- - Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Washington Redskins are 2-2 and in first place in the NFC East.

Yes, they have an opponent coming to Ghost Town Field Sunday in the Carolina Panthers that could give them a beatdown somewhere between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts. But after that, based on the evidence to date, they arguably are looking at wins the following weeks against two teams trailing them, the Dallas Cowboys at home and the New York Giants on the road.

So it is perfectly reasonable to assume that after seven games, these Redskins could have a 4-3 record — not a bad place to be in today’s NFL after seven games. Granted, they are coming off another Monday night shame fest, a 43-19 loss to the Saints, where everything looked bad. But no one seriously expected a victory in New Orleans, so at 2-2 they are what most could have reasonably hoped for after four games. And, given the early collapse of the NFC East, first place in the same division as the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles should qualify as a pleasant surprise.

So why does it feel like the Washington Redskins are the worst, most pathetic, most embarrassing franchise in the NFL? Why is the air around here filled with toxic gloom and doom about the hometown football team?

It is the inevitable result when an organization that relies on public faith and trust having neither anymore. It is the result of a long record of crimes and misdemeanors perpetuated against their fans, who maybe finally have decided to stop being victims and instead serve as judge and jury for Daniel Snyder and his train wreck of an NFL franchise.

The sentence? Empty seats. Apathy. And if there is any passion to be found, it is anger.

They have earned this sentence.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden seems like he can sense it. He hasn’t gone as far as declaring Sunday’s game against the Panthers as a “Code Red,” but he sees that things are not normal right now for a first-place team. “We have a cloud looming over our head with a lot of issues right now that we have to clean up,” he told reporters this week at Redskins Park. “I have faith that this veteran team will clean it up and they won’t accept that game. But we do have to learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Here’s what an elementary school kid would have learned from that loss to the Saints — that new quarterback Alex Smith needs a lot of things to go right to be successful — in particular a reliable running game. And that if the Redskins fall behind, it may be time to head for the exits.

Gruden acknowledged his team struggled trying to come from behind in both losses. He said they got “punched in the mouth early” against Indianapolis, and had no answer after falling behind early against New Orleans.

“We had some chances to get back in the game, but we just didn’t make the plays that presented themselves,” Gruden said following the New Orleans loss.

The coach also came up with what may be the most honest Redskins marketing slogan to date: “We, actually, probably, wallowed around in our own crap for too long, worried about the last play instead of moving on to the next play, as a whole group.”

Smith — the guy presumably responsible for leading the offense in any possible comeback — pretty much suggested this week that this offense may not be equipped for comeback football. “We didn’t have much success early,” he said. “Got down. The crowd got going. All of a sudden we got one-dimensional and those guys feasting. They know it’s a pass situation, so it kinds of becomes worse. If you do have some success early, you keep the game balanced, you can handle that better.”

The issue is obvious, even if Gruden and Smith won’t say so.

First, Washington does not have a quick-strike offense. Even if they are able to use their best offensive weapons — tight end Jordan Reed and running back Chris Thompson — those plays are small chunk plays, requiring long drives and time off the clock. It’s a great offense when you have the lead and want to protect it.

Secondly — and more problematic — this team is a sore shoulder away from having no running game to help Smith. If 33-year-old Adrian Peterson and his injured shoulder can’t be counted on for 15 to 20 carries a game, Smith becomes a target rather than a quarterback. There is no Plan B. They won’t even give Samaje Perine a uniform on Sundays.

If Peterson isn’t available for the next three games, that 4-3 record after seven games scenario is an illusion. Then the Redskins’ gloom and doom will match the results.

⦁ You can hear Thom Loverro with on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and also on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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