- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 1, 2012

PHILADELPHIA — The Washington Redskins put the 2011 season out of its misery Sunday. Before (just guessing here) 40,000 occasionally interested fans at Lincoln Financial Field, they were pounded 34-10 by the Philadelphia Eagles — who also had nothing to play for, but had better players to do it with.

The game was replete with a blocked field goal attempt (Graham Gano’s fifth of the season), a breakdown in the secondary that resulted in a long touchdown pass, a pair of senseless 15-yard penalties by two veteran receivers who should know better (Santana Moss, Donte Stallworth), a shanked punt — all the special touches you’d look for from a 5-11 team that’s shutting it down for the year.

In a lot of ways, it was like so many Redskins games in recent seasons. The club did a few good things - such as Evan Royster, in his NFL second start, rushing for 100 yards again and showing signs of being a serviceable back - but did even more things that make Redskins Nation go screaming into the night.

Regardless of what happened to the team this year — the injuries (especially on offense), the Lost Weekends when John Beck was the quarterback, the suspensions of Trent Williams and Fred Davis, and all the rest - the Redskins didn’t end in a very good place. After a surprise road win over the New York Giants in Week 15, they closed out the season by losing to the previously 2-12 Minnesota Vikings and then the Eagles. Worse, they saw their respectably middle-of-the road defense give up 67 points in those final two games.

The latter made Brian Orakpo’s postgame remarks ring a little hollow. Orakpo missed the second half with a left-shoulder injury that will require an MRI, but he offered the opinion that the unit has “the core guys we can build off of.” The fact that one of those “core guys” is a going-on-37 inside linebacker (London Fletcher) tells you all you need to know about where the defense — and the Redskins in general — are right now.

That is, a long way from where they need to be to be taken seriously in this league.

Indeed, you spent much of the fourth quarter — when the Redskins gave up 21 points and had it “kinda get away from us,” according to Fletcher — wondering how many players you were seeing in a Washington uniform for the last time. Will Fletcher, a free agent, be back? Heck, after 33 losses the past three seasons, will he want to be back? Will O.J. Otogwe, who was at the scene of one of the crimes Sunday (the 62-yard heave from Michael Vick to DeSean Jackson that made it 20-10), return for a second year after a disappointing (and injury-filled) debut?

What about Moss? He just followed one of his best years with the Redskins with arguably his worst. Does he have a future with this team at 33 (which he’ll be in June), or will Mike Shanahan feel the need to replace him with a younger playmaker? Think about it: When you go 6-10 and 5-11 in your first two seasons with a club, as Shanny has, how many guys are really untouchable?

The coach, who has seen his past five teams miss the playoffs (three in Denver, two here), envisioned “adding a few pieces on offense … [and] a few people on defense.” One of those pieces, obviously, is a quarterback. Better quarterbacking could make plenty of problems go away, first and foremost the offense’s continual difficulties in the red zone. The Redskins came up short in that area again Sunday, managing just one field goal the three times they were inside the Philadelphia 20.

But for the QB to make the impact he needs to make, the offensive line has to be a good deal more protective of him than it was of Rex Grossman this year. Grossman never will win any accuracy contests; but when you go 22 for 45, as he did against the Eagles, it’s more than just him. It’s his blockers, too.

What’s disconcerting is that there are still times — too many times — when the Redskins don’t seem like a very smart club … or a well-coached one. The penalties Moss and Stallworth (combined age: 63) picked up against the Eagles for (a) disputing a non-call on the Philly goal line with 23 seconds left in the first half, and (b) celebrating a touchdown too vociferously are simply dumbfounding. No team that’s as offensively challenged as the Redskins can afford brain freezes like that. It not a matter of whether the player is right and the official is wrong. It’s a matter of being a professional. It’s a matter of having a clue.

The fire drill in the final few ticks of the first half, though, reflects poorly on everybody, from Shanahan on down. You can’t be at the opponent’s 15-yard line with 16 seconds to go and not at least get a field goal in the air. Yes, the Redskins‘ radio communications were on the blink. Yes, they were out of timeouts. Yes, there was a certain amount of confusion on the part of some players. Even so … this is the NFL, isn’t it?

For the Redskins, 2012 began the way 2011 ended, with an unsightly loss and a laundry list of questions that Shanahan may or may not find answers for between now and September. It promises to be an interesting offseason, that’s for darn sure. But then, isn’t it always?

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