It has become a rite of the season as November gives way to December in the nation’s capital. Families gather for the holidays, and the Washington Redskins family disintegrates.
A losing season reached a new low Sunday at FedEx Field, where Washington was handed its first shutout under first-year Coach Jay Gruden, a 24-0 humiliation at the hands of the St. Louis Rams, who could do little right themselves in the first half.
With its fifth consecutive defeat, Washington fell to 3-10 — the same record it had at this point last season under Mike Shanahan. The coach benched Robert Griffin III in response, only to lose his own job within weeks, having butted heads with the star quarterback once too often in the view of owner Daniel Snyder.
Sunday played out like a twisted Groundhog Day — not simply because of the rout, but because of the flurry of reports of infighting among players and battle lines being drawn between the team’s front office and its hand-picked head coach, Gruden, who has been on the job less than 12 months.
Both Snyder and team President Bruce Allen declined to comment Sunday on Washington Post reports that Gruden has given up on Griffin, whom he benched last month for poor performance, and that Gruden could be the next Redskins employee out of a job if Snyder insists on giving the quarterback another chance.
Through a team spokesman, Snyder and Allen said simply that the reports, which were attributed to multiple sources inside the organization, were inaccurate.
Gruden, for his part, ended up giving Griffin a second chance Sunday. But it came with two minutes remaining in a game that was irretrievably lost and only then because Colt McCoy, whom Gruden installed as the presumptive starter for the balance of the season on Nov. 26, was forced to the sideline with a sprained neck suffered on his sixth sack.
Afterward, Gruden said he understood when he signed the contract to coach the Redskins that he’d be judged on wins and losses.
“All you can do is do what you believe in, try to motivate the guys and try to figure out a way to get victories in the NFL,” Gruden said. “If you don’t, obviously you are always subject to owners making a change.”
No NFL owner has changed head coaches with a more breathtaking pace than Snyder. Gruden, hired in January, is the Redskins’ eighth head coach in the 16 seasons since Snyder bought the storied franchise in 1999, at age 34.
But the revolving door in the head coach’s office at Redskins Park — and, in the starting quarterback’s job, too — hasn’t improved the product on the field, barring a brief resurgence during Joe Gibbs’s second stint at the helm. Instead, the chronic turnover has served up a steady diet of rumor and discord for local and national media feasting on the team’s dysfunction.
Any NFL team can lose back-to-back games. Many can lose five in a row. And some stumble through one losing season after another. But the Redskins stand apart, at least during Snyder’s tenure as owner, as the only NFL team that consistently destroys its own as losses mount rather than stand together.
Reports that Gruden had soured on Griffin, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Snyder acquired by trading a king’s ransom to St. Louis in the 2012 NFL draft, started circulating the moment the 2014 season opened. The coach gave credence to those reports with his public dressing-down of the third-year quarterback’s mechanics, judgment and leadership following a 27-7 loss to Tampa Bay on Nov. 16.
But Gruden’s decision to bench Griffin in favor of McCoy, a traditional drop-back passer, has done little to silence the toxic discourse about the Redskins, just as it has done little to improve the on-field performance, with the offense managing just 206 yards Sunday to the Rams’ 329.
McCoy, 28, threw two interceptions while getting sacked half a dozen times, blindsided repeatedly by onrushing defenders who steamrolled the Redskins’ poor excuse for pass protection. And Pro Bowl running back Alfred Morris gained a total of six yards on eight carries (0.8 yards per attempt).
But the true ugliness started 24 hours before kickoff.
TMZ took a carving knife to Washington’s NFL team Saturday, quoting an unidentified starter as saying that playing with Griffin “has been a nightmare.” The player went on to say that Griffin had lost the confidence of his teammates, stayed “secluded” from them and had grown complacent.
That followed scathing comments by Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who told MMQB.com that Griffin entered the NFL “with an arrogance” that was made worse by hero worship from Snyder, whom he faulted for treating the quarterback as an adopted son and best friend.
On Sunday, former Redskins linebacker London Fletcher excoriated Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett on CBS’s nationally televised pregame show, calling him a clueless, backstabbing coach who secured his own job by blaming everyone around him, and warned Gruden to watch out.
During the game, Haslett’s son, Chase, a quarterback at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, took to social media to defend his father. Fletcher, who served as a Redskins team captain last season, fired back at the son, saying his father had ruined plenty of careers in his day.
By then, boos were raining down at FedEx Field, along with a howl of “Save Me!” from one section and chants of “RGIII! RGIII!” as the offense sputtered.
It was Washington’s first home game since the team was booed off the field in the loss to Tampa Bay three weeks earlier. The Redskins’ fortunes had sunk so low since then that Washington was installed as a three-point underdog Sunday, on its own field, to a team with a losing record.
Oddsmakers proved far too kind to Gruden’s bunch, with the offense failing to run a single play inside the red zone all game.
The boos would have been lustier had there been more fans in the stands to bellow, but most headed for the exits when the Rams’ Tavon Austin returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter.
Given the futility across the board, Gruden’s assessment that Griffin has been the principal factor stymieing his offensive scheme grew more spurious. No doubt it will only fuel speculation that Gruden may be sacrificed at season’s ending, which would make him the second full-time one-and-done coach under Snyder.
Though Snyder is still paying Shanahan a princely sum not to coach the team, the owner has demonstrated that money is no barrier when it comes to getting rid of coaches he turns on. Nor is money an obstacle when it comes to landing the Hall of Fame coaches and high-priced free agents he covets.
Marty Schottenheimer was axed after one season, despite winning eight of the final 11 games to finish 8-8 in 2001.
But if Snyder were to fire Gruden after one year, there is no obvious candidate on the coaching staff to assume the role. And it’s an open question whether a worthy candidate would emerge for a job that would have changed hands eight times in 16 years — at any price.
Gruden, for his part, stood firm after the most embarrassing loss of his career.
“I’m never going to lose confidence in what I am doing and what we are doing as a staff to get this team back on track,” he said afterward. “You’ve got to stick with the plan.”
But in the locker room, few seemed to have a clear sense of the plan. The talk was more about protecting their own backs and tuning out the rest.
Haslett broke his self-imposed postgame silence to voice disappointment in Fletcher’s harsh criticism.
Left tackle Trent Williams, a team captain, said the only thing for players to do was ignore most everything around them.
“What else can you do?” Williams asked. “You can pout all you want, but it’s not going to reverse what happened today or weeks prior. Nobody wants to lose — and lose this often.”
Mike Jones contributed to this report.
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