Both teams that will take the field Sunday at the Georgia Dome are among the NFL’s biggest disappointments this year, with identical 3-10 records after beginning the season with Super Bowl aspirations. But only one of them is the sport’s leading soap opera.
While the Atlanta Falcons have endured their miserable season relatively peacefully, the Washington Redskins have been a spectacle. Players have been asked about all the melodrama more often than they’ve been asked about anything resembling X’s-and-O’s.
“You just get used to it,” wide receiver Pierre Garcon said as he sat by his locker at Redskins Park late in the week.
If Redskins players envy the Falcons for being allowed to suffer in comparative silence, they weren’t saying so.
“Different strokes for different folks,” wide receiver Santana Moss said. “They didn’t have to deal with what we’ve been having to deal with all year. So you understand that as a player. The main focus as a team and as a player is not to focus on someone else’s team.”
Defensive tackle Barry Cofield said the attention the Redskins have received comes with having a bad season in a large media market such as Washington or New York.
“It’s the way it’s been my whole career,” said Cofield, who played with the Giants before coming to Washington. “Just playing in certain markets, certain fan bases, certain type of media attention goes along with that. I think it’s pretty obvious.”
That became a popular refrain in the Redskins’ locker room during another week spent in the national spotlight, this time for Coach Mike Shanahan sitting down quarterback Robert Griffin III for the remainder of the season as the embattled coach engages in what observers in and around the organization call a stare-down with team owner Daniel Snyder. It is expected to end with Shanahan’s departure in the coming weeks.
“It just gets reported more here than anywhere else,” Garcon said. “That’s about it.”
Left tackle Trent Williams said: “I don’t buy into it. You guys [reporters] get paid to come up with controversial storylines. And we get paid to play football. So y’all do your job. We just do ours. I don’t really feed into the whole drama aspect of it.”
But it is more, it seems, than merely the portrayal. The Falcons’ franchise quarterback, Matt Ryan, remains in the lineup while Griffin, although able to play, will be watching backup Kirk Cousins. Falcons Coach Mike Smith didn’t hold a nearly half-hour midweek news conference, as Shanahan did, at which he tried to dispel the notion that he’s attempting to provoke Snyder to fire him.
“It’s certainly something that you do have to make a conscious effort at because it’s human nature when things go wrong,” Ryan said of the Falcons’ ability to keep a bad season bland. “You want to point fingers. That’s just the way it is. But it does you no good.”
There are no fractures apparent in Smith’s relationship with Falcons owner Arthur Blank and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff.
“Arthur is a very good leader,” Smith said in a conference call. “He’s got a lot of experience, not only in football but in business as well. He knows how to handle things when times are great and knows how to deal with things when times are bad. I think it starts at the top with him.”
Veteran Redskins players are doing their best to hold things together and ignore the controversy surrounding the team.
“It’s a lot of speculation,” defensive lineman Kedric Golston said. “It’s a lot of rumors that, you know, are they true or not? Who knows. But let’s not turn this thing into a high school cafeteria.”
Cofield said that, believe it or not, it has been a relatively normal week of preparations for most Redskins players.
“It’s extra headaches off the field,” he said. “You might get some extra texts here and there, some extra questions here and there. But when we’re on the field, we’re in the meeting room, it’s not a topic of conversation.”
He added: “Practice and meetings have been the same. You turn on ESPN, you might see ‘Redskins’ more often than you’d like to see. But other than that, everything has been standard operating procedure.”
The team can salvage some dignity, Cofield said, if players conduct themselves in a professional manner in what remains of a lost season.
“You owe it to yourself, the organization, to the fans, to go out there and do your job,” Cofield said. “It’s a pride thing. Realistically you don’t get paid to win games per se. You get paid to show up to work and do your job. You’re just an individual. You don’t control the outcome of the game individually. If each individual takes his professional duty, which is to show up and play his best and prepare his best, then we’ll be fine.”
More on the Redskins and the NFL:
Thomas Boswell: For Redskins, pride always precipitates the fall
The Insider: Cousins ‘never felt chaos’
The Insider: Reed not ruled out for season
The Insider: Five story lines to watch Sunday