ASHBURN, Va. – The Washington Redskins love to talk about last year.
Barely a day goes when a player or coach doesn't reference the fact that the Redskins were a miserable 3-6 at their bye week in 2012, and how they emerged from the break a different team by winning seven straight to claim the NFC East title.
"We're built to get out of this hole — just like we were last year," Robert Griffin III said on Sept. 25.
The comparisons are inevitable because this year's bye has already arrived, and the Redskins are again struggling. They are 1-3, their only victory coming against the undermanned and struggling-even-more Oakland Raiders.
"I think our football fans see that we played well at the end of last season," coach Mike Shanahan said on Sept. 23. "Hopefully we can get on a run."
It's a reversal from the norm of coach-speak and player-speak. Usually it's the fans and the media who are obsessed with history and how it can repeat itself. Questions are often deflected with answers like: "What happened in the past doesn't matter. This is a new team."
Not with these Redskins.
"We went through a lot of bumps last year," cornerback Josh Wilson said on Sept. 18, "and we were able to put it together."
Can these Redskins do the same? To answer that question, let's examine what happened last year.
Entering the bye, the Redskins had just lost at home to the Carolina Panthers, who came in at 1-6. Shanahan indicated immediately afterward that he was giving up on the playoffs, but then he changed course over the next few days when he showed his players the schedule and told them they were still in it because they had five division games remaining.
Griffin, feeling his way as a rookie, was elected a team captain after the bye and gave his first rally-cry speech. His teammates responded with a 31-6 thumping of the Philadelphia Eagles.
It's easy to look back and draw inspiration from times like those.
"Last year we came off the bye week with a lot of success," quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur said Tuesday, "and we expect the same this year."
But last year's team never sputtered like this year's. The 2012 Redskins were dominated in only one game — a 27-12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers — while the 2013 Redskins have already been routed twice, getting outscored 50-7 in the first halves of their first two games. Griffin isn't the same dynamic quarterback since his return from offseason knee surgery, the offensive line isn't protecting him as well, middle linebacker London Fletcher is finally showing his age, and the secondary is giving up yards by the boatload.
Put it this way: Last year's 3-6 Redskins would probably beat this year's 1-3 Redskins by double digits.
But that doesn't stop the comparisons.
"We went through this last year," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said on Sept. 19. "We struggled, and then we put it all together."
Even though they haven't played as well, these Redskins are actually in better shape to turn the season around. It's still very early. Griffin and Fletcher have time to regain their strides. Safety Brandon Meriweather, the one possible difference-maker in the secondary, is finally healthy. Haslett and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will try to come up with more creative game plans to cover up deficiencies, just as they did last year.
Also, the 2012 bye-week Redskins were three games out of first place. This season, they sit only one game behind the Dallas Cowboys.
"We're still 1-3; 2-2 is leading the division," Mike Shanahan said. "So it gives us a chance after the bye week, especially playing Dallas, to kind of get started all over again."
Some players — notably cornerback DeAngelo Hall and defensive lineman Kedric Golston — have repeatedly downplayed the reminders of 2012. Hall recently issued this tried-and-true admonition: "We can't live on what we did last year. That means nothing right now."
Griffin agreed that there's a line between learning from history — and relying on it.
"You look to that as a sense of confidence," Griffin said. "Like, 'We know what this team's made of. We know what we can do.' But you don't look at that and relax and say, 'Hey, we can just keep on losing. It'll be all gravy.' "
Or, to steal the line from the commercial: Past performance is not an indicator of future results.
"Last year was an exciting year, but who knows?" Golston said. "The thing about this year is we know what last year's Redskins did. Went to the first round of the playoffs and lost. And the book hasn't been finished on this one."
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