So that's that.
With their loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, the 2008 Washington Redskins (8-8) capped off a rollercoaster season—one that began with tumultuous regime change, had their fans breathing the rarified air of contenders in October, and saw them brought precipitously back to earth as pretenders in December.
Along the way, there were great moments we won’t soon forget—like the brilliant Campbell-to-Moss bomb against New Orleans that gave the Redskins life in week two, and the back-to-back road wins in Dallas and Philadelphia to reach 4-1 and ignite January dreams.
There were crushing moments we’d like to forget—like the Pittsburgh Steelers coming to town and systematically throttling the 6-2 Redskins under the bright lights of Monday Night Football, exposing the chasm between the Redskins and the NFL elite ... and the crushing Mike Sellers’ goal-line fumble in Cincinnati that effectively ended the 2008 season.
And so now we head into Expert Season, the eight month odyssey between this season and next that everyone—from the highly-paid talking heads on TV to the office know-it-all in the next cubicle—will spend telling you What Went Wrong.
It was the quarterback. Jason Campbell couldn't read defenses, stared down receivers and took too long to windup and deliver. Defenses didn't respect him so they stacked the line of scrimmage, took away the run and short passing game and voila—offensive suckitude.
Can't win without solid QB play.
It was the Offensive Line. Every starter was over 30—no wonder they wore down around midseason and became a sieve. They were a drive-blocking, smashmouth group assembled under a previous regime suddenly being asked to tap dance the delicate rhythms of the west coast offense. And there was no depth.
Can't win without solid OL play.
It was the Play Calling. Coach Zorn was awesome early—beautifully timed gadget plays, running when they expected pass, passing when they expected run. But once the league got some film on him, they caught up, and Zorn had no answers. Or maybe once he got to 6-2, he got complacent and thought all he had to do was line up, run off tackle, rely on his defense and simply "not lose the game."
Either way, can't win without innovative, aggressive playcalling.
It was the Receivers. Santana Moss was a number two receiver masquerading as a number one, and Antwaan Randle El a number three passing himself off as a number two. The rookies weren't good enough to get on the field, much less contribute. And as a group they didn’t know that making pretty catches on crisp, six-yard routes, on third-and-seven, does nothing but sell Maalox.
Can’t win without a solid receiving corps.
It was the defense. Yes they finished statistically in the top five, but they couldn't rush the passer, and as a result didn’t force the turnovers that set up the short fields that lead to the easy touchdowns that win games. And when push came to shove they couldn't get that one last stop when they absolutely, positively had to, and it cost the Redskins, at the very least, the St. Louis, second Dallas and San Francisco games.
Can't win without a pass rush.
It was Vinny Cerrato. He doesn't believe in drafting linemen, wastes time doing radio shows instead of scouting and has a demented laugh.
Can’t win without a solid General Manager.
It was Dan Snyder. As has been the case since he bought the team in 1999, all he was really interested in was 1) making money, and 2) getting to play Fantasy GM in the offseason. That's why he continued to charge a fortune for stadium parking and beer and kept Vinny Cerrato around.
Can’t win without an owner willing to spend gobs of money but otherwise keep his mitts off the team.
It was [fill in the blank].
Here's the good news—you and I know better. We know it wasn't any one of those things, it was a combination of some or all of them.
We know that debating which of those areas was most responsible is great fun, but also understand that doing so is like trying to break down, in cold percentages, which part of sipping champagne at sunset off Oahu, having just made love to a special someone on the deck of the yacht you bought with the $250 million you won in the lottery, is what makes the moment the most special.
And, of course (sorry, back to reality), we know that no one—not Dan Snyder, Vinny Cerrato, Jason LaCanfora, Mike Wilbon, Doc Walker, Brian Mitchell, Steve Czaben, Chris Mortensen, Peter King, Jason Campbell, Clinton Portis, little old me, the guy in front of you at the checkout or your chatty co-worker—has their finger on "The Truth of The Matter."
Only Jim Zorn, Greg Blache (and maybe one or two other top assistants who sat in on enough meetings, were on the field for enough practices and in enough film sessions over the course of the season to know who did and did not do what in any given situation, and what if anything they as coaches could or should have done about it) are even remotely qualified to speak on the specifics, or offer what would pass in a court of law as expert opinion on What Went Wrong—and they ain't talkin'.
But for the rest of us, acting like we do know is irresistible. And the offseason is long. And nature abhors a vacuum.
So we're going to do it anyway.
Of course, as any clear-thinking observer already knows, the REAL problem with the 2008 Redskins was the clear disconnect that developed over the course of the season between what was in Jim Zorn's head as he drew up game plans and called plays from the sidelines, and what the players actually executed on the field.
The trick of course is determining the reason for that disconnect.
Could be Zorn lost confidence in his quarterback, offensive live, receivers or running back somewhere along the way, and with it, the freedom to call the kinds of plays he really wanted to.
Could be he hit his head around midseason and simply forgot how to call plays.
Could be Campbell either could not (rushed/nobody open) or would not (hesitant/confused) throw the passes Zorn called.
Could be Jason Campbell changed too many plays at the line—into bad ones.
Could be that one player here or there simply got beat, on enough key plays, for said key plays to not work the way they were designed, even while the other ten players were kicking ass.
Could be the head coach was a rookie, going through rookie growing pains, implementing a new system, working with 8-8 talent assembled under a different regime with a different system in mind.
Could be some combination of all those things. Could be something else entirely.
Fortunately, we have eight long months—and no shortage of experts—to sort it all out.
Welcome to the offseason.