This doesn't feel anything like 2012.
Despite some superficial similarities with the way the year ended, the respective aftermaths of the two seasons couldn't be more different.
True enough, the Redskins staked a double-digit lead early in a home playoff game, only to lose by a decisive margin in the end. But, unlike that 24-14 loss to the Seahawks in January of 2013, my spirits are decidedly better in the wake of the 35-18 defeat at the hands of the Packers.
Sure, we all know the Redskins left some points on the table. That 11-0 lead that should have been 16-0. And fans all wish Washington had made a few more plays in the final three quarters. Even in the face of that loss, though, I don't think too many of us have a lot of lingering questions about whether this franchise is pointed in the right direction.
There's work to do this offseason, as there always is. Washington needs help in the secondary, more depth along the offensive line, another solid inside linebacker, and to re-sign Kirk Cousins (probably!). But, those needs notwithstanding, my faith in the Redskins today -- faith that was absent on 1/6/13 -- stems from two key differences, both of which should be readily apparent.
That Seahawks playoff game featured the infamous decision to continue playing an injured Robert Griffin III, ultimately leading to a devastating knee (re-)injury, spawning a chain of events that will soon end with his departure from the Redskins.
As much progress as Washington had made that year, the Griffin injury changed the perception of the entire season from "We've found our football savior, and we're finally good again!" to "Of course that happened, and this is why we can't have nice things!" That dark cloud isn't hanging over the team this year.
And, needless to say, the other key difference is Scot McCloughan.
It isn't even merely that McCloughan helped put together a draft that produced at least five legitimate first-year contributors. It's also that he, with the help of the Redskins' coaching staff, was so great at assembling a roster that managed to overcome injuries and a few under-performers to evolve into a playoff team.
I'm thinking here of signings like Dustin Hopkins, Will Blackmon, and Pierre Thomas, the revolving door at TE2, and somehow figuring out that an undrafted rookie wide receiver who was in danger of being cut could become a serviceable NFL cornerback.
Whereas 2012 ended with the catalyst for positive change lying on the field in agony, 2015 ends with the catalyst firmly in place, ready to make more moves that will help the team take another step forward in the near future.
The theme of the end of the 2012 season was "uncertainty."
The theme of the end of the 2015 season is "continuity."
The Redskins won't have to worry about a ton of turnover within the coaching staff, much undesirable turnover on the roster, or lingering doubt about who the quarterback for next season will be. Off-field turmoil is at a three-year low. At least.
I said back in August that this wasn't going to be an overnight turnaround. This is a process. But, so far, it's working. If Washington can remain on its current trajectory, even jaded Redskins fans too young to recall that last Lombardi Trophy will have good reason for (cautious) optimism.
Make no mistake: Even another season of improvement like this one won't get Washington to title-contender status. But it will get the Redskins from "team that usually beats bad-to-mediocre teams" to "team that can routinely compete with and sometimes beat good teams."
That's the difference between being the best of a bad division and being able to hold a double-digit lead at home in the first round of the playoffs.