Six games into a season where it was hoped the Redskins would return to their late season form of 2012 and become a playoff team, hope is essentially gone. It’s not just the 1-5 record, quarterback Kirk Cousins isn’t proving to be ready for the job and there are questions now about rookie coach Jay Gruden. He may not be the “young Joe Gibbs” that we’ve hoped for since Gibbs’ first retirement in 1993 – and that includes the old Joe Gibbs, who returned from 2004-2007.
So besides Robert Griffin III getting back on the field at some point this year, what’s left to see in this disappointing season? Playoffs aren’t even a long shot, they’re a no shot. However, we’ve seen some Redskin teams over the years produce entertaining finishes to horrible starts that at least have left us hopeful going into the following season. Here are six that stand out in reverse chronological order:
2001 – start: 0-5, finish: 8-8, record the following year: 7-9 – This was the one year of Marty Schottenheimer. After first saying on ESPN that he could never work for an owner like Dan Snyder, Marty did an about face and signed a four year deal worth $10 million. Changing the culture was his first order of business. Dumping player personnel director Vinny Cerrato and free agent bust Dana Stubblefield were among his first moves. He benched starting quarterback Jeff George in the opening day 30-3 loss in San Diego. And two days after losing at Green Bay, 37-0, George was cut. They went the rest of the way with waiver-wire quarterback Tony Banks, who played better than George, but dropped the next three. At 0-5, we started having discussions on the air over what was less likely to happen in the NFL – an 0-16 season or a 16-0. Since that time, both have occurred, but at that time those Skins appeared on their way to the first 0-16 ever. In their sixth game, they trailed Carolina 14-0 midway through the fourth quarter as the Panthers seemed on their way to a game-clinching field goal. But on third down at the Redskins 28, Chris Weinke threw a short pass in the flat that Lavar Arrington picked off and returned 68 yards for a touchdown. That proved to be the spark that jolted the Redskins back to life. They went on to win that game in overtime and rolled through their next four. Incredibly 0-5 had become 5-5 and the Skins were back in the playoff hunt. Division losses in December to Dallas and Philadelphia pretty much killed their postseason hopes. But they finished strong with a 40-10 win at New Orleans and a 20-17 win over the Cardinals to wind up 8-8. However, Marty’s ship had already sailed. Refusing to give up some of the control Snyder had given him when he was hired, he was fired a week after the season ended. Steve Spurrier was hired to take Schottenheimer’s place.
1998 – start: 0-7, finish: 6-10, record the following year: 10-6, NFC East Champs – After just missing the playoffs at 9-7 in ’96 and 8-7-1 in ’97, 1998 was supposed to be a playoff year. General manager Charley Casserly had addressed a big need on the defensive line by dealing for Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson and signing free agent Dana Stubblefield, who’d been the NFC defensive player of the year in San Francisco. They opened the season in New York and led the Giants 10-7, but the second half was the beginning of the end. After quarterback Gus Frerotte threw a pick six to Michael Strahan early in the second half, he was benched for Trent Green. With a couple of touchdown passes, Green made the loss a respectable 31-24 and earned the start the following week. But that game was a Monday nighter and the 49ers came to town and blew the Redskins doors off 45-10. Denver came in a couple of weeks later and didn’t even play John Elway. Bubby Brister quarterbacked the 38-16 debacle. They got to 0-6 by losing at winless Philadelphia and then played a putrid game in Minnesota, losing 41-7. At 0-7, what was supposed to be a playoff year looked like it would be an historically bad season. Had owner John Kent Cooke not been tied up trying to hang on to the team as it went up for sale, Norv Turner would likely have been fired. Somehow though, they turned it around. Green started to play well and the Redskins won six of their next eight. They finally ran out of gas in the season finale, losing at Dallas 23-7. But to go from 0-7 to 6-10 proved the team didn’t quit on Norv and he stayed on the job. Green wound up with a big free agent contract in St. Louis and under new owner Dan Snyder, the Redskins won the division in 1999.
1985 – start: 1-3, finish: 10-6, record the following year: 12-4, lost in the NFC Championship game – Coming off three straight division titles, with Super Bowl appearances after the first two, it was a cold slap in the face to lose the opener at Dallas, 44-14. They managed to hang on to a 16-0 lead in week two and beat Houston 16-13, but week three produced only two Mark Moseley field goals in a loss to Philadelphia. After a 45-10 loss in Chicago, it really looked bad. But they won four of the next five to get to 5-4. However, after another loss to Dallas, some thought it may be time to start thinking about benching the aging Joe Theismann. There would be no need for that. On November 18th, Theismann played his last game. That was the Monday night he suffered that gruesome broken leg playing against the Giants. The injury, however, seemed to shock the Giants more than the Redskins and Jay Schroeder stepped in to direct a 23-21 win. A victory in Pittsburgh put the Skins at 7-5 and there was playoff talk again. That ended with a 35-8 loss to San Francisco, but they won their last three. Had the league had more than one Wild Card team in each conference in those days, they would have made the playoffs. Instead, a 10-6 finish with a second-year quarterback would have to do.
1984 – start: 0-2, finish: 11-5, record the following year: 10-6 – An 0-2 start decreases your playoff chances, but it shouldn’t be reason for panic. That year it was. Realize the Redskins had just played in the two previous Super Bowls. They dropped the opener at home to Miami 35-17 as Dan Marino threw five touchdown passes and then lost at San Francisco 37-31. It looked much better at the end of the season when the Dolphins and 49ers met in the Super Bowl. Five straight wins followed before back to back losses on the road at St. Louis and at New York. At 5-4, they needed to make a run and they did. Except for a disappointing loss at Philadelphia, they won the rest of the games, including a pair of nail biters against Dallas and St. Louis. It earned the Redskins a playoff game at home, but they lost to the Bears 23-19, ending their season earlier than they had in three years.
1981 – start: 0-5, finish: 8-8, record the following year: 8-1, Super Bowl Champions – This is the year that all bad start seasons are compared to. It was Joe Gibbs first season on the job and he had plans to install the “Air Coryell” offense that he’d run under head coach Don Coryell in San Diego. After five games they were leading the league in offense, but were 0-5. Gibbs feared he might be fired. But owner Jack Kent Cooke said to the media, “Patience is the key.” That patience would pay off. Gibbs scrapped his offense and designed a new one with a run based attack. It worked. The Redskins went on to win five of their next six and headed to Dallas the week before Thanksgiving with high hopes. A 24-10 loss in that game followed by 21-14 loss at Buffalo ended their playoff dreams, but they won their last two to finish 8-8. The foundation was laid and the next year that team won it’s first Super Bowl.
1980 – start: 1-5, finish: 6-10, record the following year: 8-8 – When John Riggins walked out of training camp, saying he was retiring because his contract demands weren’t being met, the season was pretty much doomed. Part of it was money and part of it was Riggo was still in funk over losing the season finale in 1979 at Dallas 35-34. That loss knocked the Redskins out of the playoffs. Wouldn’t you know it, they opened the 1980 season at home against the same Dallas Cowboys. This time the Redskins were no match, losing 17-3. A win at Giants Stadium followed, but then the season started to unravel. After a 20-17 loss in Denver, speculation that coach Jack Pardee was coaching for his job, got louder. The Redskins were 1-5. Then the defense stepped up with six sacks and two interceptions of Cardinals quarterback Jim Hart in a 23-0 win over St. Louis in week seven which was followed by a win over New Orleans. But then it was back to more losing. A 10-6 loss in Atlanta dropped the season record to 3-10. Then just when it looked like time to pack it in, the Redskins played their best game of the year. They blasted those “Air Coryell” Chargers 40-17 and won their last two against the Giants and Cardinals to get to 6-10. However, the strong finish wasn’t enough to save Pardee’s job. He was fired and replaced by Joe Gibbs. And the rest is history.