Bruce Allen gripped both sides of a black-topped lectern at the front of the Washington Redskins’ team meeting room in early 2010, hours after the organization announced it had fired coach Jim Zorn.
Allen, hired three weeks earlier as the team’s general manager, espoused platitudes about leadership and passion and success. He championed a commitment to winning, noting that consecutive fourth-place finishes in the four-team NFC East was unacceptable for a team with the proud tradition of the Redskins.
“We’re going to make sure that status quo is gone,” Allen said at the time. “We’re going to change the way that we’ve done business.”
Nearly five years later, the Redskins will wrap up yet another rueful season Sunday, hosting the rival Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field. They ended a six-game losing streak last weekend by defeating the Philadelphia Eagles, giving them four victories through 15 games — one more than they had in 2013.
They will have finished in last place in the division for the second consecutive season and the sixth time in the past seven years. Their 49 victories during that span are the eighth fewest among the league’s 32 teams; the New England Patriots, by comparison, have won 100.
From 1982, when they won their first Super Bowl, through 1991, when they won their most recent, they lost 45 games. In the five seasons after Allen’s proclamation — including this one — the Redskins have lost 51.
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If the status quo Allen was referring to included hope that the Redskins could contend annually for a playoff spot, he was right. It’s gone.
“I don’t get used to it, but I don’t let it bother me, you know what I mean?” said wide receiver Santana Moss, who’s in his 10th season with the Redskins. “It hurts, and it [stinks], but when it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be, and you’ve got to make sure you have another game to try again.”
This season was supposed to be about rebuilding for the Redskins, who deposed coach Mike Shanahan, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and a handful of assistants on Dec. 30, 2013, then hired Jay Gruden as coach 10 days later.
Still, that plan didn’t account for the Redskins taking a step back. Entering Sunday’s game, they rank in the bottom half of all teams in 23 of the 36 major statistical categories tracked by the league. They’ve endured 15 season-ending injuries, including 10 to defensive players.
“When you start losing starters, then your backups have become starters, and then you’re looking to fill the backup roles,” Gruden said. “Those backups who become starters were key special teams guys, and then you have to fill special teams. It’s a domino effect. It’s a tough thing to go through.”
Gruden inherited a dire situation. The Redskins had significant questions about the talent at a number of positions — namely at quarterback, where Robert Griffin III, the apparent future of the franchise when he was drafted in 2012, was hampered by surgery on his right knee for much his second season.
Griffin has clearly not been the player he was during his rookie year, which was the only season in recent years when the Redskins tasted a measure of success. They finished the season with seven consecutive victories to qualify for the playoffs and capture the division title for the first time in 13 years.
Griffin has struggled to adapt to Gruden’s offense, then spent six weeks recovering after dislocating his left ankle in a Sept. 14 victory over Jacksonville. When the Redskins won Saturday, it was the first victory for Griffin in a complete game since midway through last season.
“The second you start to accept losing, you should stop playing,” Griffin said. “It should always make you upset. It should always make you feel a certain type of way.”
How the Redskins can emerge from such chaos remains uncertain. By current projections, Washington will have approximately $15 million in salary cap space for next year, but will have to make decisions on the future of a number of players — including wide receiver Pierre Garcon, outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Jason Hatcher.
Allen, who was promoted to the role of team president in May, has turned down frequent interview requests and has said only that he will speak after the season. Dan Snyder, boastful and loquacious during his first decade as the Redskins’ owner, has also declined multiple interview requests through a team spokesman.
That has left Gruden, who consistently won games as a coach toiling various minor leagues, to answer for many of the Redskins’ inadequacies — and pray for the future.
“The guys that we do bring back here, I think they come back here with a little bit more confidence, a little bit more excitement to get back to work, as opposed to [finishing the year with] a nine-game losing streak,” Gruden said. “I think when you see results based off your preparation and your work, I think it will entice people to work a little bit harder in the offseason and get back to work.”