Occasionally, Perry Riley will head home after a day at Redskins Park and turn on his television, looking to have something sports-related on in the background.
Not Wednesday. After the Washington Redskins shut down starting quarterback Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season and coach Mike Shanahan gave an impassioned press conference defending many of the decisions he’s made over the years, Riley knew he had to find something else.
“History Channel, Discovery Channel,” Riley said. “I tried to stay away from SportsCenter or NFL Network. It’s not looking too good for us on those channels.”
The noise has been too much to overcome for the better part of the week, starting with the Redskins’ miserable showing in a 45-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. Shanahan spent much of his press conferences on Monday and Wednesday alluding to possibly benching, and then benching, the team’s franchise quarterback.
With what all parties had to say out of the way, Thursday, then, was supposed to be a chance for the Redskins to return to normalcy. Fewer reporters showed up at the team’s practice facility and even fewer made it into the locker room, with questions about the upcoming road game against the Atlanta Falcons taking precedence over the drama and hubbub of the previous several days.
There were no live television updates on the networks from outside the facility. Satellite trucks, parked just outside the front door two of the last three days, stayed away.
And, for their part, players tried to stay away from it all, too.
“Most of the people on this team don’t really let it get to us or bother us anyway,” said wide receiver Joshua Morgan. “We try to stay together as a team, stick together as a unit regardless. I mean, we’re always just trying to focus on practice. You never bring stuff from outside the locker room into the locker room, and you never take stuff from work home. I mean, you’ve got to separate the two.”
For much of the past two seasons, Shanahan has emphasized that the Redskins have a locker room full of players with high character values and an ability to focus on the task at hand.
Strong safety Reed Doughty, who has only experienced two winning seasons during his seven-plus years with the Redskins, believes his teammates have been able to do that.
“I watch my game film the same way and prepare the same way,” Doughty said. “I mean, if you’re not, you’re wrong. I don’t know how to play other than that way. Unfortunately, I’ve been around some situations where we’ve been out of the playoffs a couple times and we press on. You find a way to make yourself better, a way to improve yourself for next year and you improve the team. … Whatever it is, playing your best football is always best for yourself and your team.”
The Falcons, like the Redskins expected to contend for a division title this season, are also 3-10. It’s the first time in Mike Smith’s six seasons as the Falcons’ coach that the team won’t finish with a winning record, yet reports of fractured locker rooms, rifts between coaches and ownership and other chicanery haven’t emanated from their facility.
“I’m a very positive person, and I think that you have to be transparent with your team in terms of when things are going well and when things are not going well,” Smith said. “We have collectively contributed to the success that we’ve had, and we’ve collectively contributed to the season that we’re having this year. … I think when you have that type of communication between the different parts of the organization and everybody takes accountability for it, it makes it a lot easier.”
Cousins, who on Wednesday took the first-team reps at quarterback for the first time during the season, did so again during the Redskins’ two-hour practice on Thursday. He will remain the starter through the rest of the season; Shanahan said even if Cousins or Rex Grossman were to get injured during the final three games, the team would sign another quarterback to be the backup and would not turn back to Griffin.
The team, then, must move forward behind Cousins. The Falcons have a defense that ranks in the bottom third of the league, and Riley is aware quarterback Matt Ryan and the sixth-ranked passing offense can still pose a challenge for a Redskins defense that has struggled to stop anyone through the air all year.
“As a player, all I want to do is play ball,” Riley said. “I’m not worrying about coach’s problems or anybody else’s problems. I’m just worrying about what I have to do as a player, and you know, that’s what I like to focus on.”