Robert Griffin III, Redskins having a season to forget
Stuff happens, in the NFL as in life. Hence when ESPN polled 35 of its experts in late summer, it seemed reasonable that 12 of them picked the Redskins to win the NFC East and seven had the Giants.
Could be worse. Thirty-one tabbed the Texans in the AFC South and 27 the Falcons in the NFC South. But even on a long list of NFL flops of 2013, the Redskins stand out for their wide-ranging miserableness.
At least the Giants have an established, healthy quarterback who appears to get along well with his coach, have won Super Bowls in this millennium and have had no one suggest they change the nickname they have had since 1925.
In short, as much as the Redskins' misery may love company in the lower half of the NFC East, there has been no misery quite like the Redskins' this season.
By Wednesday, coach Mike Shanahan found himself answering questions on a conference call with New York-area reporters about motivation -- or lack thereof -- in the final five games, beginning Sunday night against the Giants.
"Regardless of what your record is, especially if your record is [poor], everybody wants to finish the season strong and show people what type of character they have and hopefully finish up the season the right way," he said.
His tone was glum, especially on the topic of former phenom-turned-sophomore slumper Robert Griffin III.
Asked if his quarterback is frustrated, the coach said, "I think you'd better be frustrated when you're 3-8."
Griffin said: "I've been criticized before in my life and everything hasn't been glowing and just rosy, sunshine and rainbows. Everything hasn't always been that way.
"These are times that can help you as a player and as a team, just sticking together, and it can truly define you. You have to figure out how you want to be defined."
Griffin's passer rating has fallen from 102.4 last season to 81.8, and his interception total has risen from five to 11. Most distressing is that in the wake of a severe right knee injury suffered in January, he does not seem as dynamic when he runs.
But he has been far from the only problem for a team that has been hampered by salary-cap restrictions imposed by the league on the Redskins last year for violating the spirit of the rules during the uncapped season of 2010.
Some Redskins fans accused Giants president John Mara of initiating the move to punish the team (and the Cowboys, another NFC East rival), which he denied.
The Redskins got a dose of revenge last Dec. 3 when they beat the Giants, 17-16, at FedEx Field in a Monday night game that ended up deciding the NFC East when the Redskins finished 10-6 and the Giants 9-7.
Now the teams are a combined 7-15 and wondering what went wrong. But in the Redskins' case, there has been frustration in the wider world, too.
The team has been under pressure all season from multiple directions -- even President Obama weighed in -- to consider changing its nickname on the grounds it can be considered offensive to Native Americans.
So far, owner Daniel Snyder has been steadfast in saying the name will not change, but the controversy has been a blot on the Redskins' image to go along with the stain from their performance on the field.
They appeared to hit bottom with a 27-6 loss to the 49ers on Monday in which Griffin was battered, prompting questions about whether the fact that he kept getting up at least showed that he is improving from the knee injury and other physical ailments.
"He's taken some shots and you can tell what type of shape he's in because he's been able to bounce back, and a lot of quarterbacks aren't able to do that," Shanahan said. "But he's in great shape."
Talk about silver linings!
With one year left on his contract, Shanahan's status beyond 2013 is at issue. The same can be said of many Redskins players, but not Griffin. If he returns to his rookie form, the 2014 Redskins appear to have the personnel to return to the feel-good status they enjoyed last season.
But don't count on them winning many preseason polls.