In late August, when it became clear the quarterback could start the opener, 9-7 seemed about right. The thought was Robert Griffin III was going to take a while to play well with a surgically repaired right knee and a porous, inexperienced secondary was at the mercy of a pass rush that had to be menacing and effective.
The bruised offseason feelings between a pair of proud fathers and sons — the Griffins and the Shanahans — would gradually subside with a few early victories, you figured, because winning is always the best healing balm in pro sports.
Really, who would care about who was at fault for leaving in a limping quarterback in January if Griffin and Washington were rolling by October or November?
But this fractured, deeply flawed team, which inexplicably fell behind the Eagles 24-0 on Sunday and is now 3-7, has put everything up for debate over the final six games — everything.
In no particular order: Mike Shanahan’s job, Griffin’s status as an elite quarterback, the coach and quarterback’s working relationship going forward, the talent and character of a roster overhauled by Shanahan and whether this season is an aberration — or last season was.
If this pattern of losing holds, this will mark the fourth time in five years this organization will play no meaningful, playoff-implication football in December, and it would be the ninth time in Daniel Snyder’s 15-season stewardship that his team was all but done before the season’s final month.
There is no reason to believe in this team; they haven’t given one or remotely stated their case. There is no reason to believe the beaten-down, angry and in-denial voices of a crestfallen locker room Sunday won’t lose by two or more touchdowns to the San Francisco 49ers this coming Monday.
Ten games into 2013, they’ve pretty much FedEx-ed the season — to parts unknown.
I’m not going to call for the firing of Shanahan and, by association, the offensive coordinator in this space today. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe he’s still less than a year removed from beating the Cowboys in a win-the-division-or-go-home game last December.
Do I think he should get an extension now? No. That’s just as knee-jerk. He gets these last six games to prove his long-term worth, though my gut tells me he needs a 4-2 run or better to earn an extra year on top of the last year of his deal next season.
I’m also not going to call for the jobs of Jim Haslett, who has yet to be given the personnel needed to thrive with this defense, or Keith Burns, who was partly doomed when no great thought was given to bringing in a bona fide kick returner before the season.
I am afraid both will be made scapegoats in the offseason. If the head coach somehow survives 7-9 or worse, an assistant or two is going to have to fall on the sword — and we all know Kyle is untouchable if Mike wants to eat Thanksgiving at home again.
I am going to call out a defense that can’t put 60 minutes together once in 21 / 2 months, a defense spearheaded, unfortunately, by Brandon Meriweather’s knuckleheadedness at different points this season.
I am going to call out Josh Morgan, who was a starter only in name and probably will see the final three years of his deal voided this offseason because he’s too moody and unproductive.
And Pierre Garcon, who plays with so much fire but has no idea sometimes how to cool the embers when the game is over. Garcon is a No. 1 receiver on a team with a bunch of No. 3s. That’s not a knock; it’s the truth. He doesn’t yet qualify for Jerry Rice/Randy Moss diva status.
And an offensive line made up of many heavenly run-blockers and just as many hellish pass-protectors also gets some grief. If the goal is to develop Griffin into more of a drop-back threat, the man has to be given at least a few inches before his linemen are pushed into him by bull-rushing behemoths.
But Griffin doesn’t get a pass here, either. He wasn’t just pedestrian early Sunday; he was Ryan Leaf-bad in the first half before a scintillating comeback ended with the worst, late-game decision of his young career: a wounded duck of an interception in the end zone to end the game, a pass he thought he was throwing away.
I’d still take him over every young quarterback in the game except Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. Still, no one in the NFL has been humbled more this year. Between his smile and his game, Griffin entered 2013 as not just the face of a franchise but the face of the new score-and-score-some-more NFL.
With less than two months left in just his second season, he has become the classic too-much, too-soon cautionary tale with regard to fame. In a literal blink, Griffin has gone from the messiah of a long-suffering fan base to a very good young quarterback experiencing major growing pains after his Pro Bowl rookie year.
I was at a Post panel discussion last month about the team in which a member of the audience actually asked, “Is RGIII a coach killer?” Think about that: The same player who late last year was lifting Shanahan to a direct flight to Canton had somehow flipped the script, perception-wise.
My response was there is only one coach-killer in this organization: Snyder, who is on his seventh coach since 1999, not one of whom has finished an original contract. And if he enables Griffin to make that decision for him like he almost enabled Clinton Portis regarding Jim Zorn, then that’s on the owner before the player.
Lastly, we get some blame: every media member locally who believed they were ready to take the next step, who saw 9-7, 10-6 or, ahem, 12-4 — a perennial playoff team that had finally turned the corner for good after all those years of futility.
Griffin made us all want to badly believe to the point where we neglected logic and all the holes surrounding the starting quarterback, to the point where many of us were guilty of buying into the Ashburn company line of Super Bowl or bust and inflating expectations for a team that entered the season with so many obvious questions.
Griffin simply needs more time to mature, and he needs more talent around him.
Now the biggest question of all regarding the future of the organization: Has going through extremely trying times developed greater trust between Griffin and his head coach and offensive coordinator? Or eroded it?
Six games to find out everything. Six games to see whether the coach stays or goes.
If Shanahan, Griffin and that roster run the table, forget this was ever written and just remember they actually did finish 9-7.
If not, if this has a 2-4 finish and a 5-11 endgame in sight, the hallmark of the Shanahan Era in Washington — stability — will disappear quicker than the sheen of 2012.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
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Outsider: Was it Robert Griffin III’s worst game?