Friday, December 27, 2013

The 2013 Washington Redskins Narrative, in Chapters

Pre-Week 1
*  The mood:  Enthusiasm and anticipation!
*  The status:  An undefeated preseason and relatively no serious injuries, except for draftee Phillip Thomas and corner/returner Richard Crawford.
*  Spotlight on:  The returning RGIII ("All in for Week 1" and "Operation Patience"), an improved Alfred Morris, a healthy Brian Orakpo, and rookie returnman Chris Thompson.

Week 1:  Philadelphia 33, Washington 27 (box score)
*  The mood:  Disappointment, but understanding.
*  The status:  0-1.  Destroyed early, came back and made a game of it late.  RGIII didn't look entirely healthy, but maybe he was simply rusty from not playing during pre-season.  The defense was buzzsawed by Chip Kelly's up-tempo Eagles.  On the bright side, the offense certainly woke up in the second half, didn't it?
*  Spotlight on:  The Eagles' Oregon Duck offense, which is now totally going to take the NFL by storm.  (Rick Reilly:  "This is a revolution.")

Week 2:  Green Bay 38, Washington 20 (box score)
*  The mood:  Déjà vu.
*  The status:  0-2.  Outscored 50-7 in the first half, without a first down conversion in the first or second quarters all season.  Not a single aspect of the team looks positive.
*  Spotlight on:  Robert Griffin III, not getting it done and not looking healthy.  The defense, which can't tackle or cover or stop the run.  Brandon Meriweather, stupidly/dangerously leading with his helmet twice, first knocking out starting running back Eddie Lacy, then knocking himself out of the game.  Aaron Rodgers, who looked like the greatest quarterback on Earth.  Jordan Reed, looking like a player at tight end.  The secondary - particularly rookies Baccari Rambo and David Amerson - who appear far from ready.  Penalties, penalties, penalties, especially on special teams.
*  League Perspective:  The Eagles lose to the Chargers, 33-30, look mortal.  The Seahawks destroy the 49ers in Seattle, costing Colin Kaepernick an eyebrow.

Week 3:  Detroit 27, Washington 20 (box score)
*  The mood:  Misery.
*  The status:  0-3.  No Reggie Bush for the Lions, but it didn't matter -- Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson made the necessary plays to capture Detroit's first ever victory in Washington, D.C. (or at least in a neighboring county).  Argh.  How did this season go down the drain so quickly?
*  Spotlight on:  Robert Griffin III, committing two atrocious turnovers in Lions territory, a fumble and an interception, ending key drives.  The lack of Alfred Morris, a non-factor in the second half, as the Redskins go pass-heavy.  Jordan Reed, stepping up, unseating Fred Davis.  London Fletcher, sitting down for significant plays; is he nearing the end?  DeAngelo Hall, who is - improbably - the most productive player on the team, thanks to recording his second defensive touchdown of the year.
*  League Perspective:  The Eagles lose again, this time to the Chiefs.  The Packers lose to the Bengals.  Both teams are 1-2, with the lone victory against the Redskins.  Yeesh.  The Buccaneers implode.

Week 4:  Washington 24, Oakland 14 (box score)
*  The mood:  A win!  Yes, it was a win against the Raiders, who were missing their starting quarterback and who lost their starting tailback and fullback to injury... but:  Just win, baby.
*  The status:  1-3, heading into the bye week.  What a glorious time to have a bye week.
*  Spotlight on:  RGIII, not great but good enough. Brian Orakpo, much maligned for his absence before stepping up to record two of the defense's seven sacks.  Ryan Kerrigan, who has two more sacks.  Barry Cofield, who has two sacks.  David Amerson, beaten earlier in the game for a long reception, providing the turning point with a pick-six for his first career interception.  The inept special teams unit, who have a punt blocked, record minimal return yardage, and allow a successful Raiders fake punt.  Roy Helu, Jr., in his first notable appearance of the year, replacing an injured Alfred Morris, vaulting a Raider, and scoring the game-clinching touchdown.
*  League Perspective:  The NFC East standings are also positive, with the Cowboys just 2-2 atop the division, the Eagles (bombed by Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos, 52-20) alongside the Skins at 1-3 and the woeful Giants at 0-4.  Skip Bayless remains convinced the Redskins will win the NFC East.

Week 5:  Bye Week, Glorious Bye Week
*  The mood:  Relaxed, energized, and ready.
*  The status:  1-3, 3rd place in the division behind 2-3 Dallas and 2-3 Philadelphia.  That's pretty good, considering how awful this Redskins season has felt.
*  Spotlight on:  It's Dallas Week.  Here we go.
*  League Perspective:  The Bengals lost to the Browns, but defeated the Packers and Patriots.  The Ravens lost to the Bills, but won at Miami.  The Colts lost to Miami but knocked off the 49ers and Seahawks.  Up is down, down is up, and the league has a ways to go before things steady out.  Thankfully, Tony Romo keeps everyone sane by continuing to throw killer interceptions.

Week 6:  Dallas 31, Washington 16 (box score)
*  The mood:  Impending disaster.
*  The status:  1-4, 3rd place in the division behind 3-3 Dallas and 3-3 Philadelphia, and staring directly approaching games against Chicago and Denver that threaten to drop the squad to a season-killing 1-6.
*  Spotlight on:  Well, positively, Jordan Reed looks good -- and hey, RGIII can run again!  Unfortunately, the special teams are a disaster on par with the government shutdown (losing long snapper Nick Sundberg and ace Bryan Kehl to season-ending injury makes things worse).  The offensive line is nearly as abysmal.
*  Thoughts on Robert Griffin III:  There is an enormous problem ongoing with the franchise quarterback -- he cannot throw.  Seriously, he has mastery over seemingly only two passes, a dump-off to a back in the flat and a play-action crossing pattern, and everything else he tries wobbles, sinks, sails, and flutters nowhere near his intended receivers.  It's bad.  Griffin seems to think the answer to this is to run more (and, horror of horrors, bait defenders to hit him near the sideline)... but this was exactly what ended his season last year.  If he can't throw, the Redskins can't score.  The defense has straightened out its woes, but the offense is now the sore spot.  In 2012, 30+ points was an easy proposition.  In 2013, even 21 points is a lofty goal.
*  Thoughts on the Redskins' season:  This is looking more and more like a disappointing 3-13 campaign.  On the bright side, with a last-place schedule next year, I fully expect the Skins to improve to 9-7 in 2014.
*  League Perspective:  The Texans are a disaster.  Tom Brady tombradied the Saints.  The Broncos were favored by 28 points against the Jaguars, but only beat them by 16.

Week 7:  Washington 45, Chicago 41 (box score)
*  The mood:  Whoa!  Another win!  Well now.
*  The status:  2-4, 3rd place in the division behind 4-3 Dallas and 3-4 Philadelphia.  There are worse places to be.
*  Spotlight on:  Rookie TE Jordan Reed, who looks outstanding; an increasingly dangerous Robert Griffin III; the awful special teams, which allowed a punt return touchdown for the second week in a row; the illegally dangerous Brandon Meriweather, who continues to target the opposition's receivers, head-first.  He's a menace.
*  Special Teams:  No, we can't stop there.  The Redskins' special teams cannot return a kickoff beyond the 20 (or the 18, even).  They cannot return a punt.  They cannot stop the other team from breaking off enormous returns.  They were helpless on a surprise onside kick (though the Bears were spotted for being off-side, saving the unit).  They nearly gave up a Music City Miracle-esque throwback on their last kickoff.  They are the worst.
*  Thoughts on Robert Griffin III:  This was a tremendous week for RGIII, showing mobility, arm strength, and electricity.  The sophomore season yo-yo is back rising up.
*  Thoughts on the Redskins' season:  Dare I say... maybe 7-9?  The defense, offensive line, and special teams give you no reason to believe in them -- but a Griffin at full strength, aided by Alfred Morris and Roy Helu, keeps the Skins in nearly every game.
*  League Perspective:  The Patriots learn a new rule.  Andrew Luck outduels Peyton Manning.  The Kansas City Chiefs are the least inspiring 7-0 team ever.  And, oh, Nick Foles was injured, Matt Barkley tossed three interceptions, and the Philadelphia Eagles lost to Dallas, 17-3, continuing to not revolutionize the league in the slightest.

Week 8:  Denver 45, Washington 21 (box score)
*  The mood:  At one point in the 3rd quarter, the Redskins led 21-7 and things felt tremendous.  As you can see, that was not the final score.  A loss at Denver was expected, but this came with all of the fun of falling off a cliff while getting punched in the belly.
*  The status:  2-5, 3rd place in the division behind 4-4 Dallas and 3-5 Philadelphia.  The NFC East continues to live down to expectations.
*  Spotlight on:  Robert Griffin III, who could not pass the ball, could not get away from the rush, missed wide open receivers, and was hit hard all game to the point that he was forced to leave; his yo-yo is back heading down.  On the bright side, Josh Wilson had a terrific punt return, Pierre Garcon played his heart out, and DeAngelo Hall collected a pair of interceptions, one for a touchdown and one that was just remarkable.
*  Thoughts on the Redskins' season:  We're taking it week to week right now, but that quarterback situation is at the crux of whether the Skins win or lose.
*  World Series Perspective:  Game 3 ended on obstruction, Game 4 ended on a pickoff.  The Red Sox are Cardinals are tied, 2-2, and it's been wonderful.

Week 9:  Washington 30, San Diego 24 (box score)
*  The mood:  Whew!  Well, all right, then!  When the Chargers trailed 24-14 in the 4th quarter, sure, it looked like the Redskins would cruise to victory.  And when the Chargers trailed 24-21, but had 1st and goal at the 1 in the last minute, sure, it looked like the Redskins were sinking to an awful defeat.  But then: miracle of miracles, overtime!
*  The status:  3-5, 3rd place in the division behind 5-4 Dallas and 4-5 Philadelphia.  There are worse places to be.  And with a Thursday night game against hapless Minnesota coming up...
*  Spotlight on:  Robert Griffin III, looking better and better, especially on 3rd down; Darrell Young, fullback touchdown-scorer extraordinaire; rookie David Amerson, interceptor of one pass, beaten for several others by childhood friend Keenan Allen, and then knocking Danny Woodhead out of bounds short of the pylon to save the season.  And, really, that's the main narrative:  Did this goal-line stand save the Redskins' season?  The players think yes.
*  Thoughts on the season:  If the Skins can beat the Chargers, maybe they can beat other averagely-qualified foes, too.  Is .500 too much to ask for?
*  World Series Wrap-Up:  The Red Sox won.  They deserved to win.  They've won three championships in a decade.  Oh, the stories we shall tell our grandchildren about fake "curses" and the like!

Week 10:  Minnesota 34, Washington 27 (box score)

*  The mood:  At one point in the 3rd quarter -- this is feeling like the Denver recap -- the Redskins led 27-14.  20 unanswered points later, and the Redskins were 3-6, having lost to a team that had only one prior win in eight games.  The mood is miserable.
*  The status:  3-6, tied for last place in the division with the previously pathetic New York Giants.
*  Spotlight on:  The newly atrocious defense, which could not contain Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, or backup tight end John Carlson, and Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier, a grade-A schlemiel, who kept calling timeouts to give the Skins a chance to catch their breath.  (It was ostensibly to conserve time so that when Washington tied the game, Minnesota could make one last game-winning drive.  Leslie Frazier clearly overestimated the Redskins' offense.)  Not to be outdone, the special teams unit continued to struggle, with Sav Rocca supplying his weekly shanked punt.
*  On the bright side:  "Thor: The Dark World" came out.  It was very fun.  Let's not think anything further about this football game.
*  But:  The Redskins were 2-5.  Then they won a game because of a last second goal-line stand, and they lost a game because of a last second goal-line stand.  This team could be 4-5 and they could be 2-7.  Is that an indictment of the Skins?  Or is that an indication that the NFL has achieved parity in terrible mediocrity?  My guess is the latter.  The NFL isn't great right now.  It's even a long way from "good."
*  Elsewhere in the NFL:  The Jaguars won!  The Bucs won!  The Rams destroyed the Colts -- in Indianapolis!  The Panthers edged the 49ers -- in San Francisco!

Week 11:  Philadelphia 24, Washington 16 (box score)
*  The mood:  Season over.  From here on out, the games are (relatively) meaningless.
*  The status:  3-7, last place in the NFC East.
*  Spotlight on:  Alfred Morris, running hard despite rarely receiving good blocking; Nick Williams, signed off the practice squad and turning the special teams punt-return unit into more of a joke than ever; the porous offensive line; Trent Williams, claiming an official swore at him; the defense, dominated by the Eagles for a second time; and Robert Griffin III, who led the offensive to 16 fluky points in the 4th quarter, giving hope for a massively surprising comeback, only to lob up an embarrassing interception to crush the fan base's hopes.
*  Weirdly:  Despite looking like a blowout through the first three quarters, this was yet another loss that was decided by one possession / one score, joining Week 1, Week 3, and Week 10.
*  Next up:  The Skins host the 49ers on Monday Night football -- this season has the possibility of getting a lot, lot worse before it gets any better.  3-13 remains a realistic final record.
*  Elsewhere in the NFL:  In two potential playoff contests, the Broncos convincingly handed the Chiefs their first loss of the year, and the Saints edged New Orleans.  Otherwise, the day was filled with routs.

Week 12:  San Francisco 27, Washington 6 (box score)

*  The mood:  Misery.
*  The status:  3-8, and feeling like one of the worst teams in football.  A Redskins/Texans game might well set the league back 20 years.  On the bright side, we get to wait a full year for Washington and Houston to get together.  (And Washington/Jacksonville's coming next year, too!)
*  Spotlight on:  The offensive line, which did not pass-block and did not run-block to any recognizable success; the FedEx Field field, re-sodded and still causing footing problems; Robert Griffin III, who continues to regress, struggle, and take enormous hits; Robert Griffin II, visiting the locker room afterward; Fred Davis, activated but unused, with allegations that he had blown off team meetings during the week; and Josh Wilson, the #2 cornerback, who could not cover anyone.
*  Nothing:  There are zero aspects of this current team that look even average, let alone above average, with the possible exceptions of placekicking and run defense.  This was reminiscent of the Jim Zorn teams... or at, the very least, the Mike Shanahan/John Beck team.  Ah, the road to 3-13!
*  Next up:  Another prime time contest! The Redskins welcome the Giants on Sunday Night football.
*  Bad company:  NFL teams that currently stink, a la the Skins, include Houston, Atlanta, Minnesota, Oakland, Jacksonville, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, the Jets, and the Giants.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at one time winless and ticketed for oblivion, are now 3-8 and in pretty darn good shape after beating the Lions in Detroit.
*  Around the League:  Most notable of all the other games -- the Broncos were up 24-0 on the Patriots in New England, but lost in overtime.  It was remarkable.  There's no way that we'll be able to explain to our grandchildren, "You could always count on Peyton Manning to lose on the road, in cold weather, and in big games.  His little brother won on the road, in cold weather, and in big games, including two Super Bowls against the immortal Tom Brady.  But Peyton was still better than Eli.  Trust me."

Week 13:  New York (N) 24, Washington 17 (box score)
*  The mood:  Angry for all the wrong reasons.
*  The status:  3-9, but hang tight.
*  Spotlight on:  There was this one play.  Perhaps you've heard about it.  One official thought it was first down.  One official didn't.  The Redskins' sideline was told something that might or might not have been true.  The announcing crew was righteously upset.  It was, at the very least, highly confusing.  This is all well and good, but on the next play, Will Hill picked Pierre Garçon's pocket.  Downs, confusion, refereeing trouble, and all that don't count for a hill of beans when your top wide receiver turns the ball over on the potential game-tying drive.  There's a great deal of anger around these parts because of a season going wrong, especially after a loss to a division rival at home, but the Redskins sure didn't deserve to win this game.
*  Special teams entertainment:  Not to be outdone, long snapper Kyle Nelson sent a grounder back to punter Sav Rocca.  This team sure keeps you on your toes.  Road to 3-13!
*  Griffin assessment:  Sometimes RGIII looks fine, sometimes he throws a pass nowhere near his target.  Usually it's the last one.  More often than not, though, he's on the run because of phantom pressure or real-life pressure from a hard-charging Justin Tuck.  With how poorly the offensive line has played, Griffin is looking an awful lot like Patrick Ramsey or Jason Campbell, hearing footsteps without going through his reads.  I'm not even certain he properly knows how to go through his reads yet.  Defenses are flummoxing him.  Yes, this is looking like a Patrick Ramsey replay.  On the bright side, Jason Campbell's turned out all right, hasn't he?
*  Thank goodness:  for the Larry Michaels Highlight Show.
*  Around the League:  On Thanksgiving, Le'veon Bell made us all uncomfortable for loving football.  My gosh, this sport is a rotten, awful, violent way for people to earn millions of dollars.

Week 14:  Kansas City 45, Washington 10 (box score)
*  The mood:  Fire.  Mike Shanahan.  Now.
*  The status:  3-10, and falling off a cliff while punching themselves in the face.
*  Spotlight on:  The weather, which provided terrific pictures in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and Baltimore; the lack of any crowd in the second half (credit Dan Steinberg of the DC Sports Bog); the special teams coverage unit, which just kept on giving up massive return after massive return; the feeling that you were watching either a college team take on a high school team, a varsity team take on a j.v. team, or a professional team take on a group of guys who've quit; and the late insertion of Kirk Cousins for RGIII, feeling like a harbinger of what's to come.
*  Radio storyline:  At one point on the Redskins Official Radio Network, Chris Cooley - in reference to a Domino's Pizza ad - noted that Domino's had cleaned house, fired everyone, and worked hard to find a better way to make pizza.  He wondered, not so subtly, if that might work here, too.  Coming on the heels of a Dan Graziano story about how Mike Shanahan was ready to quit the Redskins after the 2012 campaign, and the question around Landover suddenly wasn't if Shanahan would leave, but when.  As this disaster dragged on, it was a marvel Shanny even made it to the fourth quarter.
*  Next up:  The Atlanta Falcons, who also stink.  That's a win, right?  Road to 4-12!
*  Around the League:  The Ravens and Vikings play the greatest final two minutes of a football game ever. The Patriots shock the Browns.  The Eagles score 28 points in the fourth quarter to continue the Lions' history of late-season unpleasantness.  And Matt Prater toes one up to stand alone.

Week 15:  Atlanta 27, Washington 26 (box score)
*  The mood:  Defeated but not despondent.
*  The status:  3-11, and facing the impending possibility of handing the St. Louis Rams the #1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
*  Spotlight on:  Kirk Cousins, getting the start, leads the Redskins to a strong second quarter (and 17 unanswered points after early 14-0 and 17-3 deficits); a touchdown in the dying seconds seemingly ties the game, but the Skins go unsuccessfully for two instead of kicking the PAT for overtime -- there, sportstalk hosts, debate that!  Also:  good gravy, seven turnovers, including five lost turnovers.
*  Storyline continuity problems:  Mike Shanahan, it was suggested by folks in the know, announced Kirk Cousins as the starter for the rest of the season (while sending Griffin to the pine for the rest of 2013) as part of a series of tactics to force Dan Snyder to fire him (and pay him the rest of the money due on his five-year contract).  Snyder did not fire him.  Interestingly, last week the Redskins' Official Radio Broadcast was crushing the coaching staff for a good, strong, complete 60 minutes.  This week, suddenly, hey! maybe Shanny and the crew should stick around a little longer!  Weird, right?
*  Next up:  It's Cowboys Week, and a Skins win would eliminate Dallas from the playoffs for a second year in a row.
*  Around the League:  The Dolphins, whom many thought would fall into disarray due to the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin story, defeat the Patriots to continue an unlikely playoff push.  Eli Manning tosses five picks.  The Chiefs throw Jamaal Charles screen passes, and the Raiders haven't figured it out yet.  The Cowboys collapse gloriously at home against Green Bay.  And Justin Tucker boots a miracle kick to rip the Lions' hearts out.

Week 16:  Dallas 24, Washington 23 (box score)
*  The mood:  Surreal, aghast helplessness.
*  The status:  3-12, and firmly on the way to 3-13.
*  Spotlight on:  The defense, which blew a two-score lead and made Tony Romo look clutch; the defensive line, which mustered zero pass rush when it counted and was excoriated by Doc Walker on the team's homer radio broadcast; another special teams punt coverage breakdown; London Fletcher, in the final home game of a terrific career, but looking like retirement is really a good idea right now; Kirk Cousins, throwing another interception, playing relatively solidly... and then throwing his last three passes nowhere near a receiver to stymie even the faintest hope of a comeback.  Against a 30th-ranked Cowboys defense, that's what the offense manages?
*  Congratulations:  Pierre Garçon, breaking Art Monk's record for receptions in a season -- though I think all of us agree, with no slight to Pierre, that it would have been better if he had come up just short.  There's no redeeming this season.
*  Next up:  The end of the year, and probably the end of the line for Mike Shanahan and his staff.
*  Do the Redskins really think...:  that folks around the league have watched Kirk Cousins these past few weeks and are jumping out of their boots to offer a 1st round pick for him?  I can't imagine that would be the case, unless those people around the league really like high-character quarterbacks who throw interceptions every weekend.  (If that's a valuable commodity, heck, trade Cousins and Rex Grossman!  It'll be draft pick city around these parts.)
*  Nothing comes easy for Tony Romo:  He conducts a game-winning touchdown drive to beat the Redskins and briefly save the Cowboys season -- and then we learn that his year is over.  What a star-crossed life.
*  Around the League:  Peyton Manning breaks Tom Brady's record for passing touchdowns in one season (ignore the man behind the curtain).  Cam Newton makes Peter King look foolish.  My gosh, Rick Reilly was right all along about the Philadelphia Eagles.  And Navorro Bowman saves the 49ers season (while sending Candlestick Park off with a bang).

Week 17:  New York (N) 20, Washington 6 (box score)
*  The mood:  Finality.
*  The status:  3-13.
*  Spotlight on:  Kirk Cousins, looking far from worthy of a 1st round pick; a miserable all-around effort on a miserable weather day; Mike Shanahan, offering salary cap excuses as the reason for why his team went from 10-6 to 3-13; four more turnovers; the end of the coaching staff; the end of London Fletcher's career; handing the overall #2 pick to the St. Louis Rams.
*  Next up:  The playoffs for 12 other teams.
*  Around the League:  The Cowboys get knocked out on the final day of the season again, and the Chargers use a wealth of unlikely events to slip into the playoffs (and break the Steelers' hearts).

It started with "enthusiasm and anticipation," but now we bid a firm good riddance to this Redskins season.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is it too soon to talk Play-Offs?