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A Daring Challenge To Washington’s Pessimism

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For once, D.C. should have a glass half-full approach to the 2013 NFL season. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.
For once, D.C. should have a glass half-full approach to the 2013 NFL season. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

The Washington Redskins’ 2012 season ended in predictable fashion. Despite all the hope and possibility breathed into the flat-lining franchise by Robert Griffin III, the record-setting season of refreshingly humble RB Alfred Morris and the frantic seven-game winning streak to close the season and secure a division title, it was bound to end in carnage. Over the last 20 years, disaster defines Washington’s professional sports; bad endings and unfulfilled expectations dominate D.C.’s sports menu. Ask any fan or non-partisan observer that’s endured a healthy sample of Washington sports and they’ll swear to an ever-present darkness and report regular sightings of the Grim Reaper (some will even contend he resembles Dr. James Andrews himself). So why on earth would last year’s football season be spared the D.C. curse?   

It wasn’t, of course. For all the good the ‘Skins delivered in 2012, last season’s indelible image is of RGIII’s climatic breakdown. Three-fourths through a fabulous piece of cherry pie, an errant pit met molar and sent shirking pain reverberating through an entire metropolis. The pit, or RGIII’s gruesome and enraging knee re-injury, was foreseeable and, in retrospect, just the latest entry in the perpetually “mostly cloudy” forecast for Washington sports.

D.C.’s a town that has seen the promising Gilbert Arenas era, one that threatened to rescue the moribund Wizards from the NBA’s comic strip, disintegrated after the mishandling of a knee injury (wait, that sounds familiar) and the disturbing presence of guns in the team’s locker room. Then John Wall was going to be the latest franchise savior, until he wasn’t; or at least hasn’t been to date. Someone should apologize to Otto Porter in advance of his career inevitably derailing.

The Capitals, behind the one-time transcendent play of Alex Ovechkin, were supposed to be regular Stanley Cup contenders. In recent seasons, Ovechkin has battled physical fitness issues, his propensity to indulge his love of the nightlife and multiple coaching systems. The result is the man once known as “The Great 8” has regressed from one of the very best to very good, and the Caps have been more marginal playoff participants than Cup contenders.

The plague has spread to consume the Nationals as well. Stephen Strasburg, supposedly Washington’s Roger Clemens or Tom Seaver, blew his elbow out in 2010. After surprising everyone with a NL East title last year, the Nats blew a six-run lead at home — and a two-run lead in the ninth — to the St. Louis Cardinals in the fifth and deciding game in the playoffs. Soothing that heartbreak, though, was the promise of the 2013 season. However, instead of rolling through the regular season in preparation for a run to the World Series, the Nats have faltered under the weight of expectations, the St. Louis hangover and a rash of injuries. They are, as of this writing, a .500 team 80-games into the season and are struggling to remain relevant.

Add all of that undeniable gloom and doom up and the rampant pessimism coursing through the veins of sports fans in the nation’s capital is understandable. In fact, few would argue with a statue of Eeyore being the next historic monument on the National Mall. With that inglorious background and the calamitous playoff loss to Seattle being the last football event committed to memory, it’s no wonder the outlook for the 2013 ‘Skins is contemplated with heavy doses of melancholy and anxiety by those emotionally invested in the team. The ‘Skins offer much to be excited about: RGIII’s recovery, the solid, workmanlike offseason by the front office and a division with no apparently dominant team. For the uninitiated, it’s enough to make wild, naive proclamations about back-to-back division titles, home-field advantage and a trip to New York next winter.

For insufferable D.C. fans, such citations are fool’s gold, the talk of madmen or those partial to hallucinogenic agents. Why would anyone throw caution to the wind and get all giddy about the ‘Skins (or any professional team in this cursed sports outpost)? Such nonsense is wasted emotional effort that will only result in false expectations that, when surely left unfulfilled on Sunday’s throughout the fall, will entice the worst aspects of one’s personality to surface and spill out on an otherwise perfectly calm, G-rated family afternoon. The ‘Skins will win some games, for sure, and they might even be in contention for the NFC East title, but happily ever after will prove evasive (again).   

There’s simply no point in contemplating the potential of this team. Events — unimaginable events — will befall this roster just like every other roster for every other team dating back to the grunge-revolution and Bill Clinton’s first run at the presidency. Just look at the data, all two decades of it. 2013 is going to be undone by injuries and underperformance. By December, fans and pundits will be doing D.C.’s annual rite of the holiday season: assessing another lost year and debating an unpredictable future. D.C. absolutely needed a force of nature like RGIII, but an exorcist may have been more essential (oy vey).

Before such self-loathing consumes ‘Skins nation and shudders any opportunity for an objective analysis, let me ask this of those with hardened and broken hearts: What if that’s not how it goes down? What if those apparently sadistic optimists are right? What if (gasp) everything falls into place for the ‘Skins 2013? Suppose RGIII plays 16 games, the offensive line remains healthy, someone emerges from a lot of mediocre right tackles, the rookies in the secondary vastly improve the pass defense, Pierre Garcon’s toe and Brian Orakpo’s pectoral muscle remain intact, Mike Shanahan coaches like it’s 1998-99 and Dr. James Andrews is never mentioned all season?

Admittedly, the supposition’s significant, but it’s not crazy talk. It’s called positive preseason thinking, and it’s rampant in just about every other NFL locale (except for maybe Cleveland). And so, with D.C.’s defeatist resignation tempered ever so slightly, I again courageously ask this question: If all of it — or at least most it — happens, what’s the ceiling for the 2013 Washington Redskins?

Well, uh … you’re stumped. You never even considered such a football utopia in Washington, D.C. I get it. Truth is, I hadn’t either until this daring assignment forced me out of the box. Now, sailing the sea of good fortune, the ‘Skins seem the prohibitive favorite to win the NFC East. Bold? Inflammatory? Maybe, but again, that assumes a lot of breaks. And if you’re not sold on the ‘Skins winning the East again, then who? Dallas? Do you really think this tenuous cease-fire between Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan is going to survive the peaks and valleys of a NFL season? Of course it isn’t. In fact, it’s the perfect opportunity for Tony Romo to come up small and play his well-worn woe is me, martyr card again. Are you all-in on Philly? Chip Kelly, the most recent NCAA dodger, could be the next Jim Harbaugh — or he could be the NFL reincarnation of Steve Spurrier or Nick Saban. Regardless, he has quite the quarterback quandary and his left tackle, Jason Peters, was recently arrested for drag racing and leading police on a casual, triple-digit chase in the wee hours of the morning. It’s all about character in Philly. I assume the remaining ‘Skins doubters have the Giants returning to NFC East throne. Are you sure about that? How are those contract situations with Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz? And what say you about Ahmad Bradshaw’s and Osi Umenyiora’s departures, Jason Pierre Paul’s back surgery and Justin Tuck being another year longer in the tooth? Besides, can’t we all agree that the Giants will be 9-7-ish with their future determined by how they are trending at season’s end?

With the NFC East title in hand (yes, I have a firm grasp on my half-full 2013 ‘Skins glass), where do the ‘Skins rank among the NFC’s elite? Green Bay has its flaws, didn’t improve significantly and would benefit from less commercial shoots. Atlanta shouldn’t cause a healthy and peaking ‘Skins team to blink either. Frankly, Matt Ryan and gang are a little overrated (personal opinion). Drew Brees will always keep New Orleans in the playoff conversation, but the Saints remain a fatally flawed team. I tried the Rob Ryan Kool-Aid, and it needed more alcohol to be persuasive. The NFC West presents the most significant hiccups to an “it’s all good” ‘Skins squad. First, if Jeff Fisher gets the Rams into the playoffs and they play Washington, it’s over for the ‘Skins. Rose-colored glasses aside, the Rams would beat the ‘Skins no matter the location or circumstances of the game. It’s just one of those things — the Rams own the ‘Skins. And frankly, even in the most favorable of scenarios, I don’t see the ‘Skins beating Seattle or San Francisco in the playoffs. The Seahawks are simply too talented (I love me some Russell Wilson) and the Niners would bring a level of experience and playoff intensity the ‘Skins would have a hard time matching.

Then again, you never know. The ‘Skins had Seattle down 14-0 behind an already limited RGIII in last year’s playoffs. And who had the Ravens winning the Super Bowl in the preseason? Probably more than had them winning it in mid-December. Therein lies the beauty of the NFL … and why we can’t wait for Week 1.