Except that’s not how this loss will be digested, not at all. This franchise doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt, because over time, it hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt. This loss should be processed thusly: Washington (2-4) faced the only defense in the NFL that was statistically worse than its own — and gained 76 second-half yards. It forced Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs into three first-half turnovers — and managed just one touchdown. Just when the overriding question across the entire NFL appeared to be, “What’s wrong with Mahomes?” he threw for 397 yards and directed a Kansas City operation that racked up 499.
Nothing like Washington’s defense as a remedy.
“Slipped through our fingers a little bit,” said defensive end Chase Young. If a loss by three scores can feel that way, this one did.
But that’s also the narrow view of one fall Sunday, and it’s increasingly difficult to look at this franchise in that way. For Washington, the 17 games of the season aren’t the 17 chapters that make up the book, because the more important developments — the most intriguing plotlines — so frequently have nothing to do with what coverage they played or what routes they ran.
It’s tiring, frankly. Football — sports — is supposed to be fun and rewarding, and when the franchise for which you root so routinely steers the discussion elsewhere, the fun gets sucked out and the rewards become few. That’s life as a Washington football fan for darn near a quarter-century.
It’s a hard-earned status. Think about what the past week entailed and how everything that went into it was processed by a fan base that has been beaten into near submission. Remember the loss to New Orleans that included both a 72-yard touchdown pass and a Hail Mary to conclude the first half? You’re telling me that was just seven days earlier? Feels so distant, I wonder whether the players wore helmets without face masks and ran the wing-T.
But not much more than 24 hours after that loss, Jon Gruden was out as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. That development should be so distant from Washington that it’s a blip here, words that scroll across the bottom of the screen. Lo and behold, though: Several of Gruden’s racist, misogynistic, homophobic emails were sent to Bruce Allen, who at the time was serving as the president of — you guessed it — the Washington Football Team. It never stops.
The emails brought down Gruden. But there’s no shaking their entanglement with Washington or the investigation into the franchise’s workplace culture that uncovered them. What are the chances, given what we have been taught about this organization, that Allen’s emails back to Gruden said something like: “Now, Jon, that’s inappropriate language, and what allows your brain go there anyway? Be better.” I don’t have a survey of the fan base handy, but I’m guessing that the percentage of the WFT’s supporters who believe Allen to be squeaky clean in those exchanges would be roughly zero.
That’s not just because owner Daniel Snyder was all too happy for Allen to be the recipient of the fans’ ire during his decade of . . . well, doing whatever it is he did around here. It’s because the fan base has been trained not to trust the team. Not its ownership. For so long, not its top executives.
Which brings us to the debacle this week. And, uh, that’s not the second half Sunday at FedEx, which was actually disastrous, what with a three-point halftime lead morphing into a blowout loss because, among other things, Montez Sweat jumped offsides on a third-and-10 play in which Mahomes threw an incompletion, one of many reasons the Chiefs converted 11 of their 17 third downs.
“Sometimes, something happens and it kind of takes a little bit of wind out of their sails,” Coach Ron Rivera said of his players. “We can’t let one thing be so disruptive that we don’t respond. And unfortunately, we did.”
What a forgetful Sunday will be remembered for, though, will be the pregame video and the halftime celebration. This was the day the franchise honored the late Sean Taylor by retiring his No. 21, a real distinction here, given only Sammy Baugh’s 33 and Bobby Mitchell’s 49 were previously in that club.
What Taylor meant to kids growing up here was apparent in players’ remembrances after an otherwise miserable day. He played all of 55 games and 3½ seasons here before he was killed during a robbery attempt in his own home. His impact as a violent, roaming, covering free safety is felt still.
“He changed that position,” wide receiver Terry McLaurin said.
“Sean, he was everything, man,” Young said. “As a football player, you hear he was just a real cool dude off the field, a guy I wanted to meet. A dawg. Swaggy. Everything you want to be.”
So the No. 21 jerseys were out in force Sunday, and the pregame video — with words from Santana Moss and Joe Gibbs — was well-received. A crowd of 51,322 chanted Taylor’s name. They loved that dude.
But it says something about the state of the relationship between the franchise and its fans that, when the announcement of the honor was made Thursday, it was met with suspicion and derision rather than joy and nostalgia. The perception: It had to be a misdirect, a device to distract the fans from the Gruden-Allen emails, which only served as a new opportunity to revisit the awful culture the organization had permitted for years.
No, this wasn’t an impromptu honor for Taylor. But Jason Wright, in his second season as the team’s president, wrote an apology, tweeting it with: “I’m sorry. We’re sorry. We will do better.”
It would be great to trust that will be the result. But it’s hard when the bond between team and fan has frayed to the point where the reaction to an oversight or misdeed is to assume the worst-case scenario. The default mode for a Washington fan: The team, with Snyder at the controls, is trying to pull one over on us. Proceed with caution.
And then there was the football, back to being secondary.
“Focus on football,” linebacker Cole Holcomb said. “We’re football players. It’s what we do. We get paid to play football.”
The fans don’t get paid. They do the paying. And it would be so wonderful to have an organization worth paying money to, an organization that deserves the benefit of the doubt. That’s not the Washington Football Team, not last year or last week. Will it ever be?