It will be impossible to completely dull the enthusiasm of the 2014 season for football fans in D.C. However, the sense of deja vu this offseason is enough to dampen some of the hope from 2012.
Since Daniel Snyder took over the team, there has been little to cheer. As Thomas Boswell wrote for The Washington Post, Mike Shanahan's 24-40 record matches the ones of Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn. A .375 winning percentage isn't enough for Snyder, nor is it enough for the fans.
Another coach is about to step into one of the most thankless jobs in the NFL, and 2014 looks like it's going to be a long year. While Robert Griffin III will this year get an offseason during which he can develop his skills as a quarterback, he is still some way from being a pocket passer.
Asking Griffin to stand and throw Washington to victory this year was a bad decision. That was clear from the end of the first quarter in Week 1. While the buildup to the season painted a picture of a player ready to make his comeback, the reality was far different.
Six NFL coaching jobs are now open after 'Black Monday', and there's a common denominator among them: http://t.co/GwbxiFlPCP— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) December 31, 2013
Players need practice to develop and master the playbook. Griffin is not exempt, and it showed. Live game reps are necessary, that's true, but Griffin was clearly not healed from his injury. He favoured his stronger leg, picking up bad habits and throwing off-balance as the season went on.
He had little help from anyone but Pierre Garcon, but his passes both sailed over and died at the feet of his intended targets.
The offensive line, too, looked incapable of protecting him as he failed to feel pressure and evade the tackles. Behind this line, his legs could not buy him the time he found in 2012. Opposing teams took away Griffin's first read, asking him to decipher defensive looks and run through his progressions.
Although Alfred Morris still built an impressive year, he was frequently targeted by defenses as the No. 1 threat. That led to Kyle Shanahan calling more passing plays, which played into the hands—sometimes literally—of Washington's opponents.
The younger Shanahan has often come under criticism for abandoning the run, but his reluctance to trust in his backs often led to poor red-zone efficiency.
Last year, Washington ranked fourth in red-zone scoring percentage—according to TeamRankings.com—whereas this year they dropped to 20th.
There is blame to be placed everywhere for the team's atrocious play this year, but everything ultimately stretches back to one place—the playoff game against Seattle in January.
If Mike Shanahan pulled Griffin from the game as he should have, there would have been an offseason for Griffin to recover and develop. The offense could have worked around Griffin from the moment he reported to OTAs, rather than asking Kirk Cousins to run the team and expecting it to be the same when Griffin returned.
If he had done the right thing against Seattle, Shanahan could have saved his job. However, it's questionable as to whether he would've wanted it back.
The cap penalty hindered his progress—although ultimately that was his own doing—and there were rumors of him preparing to quit after last season.
Asking where the season went wrong for Washington only leads to ugly accusations and fruitless spreading of the blame.
However, there remains enough pieces in place that would attract another coach to attempt to complete the puzzle.
Griffin, Garcon, Morris and Trent Williams are all vital to the team's future. Jordan Reed has shown flashes of a star tight end—although his concussions are a worry—while DeAngelo Hall has put together his most consistent season for Washington.
Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are also both Pro-Bowl caliber players, while David Amerson has quietly put together an encouraging rookie year. It's not a complete rebuild.
The offense is much stronger, obviously, and there are good things to build around. It's unlikely to be transformed next year, but that doesn't mean it can't be.
The Eagles went from worst to first last season, while Washington did the opposite. Strangely enough, that provides hope for 2014.