- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It could be worse for fans of the Washington Redskins as they face the prospect of their team’s first 4-12 season in 15 years.

The team could move.

That’s what happened to the Los Angeles Rams, who went 4-12 in 1994 and promptly relocated to St. Louis.

The Redskins aren’t going anywhere, although diehards still favor an eventual return to the District. They’ll be in Landover next September when (most likely) a fifth full-time head coach will begin his work for owner Dan Snyder.

But is there hope for teams that go 4-12? Can they turn it around in a calendar year to win a division, make a playoff run or even win the Super Bowl?

History says no.

Although the Redskins may upset San Diego on Sunday to finish with five wins, an analysis of how four-win teams fare the following year does not bode well for 2010.

Dating back 22 years, 50 teams have finished with a four-win season (4-12, 4-11 or 4-11-1). Just nine teams (18 percent) improved enough the following year to make the playoffs. Two made the Super Bowl - Cincinnati lost in January 1988 and St. Louis won in January 2000. Only three others won a postseason game.

What did those teams do to correct their course so quickly? Here’s a look.

ATLANTA (2008)

Previous year: The Falcons tumbled to the bottom of the NFC South with losing streaks of three, three and six games. Quarterback Michael Vick was suspended for dogfighting, and new coach Bobby Petrino abandoned the team with three games remaining to take the Arkansas job.

The turnaround: Atlanta owner Arthur Blank was bold, going with the new general manager/coach/quarterback model. Personnel chief Rich McKay was moved into the team president role, replaced by Thomas Dimitroff. The new general manager hired Mike Smith as head coach and 12 new assistants. The Falcons signed running back Michael Turner (1,699 yards rushing), drafted four players - including quarterback Matt Ryan - who are now starters, and jettisoned veterans DeAngelo Hall and Alge Crumpler. The Falcons went 11-5 to secure a wild-card berth and lost at Arizona in the playoffs.

TAMPA BAY (2007)

Previous year: The Buccaneers started 0-4 and averaged just 13.2 points a game as the offense went through three quarterbacks who attempted at least 100 passes. The offense broke - 31st in yards per play, points and yards per completion.

The turnaround: Tampa Bay went 9-7 to win the NFC South and lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the opening round. Feeling the heat, coach Jon Gruden signed 37-year old Jeff Garcia to play quarterback, and he responded with 13 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 94.6 passer rating. By the end of the year, the Buccaneers had 23 players who weren’t with the team in 2006, but the key was Garcia and a little luck - defensive end Greg White, a former Arena League player, was signed during camp and contributed 50 tackles and eight sacks.


Previous year: The Herm Edwards era ended because of a seven-game losing streak following a 2-3 start. The Jets’ offense was one of the NFL’s worst (second-to-last in yards, last in time of possession and 29th in points scored). The Jets used five quarterbacks.

The turnaround: Coach Eric Mangini arrived, and the Jets adopted sideline and scheme changes, cutting ties with many veterans and switching to a 3-4 defense. The Jets went 10-6 to reach the playoffs despite being ranked 25th in offense, 20th in defense and 18th in points scored. The key was keeping quarterback Chad Pennington healthy for the entire year. New York lost at New England in the first round.

SAN DIEGO (2004)

Previous year: The Chargers had no problems on offense; they were seventh in scoring and first in yards per rushing attempt. But the defense was abused, finishing 27th in yards allowed and 31st in points allowed. It was the team’s 16th nonwinning season in 20 years.

The turnaround: Point to the big trade and a new coordinator as the reasons the Chargers went 12-4 and won the AFC West (before losing to the Jets in the first round). San Diego drafted first overall, but Eli Manning wanted nothing to do with Southern California. The Manning trade netted Philip Rivers (who sat), but kicker Nate Kaeding, center Nick Hardwick and defensive end Igor Olshansky played big roles. Wade Phillips was hired as defensive coordinator, and the Chargers improved to 10th in yards and third in points allowed to complement LaDainian Tomlinson (17 rushing TDs) and Drew Brees (27 TDs, 104.8 rating).

ST. LOUIS (1999)

The previous year: An anemic offense averaged just 17.8 points and was 22nd or worst in nearly all of the major statistical categories, negating a top-10 effort by the Rams’ defense (including third against the pass).

The turnaround: One of the most improbable sports stories ever produced a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl title. It was made possible by a monster trade, a new play caller, a great first-round pick, an infusion of youth on defense and a lightning bolt of good luck. The trade: Marshall Faulk arrived from Indianapolis and had 2,429 all-purpose yards. The new play caller: Former Redskins assistant Mike Martz was hired as coordinator, and the Rams averaged 33 points. The draft pick: Torry Holt was selected in the first round and caught 52 passes. The youth on defense: Youngsters Grant Wistrom and London Fletcher were first-year starters. The luck: Free agent acquisition Trent Green went down in the preseason, and little-known Kurt Warner stepped in to throw 49 touchdowns.

ARIZONA (1998)

The previous year: More of the same for the Cardinals, but there was a glimmer of hope late in the year when rookie quarterback Jake Plummer replaced Kent Graham and threw 15 touchdowns. Arizona couldn’t run (30th) and couldn’t protect the quarterback (a whopping 78 sacks allowed).

The turnaround: The Cardinals won their final three games to finish 9-7 and then won at Dallas before losing to Minnesota in the playoffs. The running game and pass protection were keys. Adrian Murrell arrived from the Jets and rushed for 1,042 yards, and the Cardinals reduced their sacks allowed to 50. The defense intercepted 20 passes. The playoff win was the franchise’s first since December 1947.


The previous year: In their inaugural year, the Jaguars lost their first four games and later suffered through a seven-game losing streak. Jacksonville ranked 28th out of 30 teams in points allowed. Quarterback Mark Brunell, in his first chance as a starter, threw 15 touchdowns and averaged 7.2 yards per rush on 67 carries.

The turnaround: The Jaguars went 4-7 before reeling off five consecutive wins to clinch a wild-card spot. Jacksonville won at Buffalo and stunned top-seed Denver before losing the AFC title game to New England. Free agent additions were a big reason for the improvement. The Jaguars added right tackle Leon Searcy, linebacker Eddie Williams and receivers Keenan McCardell and Andre Rison. First-round pick Kevin Hardy was an immediate starter at strongside linebacker. The biggest difference was Brunell. Although he had more interceptions (20) than touchdowns (19), he completed 63.4 percent of his passes and scrambled for 396 yards.

SAN DIEGO (1992)

The previous year: The Chargers averaged 4.8 yards per carry but did little else well to post a fourth consecutive losing season. Coach Dan Henning was fired.

The turnaround: The combination of a rookie NFL coach, new quarterback and veteran defensive coordinator - all hired by Bobby Beathard - led to an 11-5 record, an AFC West title and a 1-1 record in the playoffs. Bobby Ross arrived from Georgia Tech… and promptly went 0-4. But the Chargers finished 11-1 in their last 12 games. Stan Humphries replaced an injured John Friesz and threw 16 touchdowns. The defense was sparked by coordinator Bill Arnsparger, who ended an eight-year retirement. The Chargers jumped from 19th to fourth in yards.


The previous year: During the strike year, the Bengals limped to a 4-11 finish, and Sam Wyche entered 1988 on the hot seat. Wyche’s season was marred by a fourth-down decision that backfired in a loss to San Francisco and a testy relationship with quarterback Boomer Esiason.

The turnaround: By going 12-4 and losing to San Francisco in the Super Bowl, the Bengals stood relatively pat; their biggest addition was second-round pick Ickey Woods, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry and scored 15 touchdowns. Esiason threw 28 touchdowns and posted a 97.4 rating, and the Bengals’ offense was first in total yards, rushing yards, yards per completion and scoring. Second-year safety Eric Thomas intercepted seven passes in his first season as a starter.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide