DENVER — At the end of Mike Shanahan’s draining downer of a day, where he genuinely looked physically and emotionally shot atop the podium, the coach was offered up an easy alibi for his team’s Mile High meltdown.
“Mike, you coached at this elevation for a long time. Do you think it affected your defense at all on those long, hurry-up drives?”
Shanahan didn’t go there because, down deep, the man whose Super Bowl victories here now seem so last millennium knew:
It wasn’t the altitude; it was the ineptitude.
“We let ourselves down and we let our city down,” Pierre Garcon said, forgetting to mention pro football, a nation and very likely humanity.
Denver delivered one of the most devastating second-half beatdowns in recent NFL memory, a 21-point blitz spanning just eight minutes of the third and fourth quarters, 38 points total over the final, dizzying 23 minutes.
Whatever happens in this uneven eyesore of a season going forward, know that Robert Griffin III had a miserable outing and Washington still had this game, had what very likely could be the Miami Heat of the NFL on the ropes with less than eight minutes left in the third quarter.
And, inexplicably, the coach’s son and that offense threw it away, ruined Shanahan’s homecoming and a four-turnover performance by a defense that did everything to keep Griffin’s unit in the game.
Yes, they woke the giant from its slumber. Peyton Manning wasn’t going to be Bubby Brister or John Beck forever. The Broncos showed the resiliency that elevates them above every NFL market, including unbeaten Kansas City.
But the Washington Runnedovers played right into Denver’s dangerous hands, made it so easy for this stadium to shake the way it did when Shanahan lorded over his own fiefdom here.
Three straight drives after that 21-7 lead and one running play — that’s all the offensive coordinator called.
“All we had to do was get a couple drives going offensively, keep Denver off the field, and we could have dictated the outcome of the game,” Mike Shanahan said.
Yes, there was another Shanahan who returned home Sunday, the progeny we’re all forgetting about amid the “We [heart] Mike” fanfare.
He grew up here.
He watched his father win Super Bowls here, heard him called “The Mastermind” once or twice for his blocking-scheme innovation and, in general, just being more prepared and smarter than the other guy with the headset.
Oh, Kyle did pop proud in that first half Sunday, mixing the run with the pass beautifully en route to a 95-yard, 16-play drive that kept Manning’s machine sidelined for a whopping 7 minutes 3 seconds.
But just when the son’s return looked to be as memorable as the head coach’s, Kyle Shanahan’s play-calling collapsed here.
The run was abandoned sometime in the third quarter for Griffin’s aerial show — except there was no show. On a day when he took a step back, missing receivers, looking almost groggy and slow as he tried to dodge trouble, he ended up having his left knee examined by Dr. James Andrews.
He was ultimately okay but anytime Andrews is around Griffin now, it feels like the scourge of the season, doesn’t it?
Again, there was no show. There were fumbles in that ghoulish second half, one lost. There were a couple of interceptions. Vicious hits on the quarterback, including one to the solar plexus with more than five minutes left ended up with a behemoth of a defensive lineman crushing his left knee.
He said it was fine afterward, but there was no reason he should have taken that sort of punishment.
Kyle had two jobs: score on one of the worst team defenses statistically in football and keep Griffin upright and off the examination table.
He failed miserably at both. Alfred Morris was flat-out a better weapon Sunday than the quarterback, refusing to go down after initial hits.
How Kyle went away from him is still a mystery that won’t be unearthed until the offensive coordinator talks on his scheduled day of each week of the season, Thursday — about five days too late for an answer.
And don’t think people didn’t notice. Garcon was dissecting the disaster afterward in the locker room, grumbling to Jordan Reed, Aldrick Robinson and Josh Morgan as he walked toward the shower.
“Run, pass, pass, punt,” he mouthed, shaking his head.
He wisely muzzled himself later for the cameras and notebooks, but you could tell he was seething.
“I can’t comment on that really,” Griffin said when asked how it felt to be forced to pass. “Whatever is called, that is what we run. . . . Obviously we are a running football team, including myself. The offensive line does a good job with that. Whatever is called at the moment is what we run.”
Sometimes the things not said say everything.
Griffin doesn’t believe this is a 2-5 football team. Neither can his teammates who firmly believed they had Super Bowl talent and experience before the season.
But next week is officially the midpoint of the year, and at some point nine wins are probably going to be needed to get out of the division.
The rub is, they had the Broncos. With Dallas snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against Detroit, they were 22 minutes from being a half-game out of first place in the NFC East with a feather-in-their-cap win over big, bad Denver.
The absolute killer regret for Shanahan is for about two-and-a-half quarters, he had these incredibly loud fans wondering what happened to the team that hadn’t lost a regular season home game in more than a calendar year.
How had the rasped-voiced man with the beet-red complexion who coached their Broncos for 14 years stolen Manning’s mojo, coached his new team like he used to coach his old team in this very stadium that looked up and saw 21-7, the other team, and the game getting old?
Like his time here, it all came to a crashing thud. His high-powered offense scored on but one sustained drive. His quarterback’s decision-making was spotty. His offensive line couldn’t move the pocket much less the linemen in front of them. And his son forgot about the surefire running back, contributing to an embarrassingly bad half for the offense and special teams.
Bottom line, he’s lucky to get out of here with Griffin in one piece and the notion that times were once very good for him in this stadium, that they still remember when he raised those Lombardi Trophies almost two decades ago.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
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Redskins Insider: More than 100 protest nickname outside stadium
DC Sports Bog: Best and worst from Redskins-Broncos