Redskins fans feel like they’re watching a movie they’ve seen a hundred times before: the team starts off promising (to fans, if no longer to the media) and then doesn’t live up to even our modest expectations. Or, they do meet our modest expectations, but in a way that makes us expect more along the way.
Now they sit at 3-5, once again looking up from the bottom of the NFC East. For fans of a team that’s only finished above .500 twice in the last 10 seasons (the team’s only two playoff appearances in that span), the script looks very familiar, indeed.
Most reasonable fans I know thought they would finish about 8-8, give or take a game, but now even that record seems out of reach. Message boards and Twitter feeds are full of much teeth gnashing and plenty of suggestions of which of the many problems are the most to blame.
But I don’t want to talk about any of that today. For now, I want to talk about progress. What does progress look like in an NFL team? How can we, as fans, have any clue whether we’re going in the right direction?
Some might point to the recent past of the Detroit Lions as an example. After finishing an astonishing 0-16 in 2008, they won 2 games in ’09, then 6 games in ’10. Now, they’re sitting at 6-2 halfway through the season. There is some debate in football commenting circles about whether they’ll make the postseason this year, but, all-in-all, it’s an amazing turnaround.
But are they a good example?
The San Francisco 49ers, who just handed the Redskins a pretty good whipping on Sunday, weren’t a good team in 2008, either, but they weren’t Detroit-bad. They finished 7-9. The very definition of middling. In 2009, they improved to 8-8 (so far, so good). Then last year the slid back to 6-10. Through half of this year, they’ve already reached 7 wins.
Certainly a different path than the Lions have taken, but to a similar result so far this season.
Did fans of Detroit or San Francisco have more reasons to be optimistic about the future in 2010 than Redskins fans do in 2011? Matthew Stafford and Alex Smith weren’t exactly lighting things up, though they were both number one overall draft picks.
Winning in team sports is like flying a plane. Reduced to the simplest terms, you’re either flying or you’re on the ground. Take a snapshot of a plane on a runway, and you can’t tell if it’s landing, taking off, taxiing or just sitting there. And that’s what a win-loss record is, a snapshot. And a lot of complicated parts and procedures must fit together just so to get off the ground.
The start of the season sets the team plane barreling down the runway, whether or not we have all the parts in place.