EAST RUTHERFORD NJ - DECEMBER 05: Donovan McNabb #5 of the Washington Redskins looks on against the New York Giants on December 5 2010 at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford New Jersey. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
In a game of nasty weather, ugly miscues and the most inexcusable special teams mistake possible, there were a lot of images that will make Redskins fans -- and the organization -- cringe.
But one image stands out above all.
An empty stadium.
I wasn't at the game -- but after having season tickets for 11 years (my family stopped shelling out several grand a year after the first Zorn year and too many frustrated hour-long rides back to Baltimore) -- I have been to over 100 games at FedEx. I've seen teams that were 0-5, some even 3-13, and only one playoff game (1999, a win over Robert Porcher's Lions. That's right, a playoff game between the Redskins and Lions).
We've been blown out, beaten when we're down, and publicly humiliated. But I have never seen a Redskins stadium like that. Attendance was listed at 66,124. But it dipped significantly (cut in half?) at halftime -- when the Redskins were leading 10-9!
Dan Steinberg has photos, but anyone who watched the broadcast Sunday saw the evidence themselves. If I were in Ken's position, I would have done exactly what he did. And frankly, I wouldn't blame anyone else who did.
So what's the problem? Why is there less excitement now than there was in the early Norv Turner era? Even the early Gibbs era, when the Redskins finished an eerily similar 5-11?
There's one word to define the Redskins franchise. It's not a pleasant one. I'm searching for another word, but all I can think of is this. To couch the impact of this word, I am now on record saying I believe completely the Redskins will bounce back sometime in Shanahan's tenure.
But in summary, the state of the 2010 Redskins is this:
I'm aware that's a powerful word. It's one that I have never used about this franchise. In fact, I don't know if I've used it for any DC franchise. Even last year's Wizards had the promise of next year's high draft pick, which matters much more in basketball than football, along a change in ownership and philosophy and young guys like McGee and Young. Elsewhere? Mid-2000's Lions, maybe. Post-Ripken Orioles, at least until a few years ago.
Hopelessness is worse than anger, worse than disappointment. It's the (only) job of a fan to remain unconditionally hopeful.
But when you look at the Redskins, it's hard to see a reason to attend games.
There are many worse teams in the NFL than the Redskins. Not coincidentally, we've lost to a few of them. I'd say the 'Skins have better top-to-bottom talent than the Lions, the Bills, the entire NFC West, and several other squads.
But the Redskins are the current product of a failed philosophy, and it has been backwards for so long that a recovery is going to take a long time. The Redskins have been using band-aids for gashing wounds for so long that eventually the entire product has critical injuries abound.
We all know this.
On the entire team, there are so few young, exciting players. One of them, who had a chance to start in the Pro Bowl, just went to the IR. That's a huge blow for an already devastated defense and fanbase.
The question is, who can Mike Shanahan really consider to be his foundation moving forward, for the duration of his tenure, on the entire team? Trent Williams, Brian Orakpo, Brandon Banks, LaRon Landry, DeAngelo Hall (maybe)... is that it?
I love London Fletcher. That guy will have my complete support for the HOF when he decides he's had enough. Santana Moss and Clinton Portis -- I consider them to be the most beloved Redskins of this era; in addition to their performance, considering the way they reacted to the death of our favorite son, Sean Taylor. I will forever support Philip Daniels, Anthony Armstrong, Andre Carter, and even Donovan McNabb. There are a few others. But these guys aren't going to be around much longer, either on the team or in the NFL. They know it. The franchise knows it. And now, finally, the fans know it.
The team isn't only bad this year. It's old. There is no "core" to this team that about whom Redskins fans can say, "Ok, this isn't our year, but wait till a few years from now when so-and-so and so-and-so hit their primes!"
The Lions can say that. Shoot, the Bills can say that (Stevie Johnson, CJ Spiller, Fred Jackson...). The Wizards, Nationals, Capitals, Terps, Hoyas (and Orioles if anyone still likes them) all have something to look forward to, even if this year won't be all that pretty for some.
The Redskins, at this point, really don't. And I think we all realized that after all those free agency signings, we haven't had the chance to look forward in over a decade. A great team isn't built in an offseason -- it's constructed over years. Lately, we've not even gotten close.
Here's what will happen this offseason: the Redskins will make huge splashes in free agency. They have to. They have the money, will be losing some key players (certainly Haynesworth, probably Rogers, McIntosh, maybe even Moss, who went ballistic in the post-game interviews talking about how he hates losing), and this is likely to be the biggest and strongest free agency class in history given the CBA situation last year.
It's going to happen. The Redskins will hopefully get younger, they will certainly get better, but they will bring in big names for big paychecks and hope to make it work this time. We'll all be fired up, and we'll all believe again. Hopefully, they will make some better moves than they have in the past. There are such things, you know, as good, not-too-expensive free agency signings. We've had a few -- Fletcher, Shawn Springs, Cornelius Griffin, Marcus Washington, Randy Thomas, for examples. We will have more. Those guys were reliable and capable Redskins for five or more seasons.
But the key is the draft. You know it, I know it, everyone in the NFL knows it.
If anyone from Ashburn reads this, I plead with you: keep your draft picks. If possible, get some more. We'll part with just about anyone in order for you to do so. (Someone, please give us a 4th for Fred Davis, right?) We need to have a generation of new players, a phasing-out of the reminders of the last 12 years. The Redskins-are-just-a-paycheck-era needs to end. We need smart, fast, and well-composed leaders who are truly professional, and hungry to win, football players.
I'd like to take a small aside to focus on one adjective included in that wishlist. "Fast." Have you ever seen a slower team? Minus Banks, everyone feels slow. The defense feels like it's in slow motion, even DeAngelo Hall. Even Moss, our lone gamebreaker on offense for the past half-decade.
We need some speed! We need some gamebreakers. I agree the Redskins need to continue (or, more accurately, to start) to build on the offensive and defensive lines. But we need some guys that will make defenses respect the offense, giving guys like McNabb and Cooley the chance to get in their comfort zones. On defense, we need some guys who can chase down the Dez Bryant's, DeSean Jackson's and Ahmad Bradshaws that we see and get continually torched by twice every year. Too much to ask? How about some guys that can close on 41-year-old Brett Favre on third and seven in the red zone when he's got a broken ankle?!?!?
The only way this team will get substantially better is by drafting the right players. Ask any of the winning teams in the NFL right now. They are pieced together through the draft and a couple of wise signings in free agency.
It's going to take time. It's going to take patience, and it's not going to take band-aids.
Next year, the Redskins will be better. A Bruce Allen/Mike Shanahan draft will yield us at least two starters at the top of the draft and hopefully a few capable guys -- I'll take just one, even -- in the later rounds and with hungry undrafted guys like Banks was. Redskins One will lap the country courting, hopefully, different kinds of free agents, bringing us leaders like Fletcher is and quality starters like Springs and Washington were for many years.
We need to cut our losses with some of the older players, unless they are ready to help turn things around. We need to refocus and readjust.
Mike Shanahan said it best after the loss yesterday. He realized that taking a four-win team to the Super Bowl will take time when he took the job, he said.
The reason the stands were empty yesterday -- and will probably be empty for the next few weeks, save the opponents' fans -- will be because the fans finally realized that, too.