It seems like just yesterday that Mark Brunell was telling a reporter (in the preseason) that we were a Super Bowl contender and that anything short of that would be a disappointment. That didn't work out so well for us. To be sure, the second tenure of Joe Gibbs brought back a stability to the franchise that had been lacking under Daniel Snyder. But the continued mediocrity has led to continued nay-saying around the league. Here are the league rankings as posted by some of the major national sites (if I have missed a more recent ranking by one of these places, help me out with an update in the comments section):
ESPN: #19 - "How much impact will Albert Haynesworth have and how will Jason Campbell respond to an awkward off-season?"
CBS Sports: #23 - "They're the fourth team in a four-team division. That will make it tough to win eight games."
CNNSI (Peter King): #23 - "Prediction: I'll look foolish when Washington starts 4-2 or 5-1. These things happen with St. Louis, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Kansas City on the schedule before Halloween, three of them at home. But then, when it finishes against the Giants, Cowboys and Chargers, I might be closer to right -- and Jason Campbell might be closer to being somewhere else in 2010."
Scout.com: #20 - "The key for this offense is for Clinton Portis to stay healthy and for another receiver other than Santana Moss to become a factor in the passing game. If Devin Thomas becomes a big factor, this team could surprise in 2009. Defensively, they must find pass rush help."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the progress we in D.C. seem to be buying so hard into. But that is okay. In recent years, the cache Joe Gibbs brought to the league afforded the national media the leeway to inflate the hype we created locally. Now we are back to being an afterthought in the NFC and in our own division. Let's not sugarcoat facts either--the Redskins have been largely irrelevant in the NFL for some time. This would not be the first season following a disappointing year with letdowns at numerous positions and more questions than answers leading into camp. But now we seem to be getting the Detroit Lions or Cleveland Browns treatment on the 'NFL Live' type shows. The consistent mediocrity of the Redskins polarized those in the national media for years. Is Norv good enough to get this team deep in the playoffs? Is this year's batch of off-season signings going to finally solidify the roster? Are they serious about Danny Wuerffel? Does Vinny Cerrato have naked pictures of Dan Snyder? Has Spurrier ever heard of pass protection? Can Zorn survive in this organization?
I have yet to see any national analyst pick the burgundy and gold to finish higher than any of these guys. It is a different day in Redskins Nation. And I like it. Plenty of league experts have never gotten on board with Snyder and his style of running this team. And those nay-sayers seemed to fuel the steady diet of some of their colleagues who could then find a counterpoint/reason that the Redskins would get it done and make their move that year. But by and large it is apathy we see now. Despite the big splash we made in free agency (again), we still seem to find ourselves in a place where more people just don't seem to care enough to drum up a huge argument for or against (except when they are forcing it.) Outside the beltway, that is.
This is where Joe Gibbs historically succeeded. He relished the underdog role. He loved to be able to make it plain to his players that they were not expected to win, ever. His job was made difficult when the cacophony of high expectations drowned out reality--even more so when that din emanated from within his own roster.
The question will be, can Zorn find a motivational tool here? Because it is there. And a good coach never lets a useful instrument like that go to waste. Once again, we can relish our underdog status. We may have had no business thinking we were that great over the last, say, decade or so, but we weren't alone in that rush to ridiculous pre-judgement. Today, any unrealistic expectations are our own and only our own. This team should welcome this new hype-less era, and prove it on the field.
As the late great poet Chris Wallace said, "Show me, homey."