Is it time to stop taking the Washington Redskins seriously?
In the wake of a mistake-filled 30-17 season-opening defeat to Philadelphia, in which Washington was unprepared at the start, falling behind 13-0, and inept in the fourth quarter, with two killing turnovers by quarterback Kirk Cousins , every ominous question of a controversial offseason gained new and justified life.
But what else should we have expected? In the past 25 seasons, this franchise has repeatedly advertised itself as improved, headed in the right direction or on the brink of fine deeds. That is the Redskins’ firm position again this year, too.
Two 1,000-yard receivers gone? Don’t worry, we’ve adequately replaced them. Is our quarterback eager to leave town after this year? No problem, we love Cousins; it’ll all work out. That offseason unpleasantness between ex-general manager Scot McCloughan (fired) and team President Bruce Allen — pay no attention to that. Water under the bridge.
And yet the happy talk dished out by owner Daniel Snyder’s team is never true. In the past quarter century, only one team in the NFL has failed to win more than 10 games in a year: Washington. After Sunday at FedEx, the under looks safe again.
The Eagles were the only team Washington beat twice last season. Those division wins were the backbone of an 8-7-1 campaign. The Eagles, 7-9 in 2016, are the only team that Jay Gruden’s team has owned, with five straight wins — until Sunday. The Eagles won once on the road all last season.
Now, Philly has already matched that total, thanks in large part to four Washington turnovers, three by Cousins, as well as dropped passes by new receivers who don’t look, or play, like departed stars DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.
If you can’t beat these Eagles in your home opener, then what? Washington’s schedule is a killer with seven games against teams that made the playoffs in 2016, nine against teams that were .500 or better last season and, perhaps most significant, 13 against teams that had a better point differential than Washington’s plus-13 last year. This matchup was typical-to-easy by the rugged standards of the schedule.
How hard will this team’s season be? The easiest game on the docket was believed to be next week in Los Angeles against the Rams, coached by Sean McVay, who was the Washington offensive coordinator last season when the sickly Rams were outscored by 170 points. How did McVay’s fellows do in his debut? They beat the Colts, 46-9.
This Redskins season is a long way from getting ugly, but it is going to be unrelentingly brutal, week after week. Efforts like Sunday’s could put ugly on the fast track.
Should it surprise us? Last season was defined by the Redskins’ alarming unpreparedness in their two biggest games — home losses late in the campaign to Carolina and the Giants. A win in either game would have put Washington in the playoffs. Instead, the team admitted it came out flat both times, fell behind and ultimately lost.
Same script, different season. Against the Eagles, Washington was awful in just two portions of the game: the beginning and the end.
Don’t be distracted by the modestly controversial play for which this game will be remembered: a 20-yard touchdown return of a Cousins fumble with 89 seconds to play to produce the final score. The call was close: incomplete pass or fumble? Final adjudication went to the replay officials, who upheld the touchdown.
Perhaps Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan, who had a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown, summarized the moment best: “I thought it was an incomplete pass. What do I know? The main thing is we didn’t play well enough to win.”
In the first quarter, the only way the Redskins could have been less prepared to play would be if they had forgotten to put on cleats and played in their socks.
Cousins overthrew Terrelle Pryor Sr. for what should have been an 84-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. Pryor, who had two ugly drops, said he didn’t even know the ball had been thrown to him. Generally, on the first snap of the year, all 11 men have a grasp of the immediate possibilities.
The end of this game, however, was the brutal, and perhaps ominous, part. And the worst play probably wasn’t Cousins’s final fumble. Early in the fourth quarter, trailing only 19-17, Washington faced third down from the Philadelphia 14-yard line, a spot where it could easily kick a field goal to take the lead.
Instead, Cousins threw his worst pass at the worst time — a trait too often his trademark. His dart was high over the middle to Jamison Crowder — who had just broken open and might have scored. Instead, it went straight into the arms of Philadelphia’s Jalen Mills.
“We have Jamison breaking wide open on a little option route, and we overthrow it by a hair,” Gruden said. “You get this little pressure, and they intercept it. We’re close, but obviously close isn’t good enough.”
Said Kerrigan: “We’ve got to come out faster. The offense goes three and out. Then we give up a touchdown.”
You can’t predict a team’s whole season from the outcome of one game. Well, except sometimes if it’s the Redskins. This franchise claims it is going in a good direction, but a look back to December’s 27-22 win over the Eagles in Philadelphia tells a different tale.
One of Washington’s two big touchdown plays was an 80-yard Cousins-to-Jackson bomb on which Jackson made a no-look, over-the-wrong-shoulder snag without breaking stride. In one game, Pryor, who flat dropped a long throw in the end zone (on a play that would have been called back), probably shouldn’t be pressured by wearing Jackson’s No. 11.
The other clutch touchdown reception that day was by Garcon. Gruden may miss him already, referring to “uncharacteristic drops” by his receivers. Who says they are uncharacteristic? The practice field doesn’t count.
“I think we’re better than that up front. We’re better than that at receiver — dropping balls. And we’re better than that at quarterback,” Gruden said, pointing most of the blame at the offense for which he, not McVay, now calls the plays. “We all had our hand in it.”
Washington has one comfort. Two of its next four games are against its weakest foes — at least on paper — the Rams, who may not be as good as they looked Sunday against an Indianapolis team playing without Andrew Luck, and woeful San Francisco on Oct. 15 at FedEx.
Those two games may provide time for this team to catch its breath and let Cousins get in sync with Pryor, and perhaps even much-injured 2016 first-round wide receiver Josh Doctson, who was barely allowed to play in this game.
Or, given the last 25 years, you may want to look at this opening game with clear eyes, save yourself some heartburn and lower your expectations. Again.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.