A season in ashes, but five games left: Where the Redskins go from here

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For Redskins fans, the next month is not all that hard.

You can choose not to watch them play the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football and spare yourself the frustration. You can tune out smaller stories like players missing team meetings or why the quarterback’s dad was allowed in the locker room after the San Francisco loss on Monday night at FedEx Field. You can even ignore the bigger picture stuff until those decisions are made – what is the future of the coaching staff, is the franchise headed in a new direction?

The players have no such luxury. They have to prepare on a short Thanksgiving week for the Giants and conjure some way to keep a sinking ship afloat. And that starts with figuring out what, exactly, are the issues that have left a 10-win, NFC East championship team at 3-8 and headed for last place.

“If I had a clue, I’d tell you,” wide receiver Santana Moss said, later adding about his team’s weaknesses: “I don’t know. I don’t know. I couldn’t even be there. I don’t know.”

Moss probably does have a clue. He was just following the advice he’s dished to teammates Pierre Garcon and Robert Griffin III in recent weeks: If you have nothing positive to say, then keep your mouth shut. Cuts down on the drama, you see.

That seems unlikely at this point given the state of the franchise. The speculation will rage over the next month over whether Redskins owner Dan Snyder will give coach Mike Shanahan an extension, tell him he’s coming back for the final year of his old deal without one or just make a change completely and spin off in another direction. Again. That leaves a month of limbo where the wheels can completely come off the bus if players sense a leadership void.

“Each man has to look at himself individually and say ‘What can I do better, how can I play better, what can I do to get this thing turned around?’” middle linebacker London Fletcher said. “Because nobody’s happy sitting here at 3-8. This is unacceptable when you look at it and think about what we were able to accomplish last year, winning our division and now to be where we’re at. It’s not a good feeling at all.”

Not everyone will handle this as well as Fletcher, a 16-year veteran who could decide to retire at the end of the year. Unlike many of his teammates, football may be over for him. Even if it isn’t, time is running him down at age 38, at one of the game’s most physically demanding positions.

Garcon said little in a frosty talk with reporters after the 49ers game. What’s gone wrong? He took Moss’ advice, too, apparently.

“You tell me,” Garcon said.

Was the effort level still there, at least?

“That’s a personal decision that you guys got to tell us,” Garcon said, the sarcasm evident in his tone. “If you see a guy slacking, I’m sure you’re gonna write about it. That’s up to you, that’s not up to me.”

Cornerback Josh Wilson, fresh off a humbling performance where he was torched time and again by San Francisco wide receiver Anquan Boldin, was out of answers, too. What’s gone wrong here?

“If we knew that maybe we wouldn’t have this problem,” Wilson said with a half smile.

And yet there are five games left to be played, jobs to be won or lost. Of course, that’s only if the coaching staff remains in place. If Snyder cleans house and allows a new coach or general manager to make any move he sees fit – well, then almost everyone is on the chopping block. That’s perfectly clear to everyone at Redskins Park.

“Everybody’s job is on the line when you’re losing,” Garcon said. “So you always got to think about it. Any day you can get cut or you can get released or fired.”

Thinking about those things is nowhere near as fun as watching a team make a playoff push. But it’s reality for a handful of teams in the NFL every December. And it’s what the Redskins, much to their surprise and shock after last year’s thrilling run, face now.

“I was anticipating being able to do some great things this year, hoping to build off the momentum we were able to build last year,” Fletcher said. “Winning 10 ballgames, winning the NFC East and thinking we’d be better this year, getting some guys back healthy. We all had high aspirations as a football team thinking we could do some things, go further in the playoffs this year.”

“It’s disappointing for me. But it’s disappointing for everyone as a team. I don’t put myself above anybody. We’re all disappointed in the way the season’s gone, whether you’re a first-year, second-year, third-year guy or you’re a 16-year vet. Nobody’s happy with the way things have turned out.”

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