- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

On the heels of being shut out at home for the first time in 10 years, a loss that clinched their fourth straight nonwinning season, the Washington Redskins are coming to terms with the fact that they are now among the NFL’s bottom feeders.

Sunday’s embarrassing 27-0 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field ensured that the Redskins (5-9) will not make the playoffs for the fourth straight year. Even worse, Washington finds itself, for the first time in a long time, in the company of some of the National Football League’s lowliest franchises.

In a league where quick turnarounds have become the standard, Dan Snyder’s team is one of only five clubs assured of back-to-back losing seasons, joining Houston (5-9), Jacksonville (4-10), Detroit (4-10) and Arizona (3-11).

Folks in Washington are not accustomed to being associated with the likes of those struggling organizations.

“All I know is that we have not performed very well,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “We’re 5-9. We don’t have the worst record, but we’re down there amongst them.”

Even more unsettling is the Redskins’ steady decline in the standings over the last five years. From 10-6 in 1999, to 8-8 in 2000 and 2001, to 7-9 last season, Washington has regressed over time. And barring a two-game winning streak against quality opponents in Chicago and Philadelphia to conclude the season, the franchise is looking at least at its worst record since it went 6-10 in 1998. The club has not lost 11 games since going 3-13 in 1994.

“I always thought that coming off last season, we’d come in here strong,” linebacker Jessie Armstead said. “And we did. We just didn’t stay consistent. We didn’t have enough juice to play the season the way it should have been.”

In losing eight of their last 10 games since opening 3-1, the Redskins have not only left themselves with short-term problems, but with long-term ones as well.

In addition to the expected personnel changes this offseason, the club must find a way to keep its best players in-house. The most glaring example involves Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, whose contract expires at the end of the season.

Negotiations on an extension have gone nowhere so far, and yesterday Bailey gave his strongest statement against the club to date. He had no comment when asked about his desire to stay in Washington, but referring to other potential free agents, said: “I know I wouldn’t want to go to an organization where teams are just losing and have no chance.”

While personnel moves seem inevitable, it remains to be seen whether the changes spill over into the coaching ranks.

Despite his 12-18 record since being hired by Mr. Snyder, Spurrier appears to be safe. The coach still has three years and $15 million remaining on his contract, and Mr. Snyder is not likely to give all that money away by firing Spurrier. Furthermore, Spurrier has maintained he plans to return for a third season in Washington.

Pressure from management will likely come for changes among Spurrier’s staff of assistants, however, which could lead to tension between coach and owner. And if the Redskins proceed to fall flat in the season’s final two games as they did Sunday, both Mr. Snyder and Spurrier could have a hard time justifying a “stay the course” plan.

Spurrier admitted yesterday he worries how the club’s poor record might reflect on his own performance as coach.

“Sure, we all do,” he said. “Whatever your record is, it is. I’ve always said that. No matter if your whole team got hurt or what, you are whatever your record is for that year. That’s what we have to accept and move on.”

The Redskins’ last chance at a respectable record would require a drastic turnaround in the season’s final two weeks.

“We ended the season last year with two wins,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. “It makes it that much better when you can finish the season at least with wins instead of losses. We have two games left. We’re not giving up, I can tell you that.”

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