Since the Washington Redskins dropped to 3-6, coach Mike Shanahan's postgame comments about evaluating players and seeing who's going to be on the team "for years to come" have resonated. They were first interpreted as Shanahan conceding the long odds of making the playoffs and then clarified by the coach Monday, saying he was not giving up on the season.
Tuesday, Shanahan addressed the situation with his players, who appeared to buy into his side of the story without reservation. With that, the Redskins began following a familiar script of a losing team banding together against the media.
"The reaction to what coach said is that if you read it all, it's taken out of context and anyone that's been a part of this locker room understands what it's like to have something snipped or cut short," tight end Chris Cooley said. "He was not very pleased with the way it got handled in the media. And he was very clear to us about that. We get that. We understand it."
Shanahan used his Monday news conference to read aloud his quotes from the previous day and to take reporters to task for not calling or texting him to figure out what he meant after the 21-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
"When you lose a game like that, now you're playing to see who, obviously, is going to be on your football team for years to come," Shanahan said Sunday. "Now we get a chance to evaluate players and see where we're at. We're not out of statistically, but now we find out what type of character we got and how guys keep on fighting through the rest of the season."
Once Shanahan saw how it was being taken in the media, he was quick to offer his clarification: that the Redskins would use the bye week to evaluate players. He called the suggestion that he would play younger players and that the season was over "completely ludicrous."
Tuesday morning before players left for the bye week, Shanahan shared his message with players. Several veterans made it clear they didn't need to hear that from their coach.
"I think it's more important for the young guys to understand that you only hear a snippet of something. You don't hear the questions as asked, so that's what you have to understand," middle linebacker London Fletcher said. "He addressed it in a manner that it needed to be addressed in. He put it out there to where there's no gray area. He let us know exactly how he feels, how he feels about the guys that are in this locker room and in the meeting rooms and who will be playing on Sundays. There's no divide or anything like that. We're all in this together."
Perhaps that's what the Redskins will take out of this. Not that Shanahan tried to fire up his players by saying they were playing for their jobs but that the ensuing controversy will be something to unite the locker room.
"Coach believes that he's going to put the best players on the field at all times," Cooley said. "All of our staff and all of our players are extremely competitive, and we're frustrated to lose football games. There's no one in this locker room that would ever quit, and there's no coach that would ever give up."
As players said, especially not Shanahan, the coach with two Super Bowl rings who was supposed to turn the franchise around.
"I know coach Shanahan, and he wouldn't ever pack in a season, whether there was a minute left in the last game of the season and we were 0-15," linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "We could see how it might've been taken a little bit of context because we know a coach would never say that, let alone coach Shanahan. He'd never say the season's over after nine games when we got seven left."
The Redskins would figure to have to run the table or lose at most one game to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. Still, Cooley called it "feasible" to get to 6-6, just the start of an uphill climb.
It starts Nov. 18 against the Philadelphia Eagles. By then, Shanahan's comments and clarification will be a lot less fresh in everyone's minds.
And even if they're still front and center, Kedric Golston said it shouldn't matter.
"This is the NFL; we're always being evaluated. You want guys that want to play," the defensive lineman said. "It's easy to play when you win and everything's good. But you find out the true character of a man when things are down. Tough times don't last. Tough people do. The fact of the matter is it's not what Coach Shanahan said; it's about how we respond coming out of this bye when we play Philly."
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