It’s finally over. Last game of the season, final score: Dallas 44, Washington 17. Livid Coach Jay Gruden told his defense at halftime, “This is the worst half of football I have ever seen from any team.”
So at least now we know what to do. Call the florist for a nice funeral wreath. Put it on this dirt pile of a Washington football season and get on with the grieving and perhaps even the forgetting.
Last year, Washington’s point differential was minus-144. No D.C. team had been drubbed by such an ignominious margin since 1961. This year, the franchise promised to improve. It did, going 4-12 and losing by 137 points. Some progress. When was the last time a Washington team had a point differential of minus-137? Same answer: 1961! So the two worst teams in more than half a century have come back-to-back.
Many fans, of course, already have had the sense of self-preservation to stop watching this team. But others have continued, out of masochism, lifelong habit, morbid curiosity or loyalty. For us, Sunday was a relief. What next? A long, blessed respite from buffoonery.
The last Cowboy has sped across the goal line. For eight months, we won’t see Dez Bryant catch a pass at the line of scrimmage, make one fake and race untouched 65 yards to the end zone. We won’t watch, agape, as a simple dive up the gut goes 65 yards, totally uncontested, for another Dallas score.
We’ll all have more than 240 days of relief before Robert Griffin III (the “III” was for his turnovers) can throw two interceptions in the Dallas red zone and give up a five-yard Cowboys touchdown thanks to his sack-strip-fumble generosity. Until September, we can’t ponder any more misconceived third-down plays designed by Gruden that work as diagrammed yet, time after time, come up short of a first down.
We’ll watch the seasons change without a foe recovering another “surprise” mid-game onside kick.
After this drubbing from a Dallas team that had almost nothing to play for, having locked down its playoff spot, Washington may start to witness an inversion of its sports calendar. For generations, the most anticipated day was the start of football season and the most dreaded was the season-ending game, which meant a mini-eternity of withdrawal.
Now we’re in danger of seeing the reverse. It’s actually a benison that this team isn’t playing anymore, that it can’t find new ways each week to be an embarrassment to itself and distract the city’s fans from other pro and college teams that deserve attention far more.
At least Gruden appears to understand that any team, after two such awful seasons, has a roster that needs massive overhaul and that nothing short of a rebuild has much hope. But we’re extremely unlikely to hear the word “rebuild” from anybody. It’s against burgundy-and-gold marketing theology.
“We need to change a lot. I honestly think if you don’t change something, you’re probably going to get the same results,” Gruden said before listing everything from ball security to practice habits to offseason training. He did not mention new, better players. They’re harder to get.
Players on all teams have no choice but to live in the violent moment. Any long-term view undermines their willingness to make physical sacrifices on every play. Pro Bowler Trent Williams, who played again despite leg injuries, said, “We need more good players, that’s true. But you can get some in the draft, a couple in free agency and see a big difference pretty quickly.
“You can’t think, ‘This’ll take years.’ We had a year like this [in 2011] and back-doored it into the playoffs the next year,” Williams said.
Then Williams paused, standing on crutches, looking down at his ankle in a walking boot, and said, “But this is getting old.”
This final defeat, the team’s seventh loss in eight games and its 20th in its past 24 — the worst stretch of play since 1960-61 when the team was 1-9-2 and 1-12-1 — has left the franchise without a single strong suit or central personality around which to build. Will Gruden or Griffin or both be back next year? Probably both but not certainly — not after this stinker. Will defensive coordinator Jim Haslett return? His defense tied for the second-most points allowed — 31st — even worse than the average of his past 13 defenses as a head coach or defensive coordinator (26th).
Gruden described his rookie year as “a poor grade.” That seems correct. He tried three quarterbacks, didn’t find one around whom to build yet showed a lack of confidence, at one time or another, in all three, replacing them when they were healthy. Griffin was asked about a midseason rift with Gruden when he was benched and whether they had discussed it. Often the player ducks. Griffin didn’t.
“We haven’t had that discussion or cleared the air on any of that,” Griffin said. “My focus is I want to be here . . . help this team win and change the culture around here. . . . If Coach Jay and this organization wants me to be around, then I’ll be here.”
That’s a very big “if,” if Griffin himself is in doubt.
Asked about his own performance, Griffin said, “My job is not to critique myself or to critique anybody, as I’ve learned.” Ziiiing.
Hey, why not just bring this whole fun gang back and do it all again? What could go wrong?
What hasn’t gone wrong? Only once in the history of the franchise has Washington been this bad, back in 1960-61. Then, everybody said some variation of, “It’ll never be this awful again.” Because, come on, how could it be? But it is worse — right now. Because Dan Snyder owns the team.
After 15 years, it’s not hyperbole, just observation, to say he seems to have no clue about the NFL or evaluating key people or building an organization. But he also has no other major passion. He is his team. Vindication, someday, drives him. So he’s stuck. Which means the city is stuck with him.
Perhaps this is the moment when we can all adopt the veteran wisdom of Santana Moss. “I’m going to go vacate,” he said, “and enjoy my sanity.”
Or for some of us, what’s left of it.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.