Bye weeks aren't just good for football teams, for getting the spring back in their legs and the tiger back in their eyes. They're also good for media types, for stepping back and fully processing the first part of the season. And once again with the Washington Redskins, we find ourselves asking: Did we just see what we think we saw?
The Redskins are 3-6, losers of three straight, as they prepare for Sunday's scrap with the Philadelphia Eagles at FedEx Field. After Washington's last outing, a 21-13 home loss to Carolina team that had dropped its previous five, Mike Shanahan created yet another Unnecessary Distraction by intimating — in the minds of some, at least — that he was writing off 2012 and turning his attention to next year.
Me, I didn't read it that way, not with almost half the season left. All I saw was a coach who was letting his frustrations show. In a game Shanahan had designated a "must-win," the Redskins had been outplayed by a club that was in even worse shape than they were. That much-quoted comment of Shanny's — that his players now would be "playing to see who, obviously, is going to be on your football team for years to come"? It wasn't, from where I was sitting, the raising of a white flag. It was more like one last, possibly futile, crack of the whip.
The most questionable thing about it was the coach's sense of timing. After all, in his first year in town, Shanahan had created a tempest heading into the bye week by benching Donovan McNabb in the closing minutes of a game, offering a lame explanation afterward and creating uncertainty about the quarterback position in the days that followed. Not how you want to spend your in-season vacation.
And here it was two years later, and Shanahan was being "misunderstood" again, needlessly stirring the pot by not choosing his words more carefully. It would be one thing if he were new at this, but he's been a head coach in the NFL for 19 seasons. He should know better, know that bye week is a time for letting emotions settle — especially negative emotions.
It's interesting, too, to compare this bye week to the one in 2010. Two years ago, with a lot of players left over from the Vinny Cerrato regime, the Redskins were 4-4 at the bye and had beaten three playoff clubs, including the two NFC finalists (Green Bay, which would go on to win the Super Bowl, and Chicago).
This year they're three games under .500 and have yet to beat any team that, at the moment, is leading its division. So where exactly is the progress Shanahan keeps talking about? Where is this deeper, more talented roster? Indeed, you could make the case that, aside from Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, the Redskins had more going for them in 2010.
The oddsmakers this week have made them 3½-point favorites. That's not exactly a vote of confidence. Consider: The Eagles have lost five in a row. Because Michael Vick is hurt, they've had to turn the quarterbacking over to Nick Foles, a rookie who will be making his first NFL start. The game, moreover, is being played in Washington.
And the Redskins, again, are favored by 3½ points. (And it wouldn't be that much if Vick were available.)
But then, there are two "realities" in Redskinsland. There's how the Redskins view themselves, and there's how the Redskins are viewed by others. Too often, those "realities" have little overlap. Shanahan sees the Redskins as a young, up-and-coming team that, because of injuries and other factors, is underperforming. The outside world sees the Redskins as a club that has some nice parts but, ultimately, figures to have its hands full against a struggling Eagles team led by a neophyte QB. The Redskins think: All we need to do is string some wins together and we're back in the playoff picture. The outside world thinks: How often do you ever do that? Your longest winning streak since Shanny took over is two games (and you barely won the second game both times).
Shanahan thought the Carolina game was a must-win. But Sunday's game might be even more of a must-win. If the Redskins lose this one, will there be anywhere for anyone to hide? The next sound you'll hear, in the wake of another defeat, will be the sound of the wheels coming off.
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