We've come back to earth after last year, realizing that the offseason buys you nothing. After expectations predictably rose to their annual level of Superbowl-or-bust in Washington, we forget that last year's post season was largely a function of an epic 5-0 run to close out the season.
It is from that 5-6 to 10-6 transformation that hope apparently springs eternal, as I am frequently confronted with some variation of this line:
Your skepticism last year when the team was at 5-6 was unfounded because the team made the post season. Therefore, your similar skepticism this year, at 2-5, is also unfounded.
I wish it were the case that we find ourselves in a similar hero-making scenario. Nothing would please me more than to look for and find similarities between last season's deliverance and this year's folly. No dice.
-- Division and Conference Record. At 5-6 last year we were 2-1 in division with road win over hated rival Dallas. In conference play we were 5-2. Contrasted with this year's 2-5 start, and we're 0-2 in division and 0-3 in conference. As division and then conference records are key tie breaking procedures, this is not a trivial difference.
-- Who we beat and who we didn't. At 5-6 we had quality wins against division winners Chicago and Seattle (combined 24 wins last year), and the Dallas Cowboys who would ultimately finish with a winning record. This year we have yet to beat a team with a winning record. The losses are more telling: last year we dropped a snoozer to Oakland (4-12) but the rest of the 6 losses were against quality opponents. Kansas City, San Diego, and Denver all would close out with winning records -- combined for 33 wins, as much or more than many conferences. Tampa Bay and the Giants would both win their division as well. This year we've already lost to Tennessee (at home) and Dallas, who have a combined record of 4-8.
-- Nature of our wins/losses. At 5-6 we'd lost some close games. A failed two point conversion kept us from overtime against the 13-3 Denver Broncos. We lost to Tampa Bay by one, Oakland by three, and San Diego in overtime. We had only one really decisive loss to the Giants. This year we've lost decisively against Indy, Dallas, and the Giants. Minnesota would have destroyed us had Troy Williamson caught half the passes thrown his way. Our victories this year have been unimpressive as well; a coin flip against a 3-3 Jacksonville and a 31-15 drubbing of the perennial doormat Texans. We had more points in our shellacking of the 49ers last year than we have had against Dallas, Minnesota, New York, and Tennessee combined.
-- Nature of this team has changed. At 5-6 we were allowing just over 20 points a game, while frequently holding leads. This year we're allowing nearly 25 while chasing leads in 6 of 7 games. Our offense is probably worse, likely because Brunell is a year older and unwilling to throw the ball 20+ yards down the field. But really our offense wasn't any good last year, either. The big difference is on defense where a formerly dominant unit has turned into a complete joke, incapable of stopping the big pass play or the run. The reality is we don't have a lot of options on defense because every part of the unit has been underperforming, though some of that needs to be blamed on injury. Offensively we made big changes that haven't yielded results. At 5-6 we were a defensive team with an offense capable of winning games. This year we're a pushover team with neither a defense capable of stopping opponents or an offensive capable of anything, really.
-- Betting against futures. At 5-6 we were looking towards St. Louis and Arizona first, teams that won 6 and 5 games last year respectively. Neither was a worthy adversary. We then faced the following 2 out of 3 games at home, all division opponents. Considering we had beaten Dallas and Philly already, there was reason for optimism. Fast forward to 2006: We still face Dallas, New York, and Philly (twice). Two of those teams have already beaten us and Philly is 2 games away from matching their entire win total of 2005. We play a different St. Louis team -- on the road -- then we faced last year. We do have a wash against Tampa Bay, although they just put down the Eagles with a monstrous 62 yard field goal. Carolina and Atlanta at home are the games we need to win, and New Orleans at the Superdome is a game I fear we can't. We could potentially go 1-8 against this schedule.
Joe Gibbs has always stressed that the past doesn't buy you anything, and I fear this year is no different. Assuming that we'll pull a rabbit out of a hat, or that lightning will strike twice, is worse than naive; it is ignorant of the circumstances. If we're to escape disaster in 2006 the attitude of this team needs to change significantly. We need an offensive spark or a return to form on defense in order to salvage this year. A week's rest to think, plan, and lick our wounds might be just what we needed.