- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Washington Redskins‘ season starts Sunday against the New York Giants.

It’s a six-game season. As hard as it may seem to digest — particularly after Sunday’s embarrassing 44-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers — the playoffs are still there for the taking for this team.

That was Jay Gruden’s message Monday when he met with reporters.

“We have a six-game stretch here where we have everything we want to accomplish still available to us,” he said. “It’s something that hasn’t happened around here for some time.”

Well, some time is just actually three years ago. I know Gruden wasn’t here, but there was the 3-7 record after 10 games in 2012 that led to a seven-game winning streak, a 10-6 record and the NFC East division title.

Robert Griffin III may be inactive, but Redskins fans still remember that season. Of course, then-coach Mike Shanahan’s message was a little bit different at the time, when he declared now it was time to evaluate who would be on the team moving forward.

Maybe 4-6 seems that much brighter.

“I think everybody’s going to be excited about the chance to be tied for first after this game on Sunday, a home game against the New York Giants,” Gruden said. “We also have to understand that we’ve got to do a lot of things better and more consistent.”

They’ve done that at times, and then other times, not. There remains, as Gruden called it, the “search for consistency.”

“There’s a lot to look forward to in this season,” he said. “However, the one thing we want to focus in on is ourselves and our fundamentals, how we prepare and all that stuff. When we turn the ball over five times, have nine or 10 penalties, miss tackles, there’s no point in looking forward, you know what I mean? We have to look at ourselves very closely, Xs and Os-wise, as coaches and as players individually from a fundamental standpoint, [to] do what we can do to get better and protect our football team and eliminate the self-inflicted wounds.

“If we can do that, we’ve shown that we can be pretty good. We’ve shown that we can be pretty bad. It’s unreal how good we’ve been and how bad we’ve been all in the same season within a week of each other. We know the capabilities that this team has, but we have to make sure that we continue to focus in on the fundamentals of football — protecting the football, penalties and, obviously, tackling.”

The Redskins are not a good football team, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play well. They are not a playoff team, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make the playoffs. It happens all the time in the NFL.

The Redskins weren’t a good football team in 2012, but they played well enough over a stretch of games — led by the dynamic play of Griffin — to make the playoffs. We all know what happened then — the knee injury to Griffin and then the demise of the Shanahan regime.

Torn knee ligaments or not, since then, we’ve learned that despite the rookie of the year performance by Griffin, it didn’t necessarily mean this team was moving in the right direction. Griffin had major issues, on and off the field, that would get in the way of the growth of the team, as well as a continued record of poor personnel decisions with general manager Bruce Allen involved in the decision-making process.

Then there were the two previous playoff appearances under Joe Gibbs in 2005 and 2007 — the 5-6 team in 2005 that won five consecutive games and made the playoffs with at 10-6, and the 2007 squad with the 5-7 record that won four in a row and made the playoffs at 9-7.

They weren’t good teams, but they played well over stretch of games — and they weren’t playoff teams, but they made the playoffs.

Gruden is mistaken. This is something that has been seen by Redskins fans three times over the past 10 years. They represent the brief moments of joy in what has been a joyless existence.

If Gruden’s team starts one of the stretches of playing well Sunday against the Giants, will it be the start of another of those moments of joy in a joyless existence? Or will it finally be a meaningful change of direction for this franchise?

Will a march toward the playoffs this season finally mean the aura of self destruction has lifted from Redskins Park?

The answer to that is named Scot McCloughan.

Will the general manager be strong and smart enough to change the Redskins success from a six-game stretch of playing well to a 16-game season of consistency — and beyond?

⦁ Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.


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