It's mid-October. Like all of you, I've now watched the first six weeks of the NFL season, including seeing the Washington Redskins compete on five occasions.
Here's what I know:
1. Washington lost to Dallas Sunday night in large measure because of special teams incompetence, horrible clock management at the end of the first half, an extremely ill-timed turnover by Robert Griffin that essentially handed Dallas a touchdown, and, yes, a bad call on a punt that should have given the Redskins great field position and early momentum.
2. The Redskins are 1-4.
4. Washington has already lost to Philadelphia and Dallas.
5. The Redskins play Chicago (4-2, first place), Denver (6-0, first place), and San Diego (will be 4-3 and coming off a bye when they play Washington) over the next three weeks.
6. There is only a small chance that someone other than the divisional champion will make the playoffs out of the NFC East.
7. RGIII's health is improving, but he probably won't be back to 2012 form until late in the year, if not until 2014.
8. Many of the Redskins' problems don't seem like they're "fixable" without an infusion of new personnel.
Even as someone who tries to be optimistic, the facts above lead me to the conclusion that it is overwhelmingly unlikely the Redskins have any real hope of duplicating last season's outstanding run to qualify for the playoffs. I think the NFC East is a two-horse race now, with the Eagles poised to surge ahead thanks to a lighter upcoming schedule, but Dallas still with the best chance of winning, long-term.
Where does that leave Washington?
I think about the Redskins more now in terms of managing expectations about what constitutes "good" finish from this point forward.
Washington has eleven games left. I think going 6-5 in those final games, with a sweep of the Giants, a win over Dallas, and a win over Philly, would be a "good" ending to the season.
"But, Tom," you say, "That only leaves us at 7-9 for the year." Yep. That's right. I think 7-9 or 8-8, realistically, is the best we're going to do with this group and the remaining schedule, given the 1-4 start.
There's another huge question in play, which is - what will it take to save Mike Shanahan's job?
Other than that 7-0 run to end the season last year (and the subsequent playoff loss), Shanahan is 15-31 in Washington. He is also 61 years old and 15 years removed from his last Super Bowl title. For some perspective on that, Joe Gibbs was only 13 years removed from his last title when the Redskins rehired him in 2004.
I think Shanahan needs a bare minimum of six wins to keep his job. It's possible he may need seven or eight. I think anything short of another near-miraculous run to a divisional title will lead to the dismissal of at least one coordinator. The smart money was on Jim Haslett before this week, but, wow, did Keith Burns make a serious move into contention this week or what? Meanwhile, the Washington defense played perhaps its best game of the year, despite the misleading 31 points the Cowboys scored.
Still, if there isn't a major turnaround the rest of the way, someone will take the fall. The only questions are "Who?" and "How many?"
Naturally, Shanahan defended both Burns and his own (or his son's) clock management. I have no problem with Shanahan saying the proverbial "right things," especially at this point in the year. Throwing his special teams coach under the bus, even if it were deserved, would serve little purpose.
I still believe that a healthy Redskins team has most of the pieces in place to be a playoff squad. A better secondary would probably bump them up into an even higher category of contender. Perhaps a tweak of the coaching staff could provide some fresh perspectives or better schemes in certain areas.
However, the kinds of changes that may need to occur probably aren't of an in-season, on-the-fly nature.
I'm not saying anyone should "give up" by any stretch of the imagination. But it may be time to adjust expectations to match reality.
One unrelated thing I wanted to mention (that didn't warrant its own article): I appreciate the feedback - agree or disagree - with the piece I wrote on the Redskins' nickname controversy last week. There were more comments on that article than on everything else I've written for Hogs Haven combined . . . times ten. So, thanks to everyone who took the time to read it.
On that front, I wanted to mention that I was a guest on the Mike Heller Show out of Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin on Tuesday. My segment discussing the nickname issue may be found here, and it begins about ten minutes into this clip. I think it was a good, respectful conversation, and the hosts did a terrific job. I thank Mike Heller and Phil Dawson for having me on to talk about the issue.