he was benched in favor of Kirk Cousins for the final three games of a 3-13 campaign.
Drafting local product Dwayne Haskins as the quarterback of the future was exciting until it became clear that nobody in the building, except Snyder, wanted him. Washington started 0-5 before Jay Gruden was fired and finished 3-13 under interim coach Bill Callahan. Things got so bad that some fans switched allegiance to the Ravens. The only saving grace came after the season, when Snyder finally fired right-hand man Bruce Allen.
Washington went 4-12 in Gruden’s miserable first season, which ended with Allen telling reporters that Washington was “winning off the field.” The highlight of a year in which Griffin, Cousins and Colt McCoy all started at least four games was McCoy leading an upset win over the Cowboys on “Monday Night Football.”
“Not very good!” is how Steve Spurrier assessed his team’s 5-11 record in his second season, which would be the Head Ball Coach’s last in the NFL. Washington started the year 3-1 before losing 10 of its last 12 games.
Snyder hired Shanahan to replace Zorn and traded for aging Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb three months later. Washington announced a five-year, $78 million contract extension for McNabb in November, a few hours before he threw three interceptions in a 59-28 home loss to Michael Vick and his former team on “Monday Night Football.” The other 15 games in Washington’s 6-10 season weren’t much better.
After trading McNabb to the Vikings, Shanahan oversaw an intense training camp battle between Rex Grossman and John Beck for the starting quarterback job in his second season. Washington somehow won three of its first four games before the wheels fell off the wagon. Shout out to Roy Helu and Jabar Gaffney, who led this forgettable 5-11 squad in rushing and receiving, respectively.
Expectations were high in the third year of Joe Gibbs’s second stint with Washington after a playoff win the year before, but the team stumbled to a 5-11 finish. Running back Clinton Portis was limited to eight games after injuring his shoulder in the preseason, free agent acquisitions Adam Archuleta and Brandon Lloyd were both huge busts, and offensive coordinator Al Saunders’s fabled 700-page playbook was short on plays that actually worked.
Washington lost five straight games to open Marty Schottenheimer’s first season as coach before rattling off five straight wins to end up on the cover of “Sports Illustrated.” Snyder fired Schottenheimer after the team finished 8-8 while averaging 16 points per game.
With speculation about his future in Washington dominating most of the talk about the team, Cousins eclipsed 4,000 yards passing for a third straight year. Two weeks after an improbable win at Seattle, Washington blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead in a loss at New Orleans. The team finished 7-9 and out of the playoffs.
At least the months leading up what turned out to be Norv Turner’s final year at the helm were fun! Washington selected LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels with the second and third overall picks in the draft and signed future Hall of Famers Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders as free agents. Considered a serious Super Bowl contender, Washington started 6-2 but finished 8-8. Turner was fired after a Week 14 loss.
The year began with a blowout loss to the Steelers on “Monday Night Football” and ended with Cousins throwing a couple of interceptions in a loss to the Giants that knocked Washington out of the playoffs. In between, Washington got swept by the Cowboys and flew all the way to London just to tie the Bengals.
Gibbs’s return generated plenty of excitement, as did Portis’s 64-yard touchdown run on his first carry since he was acquired in a trade for cornerback Champ Bailey in the offseason. But fun moments were few and far between in a year in which the team won six games and ranked second-to-last in scoring.
Washington started 6-3 behind quarterback Alex Smith, but the season unraveled after he suffered a gruesome leg injury in Week 11. McCoy started the next two games before breaking his leg, forcing Washington to turn to Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson down the stretch. Johnson was a good story, having gone seven years between NFL passes, but Washington missed the playoffs again and ended the season with a shutout loss to Philadelphia before a pro-Eagles crowd at FedEx Field.
For a few weeks, Snyder’s decision to hire Spurrier from Florida seemed like a stroke of genius. With five former Gators on the roster — all of them quarterbacks or wide receivers — Washington opened the preseason with a 38-7 win over the 49ers in Japan. Spurrier’s Gatorskins cracked 30 points twice in the first four weeks of the regular season and not again for the rest of the 7-9 campaign.
The first half of Zorn’s first season, which came after the launch of Chris Cooley’s blog, was extremely fun. Zorn led quirky drills in practice and cheers of “Hip Hip Hooray” after wins, though Portis would later claim that the coach’s brand of corniness divided the locker room. Washington started 6-2, including back-to-back wins at Dallas and Philadelphia that had everyone horny for Zorny, only to finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
Washington fell behind 24-0 in the first half of a Week 7 home game against the Bucs before Cousins led the largest comeback in franchise history. On his way to the locker room, the quarterback shouted, “You like that?!” to no one in particular, creating a rallying cry for the season. Washington clinched the NFC East title with a Week 16 win at Philadelphia before losing to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the first round.
This season belongs in a category of its own, as it featured both the darkest day and one of the most enjoyable months of the Snyder era. Sean Taylor’s murder in November cast a pall over what was already shaping up to be a disappointing season, and Washington lost its first game at home after Taylor’s death in heartbreaking fashion. Four days later, veteran quarterback Todd Collins replaced an injured Jason Campbell and led a comeback win over the Bears, the start of an improbable four-game winning streak that culminated in a 27-6 rout of the Cowboys at FedEx Field to clinch a playoff spot. “We don’t think it was by accident we won by 21,” Gibbs said after the game, referencing Taylor’s uniform number.
Smith’s return from injury was remarkable, but after Washington fell to 2-7 with a loss to the Lions in his first start in two years, it was hard to imagine Ron Rivera’s first season ever being characterized as fun. That was before rookies Antonio Gibson and Chase Young fueled a four-game winning streak — including a Thanksgiving Day rout that completed a season sweep of the Cowboys and an upset of the previously undefeated Steelers — that produced a 7-9 NFC East title. In Saturday’s playoff loss to the Buccaneers, backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke went toe for toe with Tom Brady. The WFT heads into the offseason with major questions at quarterback but also a likable young core and, with Rivera in charge, a rare sense of direction.
Washington went 10-6 and won the NFC East for the first time in eight years behind a prolific offense led by running back Stephen Davis, quarterback Brad Johnson and wideouts Michael Westbrook and Albert Connell, both of whom eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving. The season ended with Washington blowing a 13-0 lead in the divisional round to Tony Dungy and the Buccaneers.
The burgundy and gold began the second season of Gibbs’s return with three wins, including the “Monday Night Miracle” at Dallas. Portis started conducting his weekly news conferences in costumes, inventing characters such as Coach Janky Spanky and Sheriff Gonna Getcha, as Washington closed the regular season with five consecutive wins to finish 10-6 and claim a wild-card berth. Taylor’s fumble recovery for a touchdown to ice the Week 17 win at Philadelphia was especially memorable. Washington defeated Tampa Bay in the first round before losing to the eventual NFC champion Seahawks.
Nothing during the Snyder era compares to the thrill of Griffin’s rookie season: “Griffining” becoming a thing after he led Washington to a win in his debut; his 76-yard touchdown run against the Vikings; the team’s seven-game winning streak to close the regular season, including an NFC East-clinching defeat of the Cowboys on “Sunday Night Football.” The ending was particularly painful, but the ride was electric.