When it comes down to it, the 2012 season will be a referendum on coach Mike Shanahan's future. It was never explicitly stated as such (like Eagles' coach Andy Reid after owner Jeffrey Lurie announced in August that mediocrity was "unacceptable"), but the Redskins mortgaged their future for Robert Griffin III, a move that, through the first six weeks of the season, looked well worth the cost of trading up in the 2012 draft.
But Washington is on a three-game losing streak, most recently an uninspiring 21-13 home defeat at the hands of the previously 1-6 Panthers. And while Griffin remains as good as advertised, he's not going to beat many teams by himself. With injuries to key players (Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker are lost for the season and Pierre Garcon might join them) the Redskins don't have the personnel -- on either side of the ball -- to compete on a weekly basis.
This isn't a secret but it was still shocking to hear Shanahan's post-game comments about the 'Skins, now 3-6 and in last place in the division.
"When you lose a game like that now you're playing to see who is going to be on your football team for years to come," Shanahan said. "Now we get a chance to evaluate players and see where we're at.
"Obviously, we're not out of it statistically, but now we find out what type of character we got and how guys keep on fighting through the rest of the season."
Did Shanahan really give the "We're out of it, now let's see who can earn jobs for next season" speech? In the first week of November when they're tied in the win column with two other teams in the NFC East and have the bye week to regroup? This is, well, insane.
Look, Washington looked awful against a pretty bad Carolina team. But the Giants went 9-7 last season, back-doored their way into the playoffs and won a Super Bowl. The takeaway: You don't start waving the surrender flag a few days after Halloween, especially when the coach is kinda sorta playing for his job.
Here's what former coach Tony Dungy, now a studio analyst for NBC's Football Night in America, had to say about Shanahan's remarks.
"I would (never say that as a coach)," Dungy told host Dan Patrick. "We're still battling, we've got a chance -- the Denver Broncos were 1-4 last year and made the playoffs (Editor's note: not only did the Broncos make the playoffs, they won their division. With Tim Tebow.), I would never tell my team that."
Dungy's studio partner, former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, agreed.
"Coach, if you ever told me that I'd look at you and say 'We have seven games left, why are you giving up on us?'"
It's a fair question, and one someone should put to Shanahan.
"And if you look at the division," Harrison continued, "the Cowboys, the Eagles -- they're not very good. The Giants may be the best team in our division but the Redskins) still have a chance."