Redskins back in familiar spot

ASHBURN, Va. -- The message is one no one wants to deliver or hear. Not in early December. Problem is, it’s one the Washington Redskins have heard all too often in recent years. Play for pride; play to ruin someone else’s season. Play for your future.

It’s what the Redskins have been forced to do. With four games remaining. And in a season that began with expectations of a long playoff run.

“I’ve been here for seven years,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “This is a pretty low time. I can see if I didn’t feel we had the talent to get it done. I know we have the talent to get it done. It’s just a situation where we haven’t done it.”

There’s been a history in Washington of overstating the talent, though in the summertime it was viewed well enough for many, including myself, to predict good things for the Redskins. But if the talent really is that deep now, then the coaches did a bad job of maximizing it this season.

Offensively they have building blocks and a potentially strong nucleus with quarterback Robert Griffin III, running back Alfred Morris, receiver Pierre Garcon and left tackle Trent Williams. For now, though, they’re just part of an inconsistent offense, thanks mostly to the passing game.

Defensively, the nucleus is not as strong: linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Perry Riley, nose tackle Barry Cofield and defensive ends Jarvis Jenkins and Stephen Bowen, who might need micro-fracture surgery. They could re-sign Brian Orakpo to solidify their outside linebacking situation. Still, the potential is greater on the other side of the ball.

And in the next four weeks, the speculation over the future -- for both players and coaches -- will intensify. Coach Mike Shanahan’s future in particular will be a focal point unless and until owner Dan Snyder says otherwise. For now, Shanahan talks like someone who will return in 2014 for a fifth season.

Shanahan said he had a lot of confidence that his players would keep “fighting” over the next four weeks.

“If not, then they won’t be with us in a year,” Shanahan said.

This is what Shanahan said he told his players: “After it’s over and you go out there and play and the way you prepare, you play just as though you are in the playoffs. You want to spoil somebody else’s year. You want to play at a high level. You’re always being evaluated for the future. That never changes.”

It’s a speech Redskins players heard in 2010 and 2011 as well. And 2009. And for players such as Kedric Golston, Reed Doughty and Santana Moss, 2006, too. In fact, in Snyder’s tenure, the Redskins have entered December with a losing record 10 times. They were .500 or better in his first three years; since then, there has been one season in which they reached the final month .500 or better -- in 2008 with Jim Zorn when they were 8-4, only to finish 8-8. They were 5-6 a year ago en route to 10-6.

That’s not to pin it all on Snyder. He was praised for the current setup he put together. But this is his organization and those are facts; good organizations build consistent winners and the Redskins have failed miserably in that area. And it just means this team is used to playing for something other than the playoffs.

“You have to be a pro,” Fletcher said. “It doesn’t feel good playing for pride, but that’s what our situation is. You still want to win ballgames. You still want to have a good feeling of winning a game. That’s what we’re faced with. We earned it. We can’t blame anybody but ourselves.”