This certainly wasn’t how the Redskins envisioned Week 17 at the beginning of the year. But as in each of the previous three seasons, the Redskins will spend January watching 12 other teams compete for the Lombardi Trophy.
A meaningless New Year's Day finale against the Philadelphia Eagles will round out another difficult season in Washington – one in which injuries, a lack of talent and heartbreaking defeats were the norm. Year Two of the Mike Shanahan era began with such promise as the Redskins went 3-1 out of the gate only to crumble, losing nine of their last 11.
All the losses have raised the level of speculation in regard to a shakeup of either the roster or coaching staff. The fanbase’s frustration has increased dramatically with a six-game losing streak leaving the team out the playoff picture early and forcing Shanahan to play the what-if game.
“Any time you’re not winning, it’s pretty slow, especially when you’re not in the playoff hunt,” Shanahan said. “I think if you look back, you look at the opportunities we had to close games out that we didn’t close.”
Washington has blown several potential wins with late-game gaffes. Those might have made a difference in a weak NFC East, but with the margin for error so slight, Washington was just too turnover and mistake-prone to pull them out.
Certainly there was progression especially from a revamped defense, but anyone who tuned into a Redskins game this year can attest to the need for a franchise quarterback and more consistent playmakers on both sides of the ball. Still, the franchise appears to be headed in the right direction with Shanahan shifting the emphasis towards a younger, more dedicated roster.
“I like the nucleus of our team,” said Shanahan. “We’re younger. I think we’ve got a great attitude and we’re going in the right direction. Hopefully, we can play accordingly this weekend.”
While Shanahan was able to put a positive spin on his team’s future, Andy Reid isn’t in such a fortunate position. Like Washington, the Eagles are simply playing for pride at this point, but the expectations for them were much higher. The trendy pick to win the NFC, Philadelphia’s collection of handsomely paid star athletes collapsed in Redskins-like fashion and will play one more game in front of a merciless home crowd before escaping Lincoln Financial Field to tend to their damaged egos.
That’s the key difference between the two teams at the moment. Recently, Philadelphia has been the team with an exceptional front office that has made it a perennial contender. But now the master plan is shattered and the Eagles are no longer as stable a franchise as they once were.
Meanwhile it’s the Redskins – known for their dysfunction – who will enter 2012 with a sense of purpose. Shanahan has ensured his team remains committed to his philosophies and that’s why this group has maintained such passion and a desire to win throughout a trying season.
It’s why they’ll come prepared to compete in an insignificant game on Sunday.
“I see a big difference than two years ago,” Shanahan said. “We still need to improve from where we’re at right now. Our record obviously dictates that, but I feel good about the football team and the direction we’re headed.”