Early exit puts damper on Redskins’ unlikely run to playoffs

In the wake of season’s abrupt end, 
team realizes it learned how to win

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Stephen Bowen couldn’t really sleep Sunday night. The defensive end kept rewinding scenarios in his head, remembering different plays from the loss to the Seattle Seahawks that knocked the Washington Redskins out of the playoffs and ended their season.

“I want everybody on the team to remember this feeling, man. It’s the worst feeling in the world, knowing you had the potential to do something and we didn’t get it done,” Bowen said Monday. “Just knowing that you’ve got to wait a whole year, play all these games just to get back to the same point, the wild card. Just to try to get past that point. It’s killing me, man.”

It grated on Bowen and other Redskins players that they couldn’t do more, even in a season during which they went from 3-6 to the postseason. There was some comfort in that this team enjoyed success for the first time under coach Mike Shanahan. But in the aftermath of the sudden end, the disappointment seeped through the locker room.

“Obviously it was a great run. But we don’t play the game for great runs,” special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander said Sunday night. “We play it to win the Super Bowl, and we weren’t able to achieve that.”

That’s Shanahan’s mantra, that only the Super Bowl champion is happy at the end of the year. But given records of 5-11, 6-10 and 4-12 the previous three seasons, the Redskins might find more perspective on their improbable seven-game streak.

Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger said it wasn’t yet the time to reflect on the big picture of a season that surpassed expectations. For others, it was one way to turn the page from the Seahawks loss to the future.

“I’m kind of frustrated still about the game,” fullback Darrel Young said. “[But] we have a lot of character on this team. You have a bunch of guys willing to fight and guys willing to accept the challenge and try to overcome anything. … Everyone counted us out from the jump, so I feel like we’ve done something.

“Am I happy about what we did? No, because we didn’t finish. But to come back from 3-6, that shows that this team has a lot of fight in it.”

Lichtensteiger did allow himself the foresight that in a week or so, Redskins players will “be able to look back and realize we did some pretty special things.” Reeling off seven straight victories to make the playoffs and win the NFC East counts as special.

In going on that run, “We learned how to win,” Alexander said. The idea of Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and Pierre Garcon being on the field together for a full season is tantalizing given what the Redskins accomplished this season, but any look toward the future is on hold because of Griffin’s right knee injury.

If Griffin misses part or all of the 2013 season, growth that the Redskins exhibited could be cut short, giving way to the question mark of backup Kirk Cousins.

But if the focus is just on 2012, there’s a sense of begrudged accomplishment.

“We knew me and Robert could help the offense, could help the team win,” Garcon said. “We didn’t expect to be NFC East champs or we didn’t expect to do anything. We just expected to play well and we wanted to play well, and we did that. It’s a starting point. And hopefully we continue to grow and get better.”

Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan called it “just a taste” of what the Redskins want to do. Bowen, on the other hand, couldn’t get rid of the bitter taste.

“Of course you’re happy that you got to the postseason. But at the end of the day, if you don’t win the Super Bowl, you might as well have went 0-16,” he said. “You’re still a loser. Your goal is not to get to the playoffs; [it’s] to win a championship.”

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