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The Perfect Storm

Last night's no show on national TV against a hated rival was a particularly rough one to watch.

The seas were angry last night my friends. The waves were 50 feet high, our little boat showed it was full of holes, not up to the beating of the harsh and unforgiving waters. And in the end, even George Clooney died.

Contrary to popular belief, the current Redskins almost never go out and flat out suck or lay an egg. They fight, they compete, and more often than not are usually within striking distance with the game on the line. The team of the past 3 years has not been highly prone to turnovers and (if we're being fair) has rarely failed to show up at all, or gifted opponents a certain win. They have not.

Last night - they did all of those things.

Maybe it was the Christmas spirit?

2017 was a lost season starting from about week 4 or 5 when the horrific injury list started growing. I am not really open to the 'every team has injuries' argument or that it's some sort of a misguided homeristic excuse for missing the playoffs. Again. The NFL is not 'Rudy'. Games are won and lost largely based on the on-the-field play which is highly dependent on said talent actually being on the field. They just are. We've simply lost too much talent to be expected to win the games required in 2017. The cupboards are damn near bare and no amount of spirited pre-game speeches or half-time adjustments can alter that core fact.

Last night was filled with head shaking errors and bad decisions. There's no escaping or denying it. How do you continue to put Crowder back there on return duties when he's screwed the pooch time and time again? It's infuriatingly stupid and that decision alone rightfully calls our coaching competence into question. But even on many of the critical plays where the wheels have come off over the past 6 weeks or so, you cannot discount the impact of a revolving door roster, a different cast of characters on both lines, in the defensive backfield, even on special teams, as a contributing factor. That split second of extra protection our REAL offensive line would've given Cousins so that he delivers a ball a fraction more accurately and it isn't tipped into the air for an INT, the substitute linebacker who knows definitively what to do when the QB audibles out of the run play to a pass, the pass rusher who has a real passing rushing threat to his right or left giving him an opportunity to get to the opposing QB. Every play is a combination of a unique mix of talent, cohesion, and skill. When you substitute velveeta for aged cheddar, raw onion for sauteed shallots, 2% milk for heavy cream, and Eggbeaters for fresh eggs in the souffle, there's going to be a difference. You can't blame the poor damn chef entirely for that particular breakfast.

Last night was the last dying gasp of the 2017 season. The will to live was there, but the disease had simply progressed too far. The mind was willing, but the body was not. The awful gurgling death rattle emanating from this team's throat was audible for anyone listening. It was ugly, it was terminal, and it's now clear this team is dead with no hope of resuscitation in 2017.

I could not have more empathy for my fellow Skins fans. It stings, wounds, offends, beleagures, and depresses to watch the team you love struggle, fail, and seemingly spiral endlessly down over years and years. It is easy and natural after observing a debacle of last night's magnitude to conclude that we are a doomed franchise, lead by incompetents, with a failing head coach and evil owner and GM. But I will resist that urge today and I'll buffer myself against the backlash an even limited defense of the current regime always brings.

Even after last night's horrific implosion, I believe a couple of things:

1) Gruden is, on average, a very good head coach. I cannot make that statement without also adding that he has not been able to get his teams consistently ready for crucial games on the big stage. I think the Norv II label, while fairly accurate in terms of success to date, misses the mark a bit. I think Gruden is an active leader while Turner was a passive manager. I think Gruden is a fiery passionate guy. Norv was a placcid milqtoast. I think Gruden has a ton of potential to grow, while we know from the historical record that Turner was never going to rise above the competent coordinator level. And I believe while fans may not believe in him, the players universally love and respect Gruden.

2. I believe that during the Gruden era we have mostly fielded competitive, tough, and competent teams. We've witnessed 2 epic losses in 3 weeks. Viewing those brutal disappointments as a harbinger of things to come is entirely understandable. But those kinds of meltdowns have been rarities during Gruden's tenure. Giving up a 15 point lead at the end of a game, and getting embarrassed by a sub-par Dallas team - those are outliers. Those 2 losses may fuel and reinforce our biggest fears about this current team and it's coaches. But they don't define what the team has largely done since Gruden arrived.

3. Cut our injury list in half this season and we're a certain playoff team. Take a moment off from anger, humiliation, and scorn, and really consider the roster we have been able to field the past month. Look at our injury list and reinsert your top 10 players from that list back into the roster. Then tell me you really believe we are 5-7 right now. The Redskins delivered one of the most painful losses in fan memory in New Orleans a couple weeks ago. But the fact that we went on the road with half our roster 2nd stringers, up against one of the best teams in the league, and nearly prevailed, it is not insignificant. This team has fight in it – but the talent bin has been progressively depleted as the season's progressed. I will always believe, experiencing a normal expected # of injuries, we win at least 4 more games in 2017 and are a playoff team.

4. The 2017 season has been the perfect storm for our Redskins. We're not talking grab your boards the surf is up perfect. This is stare into the void and relive your life moments as you find yourself 100 feet under the surface as your last breath expires perfect. Set aside your anger and consider the barrage of destructive waves our Redskins have had to navigate in 2017. Entire overhaul of the defensive coaching staff. Replacement of two key WRs. Toughest first half of the season schedule in the NFL. And worst spate of injuries fans can ever recall in a single season. Mix it all together, and an 8-8 season where we'll land looks like a miracle. Beat on Gruden and Company all you want. I get it. The season has been unbearably tough to watch at times and someone has to take the blame. The head coach deserves more credit when things go right, and more when they go wrong. I think Gruden himself would tell you the same. But Lombardi would have struggled to deal with all of the challenges this season has presented.

5. This team is on the upswing. I know. How can I say it? How can I believe it? Am I blind, deaf, and dumb? I don't think so, but I respect differing opinions (ie…everyone else's). The Redskins have improved team speed, youth, and talent across the roster in the last several years. With the bulk of our actual roster on the field any given week, we are a strong team that can win on any given Sunday. That has not always been the case over the past 20 years, and honestly, I think this deserves more focus. We have more holes to fill, but put a healthy roster on the field and fill a few more holes in the draft and free agency, and this team is one opponents worry about.

6. We need to stay the course. Watching the debacle last night, I thought out loud ‘Gruden may get fired after this one'. It would not shock me. It's not unreasonable after watching an epic collapse like the one in New Orleans, and a horrifically incompetent effort like last night's to conclude that we need to blow it all up and start over. But I believe that's a recipe for disaster. I've always believed, in a crisis, you take care of your people. You don't point fingers, assess blame, or make big decisions under duress, in the heat of the moment, when things are at their worst. You circle the wagons, support your key people, look at the big picture and what's worked and what's not, and redouble your efforts. That's what winning organizations do. And that's what we should do. That doesn't mean giving Gruden and company a decade to prove they are more than serviceable, middle of the road coaches. It does mean taking an objective and fair look at what Gruden and his inner circle has had to contend with in 2017, and resetting the expectations bar.

When an NFL season effectively ends (and ours just did), it's natural to start looking ahead to the next one. What can we, should we expect and hope for in 2018? That's a tough one. If Daniel Snyder has progressed as an owner, we'll see Gruden get his full contract length to prove he is the right guy to lead this team for the next decade. What happens with Kirk Cousins contract is either the most important factor in the near future of this team, or it doesn't matter at all. Reasonable fans taking a non-reactionary big picture look at Kirk's abilities will likely conclude that with a talented supporting cast around him, he's a helluva QB. But keeping Kirk, as many have pointed out, may simply not be possible.

The Redskins could do the unthinkable in 2018 and compel Cousins to spend another season in DC exorbitant price or not. But short of a deep playoff run, he might bolt when the opportunity presents itself no matter what we do next year. The possibility that the team signs Cousins long-term seems slim as his asking price could fatally undermine the team's ability to add crucial talent. But if the team could somehow bring Kirk into the fold as their long-term guy at a ‘reasonable' (relative to market value, not what fans think is reasonable), it could give us a franchise QB for years to come.

On the other hand, there's a strong argument to be made that the Redskins need to go bargain shopping and find our franchise QB in the coming QB-rich draft. That would give the team a bountiful budget to add and retain key talent at crucial spots still lacking.

Both approaches are fraught with risk. Break the bank on a long-term Cousins contract and cripple your ability to spend elsewhere or play the lottery and pin your hopes on finding a legitimate starter with a high draft pick.

The future of Jay Gruden and our team's success in the coming years will almost certainly depend on which way the Redskins go with that single decision. If the team expected the 2018 season to add clarity to the situation, they were wrong. What to do with Cousins is cloudier and murkier than ever.

Perhaps it is a defensive mechanism as a fan. Perhaps I am trying desperately to pull the ripcord on the only liferaft I have today, even as I sink into oblivion. But I only have 1 certain takeaway from this lost 2017 Redskins season.

I won't look at this lost season as a measure of this franchise's progress. I refuse to make a definitive assessment of this coaching staff and front office on this season's failings alone. I'm going to remain hopeful, focus on the limited but perceptible progress we've seen so far during the Gruden era. And I'm going to wait and see what decisions the team makes in this next critical coming season.

I'm sinking fast in deep waters, staring into an endless abyss of grey, murky, empty cold ocean. But I'm not ready just yet to open my mouth and let the water in. Not yet.

Maybe in 2019?

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