Redskins walking the long road


10-6. NFC East Champions. Two Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates. What started out as a season filled with expectations of rebuilding and mediocre play for the Washington Redskins turned into a historical season that rewrote the face of the franchise.

The unexpected became the expected; the Redskins were predicted to finish near last in the NFC East for yet another year. A winning record was a fool’s dream. Rookie running back Alfred Morris entered training camp as the third-string backup; finishing the season as an OROY candidate with a franchise record in rushing yards had about an equal chance of happening as JaMarcus Russell making an NFL comeback.

Before their bye week, the Redskins were 3-6 and Shanahan was on the verge of being fired. Fans and critics resounded harder than ever and Washington seemed to be primed for yet another abysmal season of football.

Finally, Shanahan and Griffin took the critics to heart, rallied the troops, and rattled off an impressive string of wins. First, it was a blowout win against the struggling Eagles. Then came another win, followed by yet another. Before the league knew it, the Redskins were riding a six-game winning streak heading into Sunday Night Football with a matchup against the Dallas Cowboys that decided the winner of the NFC East.

The Redskins responded by stomping all over their division-rival Cowboys. The secondary humiliated Tony Romo by intercepting him three times while Morris shredded Dallas’ defense by running for 200 yards and three touchdowns. They finished the season 10-6 and won their first division title since 1999.

A week later, the Redskins found themselves hosting a first-round playoff game in a matchup against another red-hot team who averaged 50 points over their last three games, the Seattle Seahawks. This was it, the showdown of two surging NFC teams. Which unstoppable force was going to buckle and which will triumph?

It took as little as one inch for the Redskins to blow their 14-0 first quarter lead. One inch separated the ball from the ground on a key Seahawks’ pass on third and long from Russell Wilson to Zach Miller. Underthrowing a pass intended for Pierre Garcon by one inch was all Earl Thomas needed to intercept the throw and continue the Seahawks’ momentum shift. One inch of Griffin’s ACL and MCL giving away in the fourth quarter doomed the Redskins for the rest of the game.

After the game, Coach Mike Shanahan was highly criticized for leaving Griffin in the second half despite the obvious limping in his movement and also not being cleared by Doctor James Andrews to do so. The Redskins already had a backup by the name of Kirk Cousins who has more than proved himself to be capable with his stellar performance while filling in for Griffin during previous injuries.

Leaving Griffin in the game led him to aggravate his injured knee, placing the future of the franchise in serious doubt and jeopardy. Griffin left the game with a torn ACL and LCL, along with a partially torn meniscus, which was considered to be collateral damage. The expected rehab time for an injury of this magnitude is a solid year or so. This means Griffin could easily miss training camp and the start of next season, something Redskins fans obviously do not want to hear.

As of now, everything floats in the uncertain. Fans are hoping for a speedy recovery, similar to that of Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson, who recovered from a complete ACL tear in less than 10 months. Rushing Griffin back from his injury, however, is the last thing Shanahan wants to do. During his surgeries, which were declared successes, doctors had to take parts from his healthy knee in order to fix the damages done to his other knee. Griffin is basically missing cartilage from both of his knees and he simply can’t be rushed back from his recovery timetable.

Following the angst and disappointment, what can Redskins fans expect for the seasons to come? With a mighty offense and questionable division, I would say expect nothing less of the same. Griffin’s tricky injury and the suspect defense is Washington’s only detriment. However with the return of all-pro linebacker Brian Orakpo, the defense should take a step up. Improving the secondary through free agency and the draft wouldn’t be such a bad idea either. Finding a longtime replacement for London Fletcher is a must and DeAngelo Hall just isn’t the shutdown corner many expected him to be.

This is the start of a new and exciting era for Washington and its fans. Coach Shanahan has in his control, two electrifying rookies, and a stellar offensive line to build the team around. If Griffin is allowed to recover properly and the defensive unit starts to gel and pull their acts together, I would expect nothing short of being annual Super Bowl contenders from the Washington Redskins.