When John Beck answered his cellphone in the quarterback room in Ashburn from a number he didn’t recognize Monday, he did so only out of a possible family concern. He had film to watch of Saturday’s opponent, the Minnesota Vikings, he said. In earnest politeness, he said he had to go — short week to get ready and all.
So the good news is the backup quarterback is still preparing, even on Victory Monday, the day Mike Shanahan gave his players off after dispatching the New York Giants for the second time this season.
The bad news is the Redskins are 5-9, outside looking in at the NFC playoff picture three seasons running, the last two under Shanahan.
The worse news is that they’ve done just enough over the past few weeks to fool some into thinking they’re not that far away. January isn’t even here, and the revisionist historians are out in force.
You know them this year by their first two words: “Roy Helu.” As in, “Man, with Roy Helu, we got some future in the backfield.”
They don’t remember the two words they used last year to express their unhinged optimism in the face of 6-10: “Ryan Torain.” As in, “Man, with Ryan Torain, we got some future in the backfield.”
The Redskins’ revisionists also will pepper you with hypothetical scenarios about how Washington was thisclose to 8-8 with a tiebreaker edge that equates to a postseason berth. So with the recent successes fresh in mind, they’re suddenly fine with Santana Moss returning as their No. 1 wide receiver, DeAngelo Hall the No. 1 cornerback and, all things considered, Rex Grossman as the No. 1 quarterback.
That’s actually why I called Beck. Because with Grossman suddenly moving the ball and scoring enough to camouflage his two-turnover-per-game average, looking comfortable enough in the offense to make Kyle Shanahan appear competent as the offensive coordinator, Beck now stands in the warped optimist’s crosshairs.
Here’s how their logic goes: If Shanahan had never benched Grossman when the Redskins were still 3-2 and gone to Beck for three games, they would have won two to three more games and been in contention for the postseason.
(This kind of perfect hindsight ignores the fact that after the Eagles debacle, exactly zero fans were saying, “You’ve got to stay with Rex this week.” At that point, Rex’s loyalists consisted of Moss and a couple of other candid players in the locker room, and Mrs. Grossman.)
Because Beck was busy preparing for the Vikings at FedEx Field, allow me to dispense the hard reality: The Redskins were never going to make the playoffs this year. They were destined for 7-9 or worse the moment Rex and Becks ran out of that tunnel in the first preseason game. Having two journeyman quarterbacks play a season-long game of “I’m Flawed But At Least I’m Not As Bad As You” always seemed to be the perfect recipe for a high draft pick.
Shanahan’s belief in Beck was so high, he needed to find out if Beck could perform in season, and Grossman gave him that chance when he threw four interceptions against Philadelphia in Week 6 (and subsequently came down with pneumonia).
Something about Beck made Shanahan ascribe so much unbridled hope to an unproven guy about to turn 30 at the time. Surely he believed Beck could at least be the two- to three-year bridge to a franchise quarterback.
Entering this season, Grossman was supposed to be the safety valve for Beck. And now it’s the other way around. Heck, entering last season, Grossman was supposed to the safety valve for Donovan McNabb — and that was only in case of injury.
So in all this rumination and revisionism, we are left with one of two truths:
Either Grossman is one heck of a survivor, who beats out everyone the coaching staff puts in front of him. Or — especially if he beats out whichever rookie the Redskins draft in April — it means Shanahan is having a hard time finding a quarterback to take his team to the postseason.
There are fine lines in sports that often mean the difference between going home and playing into February. But for a long time in Washington, those lines have been clear and thick, and no amount of looking back and what-ifs is going to make it any better.
Five of the last six games the Redskins have flirted with excitement offensively. They’ve done much to cover up the stench of a midseason losing streak, the off-field drama of Fred Davis and Trent Williams and all the playmaking needs at so many key positions.
It’s enough for anyone to wonder what could be if only a quarterback change hadn’t been made or Hall had stayed with Dez Bryant at the end of both Cowboys games. But all that really does is prolong false hope and obscure how much work needs to be done.
Cliché but true: They are what their record says they are. Again.