Now officially eliminated from playoff contention because of their 3-9 record, the Washington Redskins face a test of wills as the final month of the season kicks off.
Two home games and two road games remain.
First comes Sunday’s game at FedEx Field against the Kansas City Chiefs, who have lost three consecutive games and have plenty of motivation as they fight to remain in the playoff mix.
A game in Atlanta, a home contest vs. Dallas and the season finale on the road against the New York Giants will close out a lost season a year after the Redskins won the NFC East title.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “We had our expectations as to what we thought our season would be coming into the year. Now we’re just playing for pride. That doesn’t feel good on the first day of December.”
Coach Mike Shanahan would appear to have a dilemma on his hands as he tries to coach his team to victories while young prospects go unused on his bench.
The Redskins face uncertainty along their offensive line, at wide receiver and nearly across the board on defense, where 11 players — seven of them starters — have expiring contracts.
Thus far, 2012 draft picks Tom Compton, Adam Gettis and Josh LeRibeus (all offensive linemen) and rookies Bacari Rambo (a safety) and Brandon Jenkins (a linebacker) have seen little to no action.
The three linemen play positions where veterans have had uneven play. Compton lines up in some jumbo packages, and Gettis plays on some special teams units, but LeRibeus hasn’t dressed for a game.
Rambo as of late has worked his way back onto the field in a limited capacity, but Jenkins has played in only four games.
First-year wide receivers Nick Williams, Lance Lewis and Josh Bellamy and defensive backs Jose Gumbs and Trenton Robinson also rank among the group of young players eager for the chance to prove themselves if given the chance.
But Shanahan said last week before his team’s elimination that he wouldn’t go young just to begin evaluating for the future. And six days later, with the season essentially over, Shanahan said his mind-set hasn’t changed.
“No difference,” the coach said Monday afternoon. “Obviously, you’re disappointed because your goal is to get to the playoffs and we all know if you get to the playoffs, you have the opportunity to win and get to the Super Bowl. But if you are eliminated, you still want to go out and play some good football. You still want to win games. . . . Just because a guy’s on the practice squad and you’re out of the playoff race doesn’t mean someone’s going to be elevated just to see what they can do in a game. The best players are going to play regardless of whether they’re draft picks or veterans.”
Shanahan maintained he and his assistants have conducted evaluations in practices throughout the season. He added he believes the decision to go young for evaluation purposes can actually do more harm than good.
“There’s a number of guys that are very close. But like I said at the beginning, they’re close, but are they there yet?” Shanahan said. “If you’re going to put a guy in that’s close and you’re not playing the best player, then what you’re telling your football team is you are evaluating these young guys and you really don’t care about the games and what you do care about is the future. If you want to lose a football team, that’s the first thing you do.”
Meanwhile, Shanahan expressed confidence his veterans would continue to compete while embracing the role of spoilers down the stretch.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in this football team to keep fighting. If not, then they won’t be with us in a year,” the coach said.
Meanwhile, the team’s veterans — many of whom face uncertain futures — verbally confirmed Shanahan’s belief.
The on-field results will tell the true tale. But the hope throughout the locker room is a strong, professional finish remains possible.
“It’s a job. It’s a job. I can’t quit,” said wide receiver Santana Moss, the longest-tenured member of the team and also an impending free agent. “I wouldn’t quit if I was allowed to quit. So at the end of the day, we know every week is going to be a different challenge.
“And if you’re here, you’re here for a reason. You’re here because you know it isn’t always going to be peaches and cream. The ones that quit are no longer here. So at the end of the day, you have to put this behind you no matter how tough it is, how much it hurts, how stank it smells. You have to go out there and fight another week, and that’s all we can do.”