Redskins Reality Check

Mark Steven@@omstevenCorrespondent IOctober 23, 2008

It’s one thing for “the media” to lose sight of reality—it’s what they do. They have bills to pay and sponsors to appease; it’s their job to create drama, ignore context and blindly compress the marathon NFL season into weekly hype segments.

It’s another thing when fans and followers of a given team—those who take it seriously enough to read, listen and talk it up on a daily basis—let ourselves fall into the trap.

As “serious” Redskins fans, we’re supposed to know better.

Listening to a large percentage of callers to local sports talk radio, however, reading the blogs and message boards and even just batting things around in line at the grocery story, I’ve discovered there are many among us focusing this week on all that could go wrong when the 5-2 Redskins travel to 0-6 Detroit to play the Lions on Sunday.

The mantra I’ve heard more than any other, and find most jarring, is the one I’d like to address today:

“They have to win this one big.”

I beg to differ. Before getting into my reasoning, a brief overview is in order.

Head Coach: Rookie
Record: 5-2

QB: 29-for-202 (64%), 1426 yds, 7 TD, 0 INT, QB Rating 96.3
RB: 163-for-818 (5.0 ypc), 116.9 ypg, 7 TD (leads league)
Defense: 6th overall; 8th scoring

Standings: 1/2 game out of first place in “best division in football”
Division Record: 2-1, road games complete
This week: 8-point road favorites to go 6-2

If you’re among those fretting over whether or not the Redskins will win “convincingly enough” Sunday, ask yourself this:

Before the season started, do you recall your realistic midseason expectations for the Redskins won/lost record? Was it 5-3? 6-2? Because if it was, you were one of veryfew, and either a bona fide Seer, hopeless romantic, or perhaps more likely, nipping at the tailgate refreshments a bit too heartily for August. Which is fine. It was hot. But come on.

And yet … as the Redskins head off to Detroit as prohibitive road favorites to reach midseason breathing rarified air at 6-2, some of us—presumably including some whose “realistic expectations” before the opener were closer to 2-6 than 6-2—are worried about whether or not the Skins are going to “finally get their blowout.”

As if anything less would be a disappointment.

As if anything less would be an indictment.

As if anything less would indicate the team isn’t “there” yet.

Well, as this apparently needs to be said … they’re not “there” yet. Nor should we expect them to be.

This isn’t an established winner hitting its midseason stride and battling for playoff seeding. This is a team not quite halfway through their first season under a rookie head coach. It’s a team not quite halfway through its first season of installing and getting up to speed in an entirely new offensive system. It’s a team with a young quarterback not quite halfway through his first season, in his third offensive system in a four year career. It’s a team that plays in the consensus toughest division in the NFL, with zero “gimmes” among the six games they’ll spend slugging it out in the last old-school, smashmouth in the game.

And … it's 5-2.

With a good shot at hitting midseason 6-2.

Which would put them no worse than a game out of first place with all their remaining division games at home.

Not sure how else to put it. The 2008 Redskins are so far ahead of schedule I think many have lost sight of exactly who and where they were just a few short weeks ago.

Would a blowout win against the Lions be nice? Damn straight. But would it mean any more in the big scheme of things than another last-second squeaker, beyond giving us a nice nice warm glow inside for a day or two before turning our eyes ahead to the Pittsburgh Steelers? Not really.

One stat matters at this point for the 2008 Redskins. Wins. By the end of the season, the Redskins may have evolved into a powerhouse—the kind of team fans who understand the context from whence they came can reasonably expect to take the field and soundly beat a “lesser team.” But not yet.

The Skins could beat Detroit 50-0, then come home to face Pittsburgh the following week and get pummeled. Or they could lose to Detroit (shudder), come home and beat Pittsburgh. Point being, the 5-2 start has not changed the fundamental underlying truth about the 2008 Washington Redskins—they’re an unknown quantity; a team in its first season under a new regime.

They are a work in progress; the team we see today is not the team we’ll see in six weeks, or eight, or a year from now.

They are learning on the fly … and, as it happens, learning how to win while doing so.

The 2008 Redskins are a wonderful surprise midway through the season. Perhaps to a fault, as their fast start has set in motion a media machine eager to crown (and then chop off at the knees if possible) “the Next.” Well, shame on the media for already looking for chinks in the shiny suit of armor they themselves prematurely created. Shame on them for suggesting the Redskins “should” run roughshod over the likes of St. Louis, Cleveland or Detroit. A month ago, many those same solemn sages were dismissing Washington AS such a team.

The real shame, though, is if those among us who actually follow the Redskins on a daily basis, and understand the context in which 5-2 has been achieved, let ourselves forget said context and buy into the hype created by those paid to ignore it.

If someone had come to you before the opener and offered a guaranteed 5-3 start to Jim Zorn’s first season—straight up, with no qualifiers—what would you have you have said?

I know what I would have said. “Show me where to sign.”

Well, here we are two months later and the Redskins have a shot at doing better than that. By Sunday night they may very well hand us a 6-2 start, wrapped up with a big bow in Sunday Night’s nationally televised home date with the Pittsburgh Steelers … and a chance—a chance—to hit the bye week 7-2 and starting to look like the real deal.

But that’s thing. It’s a chance to do something great. It is not—or at least it shouldn’t be—an expectation. Not yet. Don’t buy into the hype. 5-2 is a wonderful way to start a new regime, no question. But in the real world, this is still a new team, with a new dynamic, still finding itself and its way. It’s a team seven games into crafting a new identity. That it is winning while doing so is cause for joyful, yet measured, celebration.

Forget style points. All that matters right now is the left column in the standings … earning wins while the foundation solidifies, by any means necessary, and perhaps setting the table for January adventures worthy of the kind of hype and expectation being bandied about so cavalierly today.

Don’t keep moving the bar, fellow Redskins fans.

We’re supposed to know better.



    How 49ers Will Make McKinnon the NFL's Next Weapon

    NFL logo

    How 49ers Will Make McKinnon the NFL's Next Weapon

    Doug Farrar
    via Bleacher Report

    Underrated RB Prospects Who Could Be Future Stars

    NFL logo

    Underrated RB Prospects Who Could Be Future Stars

    Brad Gagnon
    via Bleacher Report

    Fantasy Winners, Losers from Free Agency Week 1

    NFL logo

    Fantasy Winners, Losers from Free Agency Week 1

    Gary Davenport
    via Bleacher Report

    Hidden Gems Still on the Free Agent Market

    NFL logo

    Hidden Gems Still on the Free Agent Market

    Chris Roling
    via Bleacher Report