Disappointment swirled through stuffy air in the Redskins locker room at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.
Pierre Garcon could hardly spit out a complete sentence.
Trent Williams complained about an official’s mean-spirited comments while teammates warned him to quiet down.
DeAngelo Hall couldn’t figure out where everything wrong.
The dank room made the extravagant, unbridled expectations that followed these Redskins into the season seem flat-out silly.
Remember the easy talk of double-digit victories?
Remember when Dr. James Andrews declared Robert Griffin III’s recovery from knee surgery “superhuman” and the self-aggrandizing August documentary about the rehabilitation seemed quaint?
Remember the trendy predictions of a deep run into the postseason?
Remember glaring weaknesses on the 53-man roster, from returning kicks to the offensive line to the defensive backfield, being explained away because if the Redskins emerged from last season with 10 wins, the next time around would only improve, right?
Hindsight, of course, makes this year’s still-unfolding 3-7 debacle easy to see coming. Same for the crush of unmet expectations. So desperate is Washington for a consistent winner that the cycle is predictable. Build up a team. Paper over the flaws. Suck the marrow from every bit of success and forget, if only for a moment, that the good times may be more illusion than reality. That the bad old days of struggle may not be as distant as hoped.
The lesson in disappointment and tempered expectations isn’t new. Not in a city thrust back into the well-worn position of another lost season.
Not so long ago, one strike separated the Nationals from the National League Championship Series. They then tore through the offseason, winning trades and press conferences, as general manager Mike Rizzo transformed a good roster to a great one. At least that’s what we all thought. The question wasn’t how if they’d make the postseason, but if the once-moribund franchise would win the World Series.
Who could argue?
The expectations couldn’t survive 162 games, replete with key injuries, an erratic bullpen, inconsistent offense and bench that did less than the inflatable “Air Screech” mascot.
This is the price of hype and the crushing disappointment that usually follows.
All that has been taken to a different level as these Redskins discover new, more creative ways to fritter away Sunday afternoons. Even in the finger-pointing is an implicit belief that this team is better, much better, than the record. Griffin has said as much. But that belief, however well-intentioned, doesn’t change the record and slew of crooked statistics that say the Redskins aren’t a good football team.
But were the expectations that surrounded (and encouraged by) the Redskins justified in the first place?
Griffin looks like a second-year quarterback who spent his offseason rehabbing his knee instead of refining his passing skills. This shouldn’t be surprising. He stares down receivers, locks onto his first read and holds the ball too long in an offense that no longer bewilders the rest of the NFL as it did last season.
The passive-aggressive back-and-forth between the quarterback and coach Mike Shanahan has seeped into the regular season, down to suggesting the Eagles knew what plays were coming Sunday. But the team’s problems are too broad-based to put on the right arm of one player.
And the coach, in the fourth year of a five-year contract, believes the franchise is headed in the right direction.
The organization is thoroughly his and, ultimately, so is the responsibility. The season-long struggle to tackle — yes, tackle — reflects either on coaching or personnel on the NFL’s second-oldest roster. The befuddling reliance on a series of untested return men for punts and kickoffs. Special teams woes of every sort imaginable, from allowing a quarter of the NFL’s punt returns for touchdowns to saddling the offense with the league’s worst starting field position.
Sure, the NFL-imposed salary cap penalty can explain some of the 53-man roster’s startling lack of depth. But cash, as this franchise proved bloated contract after bloated contract, isn’t a panacea. Even money Shanahan invested in free agency — O.J. Atogwe and Josh Morgan — hasn’t always worked out. But ultimately, that’s just an excuse. One shelved as the breathless preseason predictions were made and conveniently pulled out once the season disintegrated.
The temptation is to point to the last season’s seven-game win streak that sent the Redskins to the playoffs as evidence that all this failure is an aberration, that an able football team lurks amid the mistakes and rationalizations. Just because something worked before doesn’t mean it will again.
But expectations once again smacked into reality. There aren’t answers. Just stuffy locker rooms and far-off hopes.