WASHINGTON - Act I of the Washington Redskins Spectacular Horror Show is mercifully over.
Now we brace for Act II.
The first act was this inexplicable train wreck of a 3-13 season that would end in an eight-game losing skid, the likes of which we haven't seen in D.C. since 1961. From historically awful special teams play to horrible defense to inept offense, this team set franchise records for futility en route to their worst record since 1994.
That act begets the second act: Mike Shanahan's firing and the dog-and-pony show that will likely mark the search for his replacement.
Shanahan earned his fate. He lost 40 games in four seasons running the show here, crushed Kirk Cousins' trade value and seemingly multiplied the Redskins' drama quotient, which is no easy task.
(If I may briefly digress: remember all the QB controversy talk? Well, here are Kirk Cousins' stats in his three starts: 69 passes completed in 130 attempts (53.1%), 747 yards (5.7 yards per attempt), three touchdowns, six interceptions, two fumbles. This dude committed a turnover every 16.6 touches against three terrible defenses. Even a team with Al Davis as owner and Matt Millen as GM wouldn't deal a first round pick for Cousins.)
As I've said many times on air and on this website, Shanahan did quite a bit of good here. Not only did he choose great first-round picks, but drafting Alfred Morris in the sixth round was a great find (especially considering he basically flipped Donovan McNabb for the stud running back). Free-agent additions such as Pierre Garcon and Barry Cofield paid dividends.
But for every good move Shanahan made, he made an epically awful one. Furthermore, there's no way you can survive a season like this one. Going 3-13 in a year where you're blessed with such good health (the offensive line stayed fully intact all 16 games and the defense was also remarkably healthy), and his inability to get on the same page with quarterback Robert Griffin III, are fireable offenses in and of themselves.
To make matters worse, this nightmare season handed the second overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft straight to the St. Louis Rams as the final payment from the RGIII deal. So, while they need up to seven new starters on defense, the Skins enter the upcoming draft minus a pick that (in theory) should yield an elite-level prospect.
The long road out of the wilderness
I'm not sure where the Redskins go from here. They've been down every road: Super Bowl-winning coach (Shanahan), living legend (Joe Gibbs), college coach (Steve Spurrier), outside-the-box assistant coach (Jim Zorn) and retread (Marty Schottenheimer).
What's obvious is that the next coach will have a talented roster on offense but a huge challenge in the other two phases of the game (not to mention overcoming the handicap of the owner).
Any quality search must begin with the hire of a legitimate personnel executive. Even if it's just giving current general manager Bruce Allen a promotion, somebody other than the owner and/or the coach needs to be making football decisions in Ashburn from here on out.
The depressing part of all this for Redskins Nation is that just a year ago, this franchise won the NFC East and appeared to be a team on the rise with rookies RGIII and Morris leading the way. Now this franchise appears to be more lost in the wilderness than ever before.
So get your popcorn ready. This off-season is going to be another thrilling performance from the league's longest running soap opera.
And now for the last regular-season recap of 2013:
The axe fell hard and fast on Mike Shanahan. But what about Tom Coughlin in New York? The Giants are in steep decline and in need of new blood. There's no better time than now for a transfusion.
Carolina tied a franchise record with 12 wins and has to be considered one of the most dangerous teams in a very deep field in the NFC. I'm excited to see this team play.
Well, it had to end sometime. For the first time in the Joe Flacco-John Harbaugh era, Baltimore will spend New Year's Eve at home. At least Redskins fans will have some local company, right?
Thanks to an epic 14-game losing streak to end the season, we'll hear this phrase in April: "With the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select..."
Credit Gus Bradley for the job he's done in Jacksonville. Before the season, I thought for sure this was the worst team in the league, but it turned out they weren't even the worst in their division. If they can find a franchise QB (or even a solid veteran option in free agency), this team could take a step forward in 2014.
I'll give Rex Ryan credit: I thought before the season this dude was as good as fired. But he broke .500 with a rookie quarterback and a lack of overall talent. Jets players should be happy.
Two teams, two coaches fired. Cordarrelle Patterson closed down the Metrodome in style, but it wouldn't be enough to save Leslie Frazier from the chopping block. If Minnesota's front office brass is smart, they'll give Jack Del Rio a look. He's a former Viking, and he's got a decent track record as a head coach.
Detroit lost six of their last seven, making a return to Motown for Coach Jim Schwartz too tough to sell to a long-suffering Lions fan base. I never thought I'd see the day I'd say this, but Detroit has enough talent to make this a really desirable job.
OK, I swear my mancrush on Mike Tomlin isn't clouding my judgment here, but Tomlin did a heckuva job just keeping Pittsburgh in playoff contention with a mediocre team in obvious decline. If there's a resurrection in the Steel City, they've got the right man to lead the way.
Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb return to the Packer lineup and hook up for a huge fourth-down play to send Green Bay to their third straight division title. This, folks, is not a coincidence.
Give Peyton Manning credit for basically rewriting the record books for single- season passing numbers. Touchdowns, yards, 300-yard games ... he's got almost all of them. But his season, and Denver's, will be defined by whether they reach the Super Bowl.
New England is nothing short of a modern marvel. This is their fourth straight season with 12 or more wins. And right now the team has to be the biggest threat to Denver in the AFC. In fact, I'll take it a step further: The Pats are my favorite to represent the conference in the Super Bowl.
Even though they somewhat redeemed themselves after an 0-7 start, Tampa Bay is getting the fresh start they need. If I'm the Bucs, the first call I make is to Tony Dungy.
Arizona has nothing to be ashamed of. Few people expected them to compete in the toughest division in football, yet they won 10 games. If the Cardinals can find an heir apparent to stopgap QB Carson Palmer, the future in the desert will be bright.
Chargers 27 (OT)
Fearless prediction: Kansas City will regret resting their starters. Teams that treat the final regular-season game like a preseason game rarely fare well in the playoffs.
Oh, and Ryan Succop? If you ever go to Pittsburgh, no soup for you.
Seattle is who we thought they were: the best team in the NFC and maybe all of football. The road to the Super Bowl goes through the Emerald City, and that's bad news for the rest of the field.
If it weren't for Peyton Manning's insane 2013 season, we'd be talking a lot more about what Nick Foles has done in Philly: 27 TDs and only two INTs, a league record for TD/INT ratio. And his passer rating is one of the best ever. Call him a system QB all you want, but the Eagles could have their long-term answer at the position.
Dallas, however, does not. If Tony Romo's finest hour is edging out a three- win team at the last second to set up yet another Week 17 loss, then that's all the Cowboys need to know about their title hopes with No. 9 under center. Couple that with one of the worst defenses ever, and it may be time for this squad to break up.
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