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Strong finishes not part of Redskins' recent history

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Strong finishes not part of Redskins' recent history

The Redskins finished the first half of their season with a 3-5 record and in last place in the NFC East. One of the primary reasons they have a losing record is that their defense has allowed 227 points, tied for the second-worst performance in the NFL.

Naturally, the Redskins hope to improve substantially in both areas for the second half of the season. If they want to make a run at a playoff spot they will have to go 6-2 and hope that other teams falter enough so that 9-7 will get them in on tiebreakers. And if they are going to do that, it would help to cut back the points scored against them to something closer to the NFL average, which is about 185.

If they accomplish either one of those goals, however, they would be bucking some pretty strong historical trends.

Let’s look at the record first. The Redskins have finished each of the last four years with identical records of 2-6. That spans the two years of Jim Zorn and Mike Shanahan’s two seasons.

You have to go back to 2005, the second season of Joe Gibbs II, to find a Redskins team that had a winning record in the last eight games of the year. That team went 5-3 in the second half of the season, matching the record they had in the first half. That 10-6 record got them a wild card playoff berth.

The Redskins have not followed up a losing record in the first half of the season with a winning record in the second half since 2001. That year Marty Schottenheimer’s team went from 3-5 in the first half (after an 0-3 start) to 5-3 in the second.

The last time they went 6-2 in the last half of the season was in 1989.

As far as points given up, the Redskins’ opponents have scored more points against them in the second half of the season than they did in the first in each of the last five years. The last time they improved was in was in 2007 when they went from giving up 160 points in the first half to 150 in the second.

The last time the Redskins made a substantial improvement in points allowed, one on the order of what they would like to accomplish this year, was in the 2001 season. They gave up 193 points in the first half of the year and 110 in the second.

This isn’t to say that the Redskins have no hope of improving this year. It doesn’t mean that they are doomed to going 2-6 again and to giving up over 200 points. After all, only a handful of players who were part of the 2-6 collapse in 2008 are still on the roster. And with RG3 behind center, they have an asset they have not had in decades.

But losing in November and December seems to be ingrained in the team’s culture and unless can buck the trend they are headed for more disappointment.  

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In the span of six minutes, the Redskins' season went from hope to despair in New Orleans

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USA TODAY Sports

In the span of six minutes, the Redskins' season went from hope to despair in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS—The Redskins’ game against the Saints, and perhaps their whole season went from hope to despair in the span of just six minutes.

When Kirk Cousins threw a touchdown pass to tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, the Redskins were up by 15 points with 5:58 to play. Some Saints fans departed the Mercedes Benz Superdome, figuring that their team’s seven-game losing streak was about to end.

But Drew Brees and the Saints weren’t going anywhere. The Redskins defense was loose, to say the least, as the Hall of Fame quarterback completed seven of seven passes for 82 yards and a touchdown. The drive took just 3:05 and it seemed that the Saints barely broke a sweat.

RELATED: 5 TAKEAWAYS FROM THE PAINFUL LOSS IN NEW ORLEANS

“We gave up too quick a score on the initial one,” said Jay Gruden.

But the Redskins were still in control of the game. After two Samaje Perine runs, the Saints were out of timeouts and Washington had third and one with 2:38 to go. The lined up and then called a timeout.

“We actually lined up with a tight end on the wrong side so we had to get that fixed up,” said Gruden.

It’s week 11 and the tight end can’t line up on the right side of the formation on a critical play. Perhaps they should be beyond these issues by now?

Even with the tight end properly aligned, the play had no chance as Perine tried to go off the right side and he was hit for a one-yard loss. The clock wound down to the two-minute warning and Tress Way boomed a 54-yard punt that was fair caught at the Saints 13. The Redskins had to defend 87 yards of turf for 1:53. They couldn’t do it.

Brees again took on the role of the hot knife and the Redskins still were the butter. Four for four passing, each throw gaining 17 yards or more. The touchdown pass to Alvin Kamara and the two-point conversion tied the game at 31-31.

When asked what happened, linebacker and former Saint Junior Galette said that while he respects Brees and the Saints, this one was on the defense.

“In two minute, he’s one of the best I’ve seen but still we’ve got to bow down and tighten our defense up,” he said.

“They’re a really good team but I honestly feel that we beat ourselves today,” said Galette. “It’s a really good team, one of the better teams we’ve played all year but if you watch that game you know we beat ourselves.”

Safety D.J. Swearinger echoed Galette’s viewpoint.

RELATED: THIS REDSKINS' LOSS LITERALLY DEFIED THE ODDS

“They came back and beat us fair and square,” he said. “But at the end of the day we didn’t do our job. We beat ourselves for sure. We for sure beat ourselves.”

In case there was any doubt about it, Swearinger then said that they beat themselves twice more in the next sentences.

The good part of the Saints drive was that it consumed just 48 seconds, leaving the Redskins with 1:05 to try to get a winning field goal. Cousins threw three passes to Jamison Crowder and all of a sudden the Redskins were on the New Orleans 34, close enough to at least attempt a game winning field goal.

But then it fell apart. With 31 seconds left, Cousins took a snap from behind center and immediately threw the ball out of bounds on the right side with no receiver nearby. The officials conferred and dropped a flag for intentional grounding.

The flag never should have been thrown because the rule says that the quarterback must be in imminent danger of getting sacked. Cousins was not. But the way the play went down it certainly gave referee Walt Coleman the opportunity to make a mistake and you never want to do that.

The explanations for the throw offered by the coach and quarterback were somewhat confusing and didn’t really line up. But for the record, here is the gist of what each of them said:

Gruden: “I was trying to get his [Cousins’] attention and hand signal a bubble screen out there. If we get it out there and get it out of bounds, we get another play called. Unfortunately, Jamison didn’t get it.”

Cousins: “I looked over to the sideline out of the corner of my eye and I just saw the coaches saying, ‘throw it’. They wanted potentially an audible, get to an actual pass play. I thought they were saying throw it to Jamison, in the general area of Jamison, there was an eligible in the area and there’s no penalty.”

There is little point into going into the minutia of what they said. There seems to have been some confusion in the loud Superdome and perhaps Gruden will clarify it in his Monday press conference.

Again, it should not have been grounding but you can’t give them a chance to make that mistake.

And the Redskins still had 18 seconds (after a 10-second runoff that perhaps should not have happened) to try to get back the 10 yards and maybe a few more to get a shot at a field goal. But he was sacked (the Saints’ first sack of the day) and he fumbled. Morgan Moses recovered but the clock ran out.

Although they had a 10-minute overtime, it felt like it was over and it soon was. The Redskins went three and out. Brees didn’t even have to drop back to pass as runs of 20 and 31 yards set up the field goal that applied the final gut punch.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Stop talking about Jay Gruden's job. Just stop

Stop talking about Jay Gruden's job. Just stop

NEW ORLEANS - Jay Gruden and the Redskins choked away a terrific opportunity for a much needed win on Sunday. They collapsed. Disappeared. Crumbled. Crumpled. Caved in. 

Whatever word you choose, the result was terrible. Washington held a 31-16 lead with less than five minutes remaining. That score should absolutely result in a Redskins victory. Only it didn't.

Gruden deserves plenty of blame for the loss, as does the Redskins defense that gave up back to back late touchdowns to allow Drew Brees and the Saints to come all the way back. The offense also couldn't get a yard, one yard, when they needed it, for the second time in two weeks. There's lots of blame to go around, and deservedly. 

But, stop talking about Gruden's future with the Redskins. 

Just stop. 

MORE: KIRK COUSINS GIVES HIS SIDE OF THE INTENTIONAL GROUNDING

He's not going anywhere. The loss in New Orleans drops the Redskins record to 4-6, and very likely, eliminates Washington from the playoff picture. With a favorable schedule remaining, it's possible the Redskins could win out, but that would be a tall order. A finish around 8-8 seems most likely.

So, the naysayers will shout, why does Gruden get to stay? Let's count the reasons:

  • For starters, the Redskins just signed Gruden to a two-year contract extension in the offseason. That means he's under contract through 2020. Gruden makes roughly $5 million a year, and to get rid of him would cost the organization eight figures. Not gonna happen.
  • Beyond the money and the contract, Gruden has been good. The Redskins were awful when he arrived, going 3-13 in 2013. Awful. And the team has had steady improvement under Gruden. They won the NFC East in 2015, narrowly missed a playoff spot in 2016, and this year, when healthy, competed with the best teams in the NFL.
  • This year's Redskins team is wildly beat up. The defense lost three starters before the first snap of the year, and the offense just lost their best player when Chris Thompson broke his leg against the Saints. 
  • Gruden is also getting better, and more competent. The coach overhauled his defensive staff this offseason, and the team has responded. He has a growing role in scouting and personnel, and largely, the results are working.  

It's easy to be upset after a colossal sinkhole of a game like what happened in New Orleans. Gruden needs to be better. He knows it.

"It's terrible," Gruden said after the game, correctly. "We laid it all out on the line. We came out to a hostile environment against a team that has won seven in a row. You don't get anything for close."

Remember, however, that Jay Gruden has brought the Redskins from terrible to good. Crazed fans that want him gone need to remind themselves of that.

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