When a team plays like the Washington Redskins did Sunday at the Pittsburgh Steelers, the result is predictable.
"You get your butt whooped," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said.
It was the first time all season the Redskins got their butts whooped, their first loss by more than one score. But it was their fifth of the year.
At 3-5, the Redskins have the same record at the midway point as they did a year ago. They finished 5-11 then and are dangerously close to sliding back into that chasm now.
"It's more just frustrating and disappointing because I know we are a better team than what our record shows. But we are what are record is," Alexander said. "I feel that we had the ability to win some games, but we didn't. It's more frustrating and disappointing just because you know you have the talent to win, and we're not winning. In this league, that's why you play this game is to win. I feel like we're underperforming."
With quarterback Robert Griffin III impressing and a clear front-runner for rookie of the year, the Redskins are not underperforming external preseason expectations. This wasn't supposed to be a contending team in 2012.
But internally, the belief in Griffin and a strong defense that was another year more experienced fostered a sense of optimism.
"This is best group of guys that I've been around," tight end Chris Cooley said, "and there are 10 guys on this team that can make plays."
Several potential playmakers aren't on the field. Linebacker Brian Orakpo (torn pectoral muscle), defensive end Adam Carriker (torn quadriceps tendon) and tight end Fred Davis (torn Achilles tendon) are out for the season. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon (sprained foot) and safety Brandon Meriweather have missed extensive time. And safety Tanard Jackson was suspended indefinitely for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
Optimism that abounded in recent weeks is now dwindling, and coach Mike Shanahan said injuries had a lot to do with the Redskins not having a better season.
"I think we all know the record defines who you are. But if people can't figure out or take a look at the offense and they see it's a completely different football team, then obviously they don't have a background in football," Shanahan said. "You take a look at our defense, and you know we're not the same team we were a year ago. We're disappointed that we're not, but I actually thought it was going to be the strength of our football team this year. But losing those guys, it's reality."
The reality is that the Redskins have lost more than a couple of games this season because the defense hasn't been anywhere close to what was expected.
The unit has allowed 406.4 yards a game, 29th in the NFL, and it's given up 28.4 points a game, good for 28th. Given that Griffin has turned the ball over only five times, and the offense has scored the seventh-most points in the league (26.6) and averaged the sixth-most yardage (387.4), it's a particularly disappointing turn of events for a beleaguered unit.
"Well, it's kind of hard to look at it right now because we're not the same football team we were a year ago," Shanahan said, citing injuries. "That doesn't mean we're not going to improve in the second half of the season. I think we've got some guys playing in a couple positions that they haven't played there, and we're going to work as hard as we can to change it up for the positive."
As much as the injuries have piled up, Shanahan said that did not mean it was easier to accept these struggles.
"You've still got to find ways to win," the coach said. "And I'm disappointed that we're not closing those games that we've been ahead in the fourth quarter. If we did, we'd be 5-3."
But the Redskins are not 5-3; they're in last place in the NFC East and not that close to playoff contention.
Still, Shanahan did not mince words about what Sunday's game against the 1-6 Carolina Panthers meant for his team.
"I think everybody knows that it's a must-win game when you're 3-5 at the bye week," he said. "If you have any chance for the playoffs, everybody understands at the midway point that you've got to start playing your best football or else you're eliminated awful quick."
And while Alexander's frustration and disappointment is justified given the Redskins' predicament, Shanahan told the team not to lose focus.
"Coach's message, I'm paraphrasing and putting it in my own words, is basically what's a man to do when he feels like he's doing everything right and things aren't going his way," Griffin said. "You've got to keep pushing forward. None of those guys are going to show up tomorrow if they feel defeated or if they feel like they want to throw the towel in. I would tell them, don't show up if you feel that way. I don't think anybody in that locker room feels that way."
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