Once he had given his final speech to his players, walked out of the quiet but not deflated locker room, down the hallway and through the row of media to the podium, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden put a bow on 2018 by stating the facts.
“Well it’s over, we know that,” he said of his second straight 7-9 campaign. “We put a lot of work in and we hate to see it end like this.”
Everything that happened in Sunday afternoon’s 24-0 loss to the Eagles – the opening interception, the disparity in time of possession, the number of backups thrust into starting roles – epitomized the adversity the Redskins have faced throughout the second half of the season.
Much like it had in the final seven games of the season, in which the team won just once, Washington struggled to find any productivity on offense and couldn’t get off the field on third down defensively. It produced a lopsided score and, later, some deep reflection on a season that started so promising and turned so quickly.
“In order to get past the hump, we have to do a lot of things better,” Gruden said. “Obviously penalties number one, and then obviously there’s some issues injury-wise we can’t control. But we have to overcome those and overcome adversity a little better. We have a good nucleus of players moving forward and we’ll just go from there."
The game began ominously when quarterback Josh Johnson heaved a pass deep to wide receiver Josh Doctson that Rasul Douglas intercepted. The Redskins only achieved eight first downs and 89 total yards the rest of the night, unable to convert a single third down opportunity. Johnson completed 12 passes for 91 yards while running back Adrian Peterson took four carries for zero yards.
The Eagles, meanwhile, converted 8-of-14 chances on third down, possessing the football for 43 minutes and 19 seconds and dominating the line of scrimmage and wearing down the Redskins defense.
“Right now I'm a little upset about the performance that we put out there on the field today, so I've just got to let this one get out of me real quick and then after that I'll probably reflect on things,” Johnson said. “But the biggest thing is really seeing where I can get better. Playing against a defense like that was a great learning experience for me today. That's a different kind of defense and I know there's going to be a lot of different things I can learn from it."
Whether the Redskins as a whole will be able to learn from this season is tough to assess. Washington ended the year with 24 players on the Reserve/Injured list, including starting quarterback Alex Smith, whose leg injury created a leadership void that never got filled. That obscures evaluations and outcomes the complexion of the season.
"It was tough trying to hold onto something Alex brought,” said cornerback Josh Norman, who criticized his own play against wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey on Sunday. “He brought a lot to the table as far as time of possession, that's key man. I'm not saying anything about it other than the truth, that's key for us. I feel like you have the ball for a period of time and you get your unit, your D back out there fresh and you make plays and turnovers and all kind of things of that nature and that sort and we just didn't have that. When he went out we was trying to get that and there just wasn't enough of it, you know?”
Washington finished the year by going 1-6 in its final seven games without him, a record emblematic of the injuries that continued to pile up in similar fashion to 2017. Gruden didn’t want to make excuses as he thought about their impact for the second straight season, but acknowledged how challenging it was preparing new quarterbacks (Colt McCoy, then Mark Sanchez, then Johnson), offensive linemen and skill positions each week.
“It’s still no excuse for us,” he said. “We should have been a little better today. It’s been difficult. You try to build a game plan on Wednesday and you find out on Thursday the tight end’s not going or on Friday somebody else can’t go. It’s been difficult, but it’s something we have to overcome and do a better job of.”
"You basically got guys that are running routes that the quarterbacks don’t even know,” right tackle Morgan Moses said. “You can’t bypass the injuries, it happens. Unfortunately, we’ve been on the bad side of it these last couple years. We just gotta hone in and do what we need to do. Whatever it takes, guys doing more outside of the building to make sure they’re ready on Sunday and just taking advantage of the offseason.”
The Redskins now face plenty of questions this offseason, regarding a variety of players, positions and injury timelines. But both Gruden and players believe in the nucleus this team will return, a beacon of light for a unit that has battled through obstacles many wouldn’t be able to overcome.
“The heart is there, the desire, the talent is there,” running back Adrian Peterson said. “It’s all about just kind of putting it all together. We’ll have guys healthy next year. It’ll definitely be a new feeling.”