The Patriots are playing the Redskins on Sunday in Washington, but the environment won’t exactly be hostile.
The Redskins are 0-4, but FedExField has for several years been a sanctuary for visiting fans. The Redskins are filling it to 86.9 percent capacity this year, third-lowest in the NFL — and that’s accounting for the 10,000 or so seats they have removed over the past decade. Cowboys and Bears fans already have turned FedExField into their home stadium this season, and the Patriots will likely do so on Sunday.
“It’s frustrating and it’s disappointing,” said Joe Theismann, the former Redskins Super Bowl-winning quarterback who now watches games from the owner’s suite. “It has been a tough struggle for the last 20 years.”
This is the 21st season of Dan Snyder’s ownership, and the Redskins seem to have hit rock bottom. The team drafted quarterback Dwayne Haskins in the first round, but fans have little hope. The Redskins haven’t made the playoffs since 2015 and the season-ticket wait list is history. The roster has almost no star power, and coach Jay Gruden will be fired sooner rather than later.
“The Patriots have a real problem, because Bill Belichick is known for taking away an opponent’s strength, and he’s got nothing to take away this week,” quipped Frank Herzog, the Redskins’ radio announcer from 1979-2004. “Good luck, Bill. You’ve got your work cut out for you.”
The Redskins under Snyder have mostly been known for dysfunction and failure. In 21 years, Snyder has had seven full-time head coaches, four first-round quarterbacks, and only five playoff appearances. The Redskins’ .429 winning percentage in Snyder’s 21 years is sixth-worst in the NFL. They haven’t won a playoff game since 2005, haven’t been to the NFC Championship game since 1992, and, worst of all, are just 12-29 against the hated Cowboys under Snyder.
Now with the Redskins barely looking competitive, D.C. has mostly checked out this season.
“It’s absolutely horrible,” said Chad Dukes, an afternoon host on 106.7 FM for 10 years. “It’s been a waning draw as far as a live event for many years. The building stinks, people don’t like the owner, the team hasn’t been competitive, they’ve been embroiled in controversy. Name the sexy players on the Washington Redskins.”
It’s a sad turn of events for what used to be one of the NFL’s cornerstone franchises. The Redskins used to be the Patriots, making four Super Bowls in a 10-year stretch and winning three. They were the league’s second-most dominant national brand, behind the Cowboys, and had a season-ticket wait list that stretched for decades, like the Packers.
“The old TV line was there are two people in Washington, D.C. who you don’t put their name underneath their picture: The president of the United States, and the coach of the Washington Redskins,” Herzog said.
Now the Redskins are the pre-Kraft Patriots — a bottom-feeding team run by an owner nobody seems to like.
Snyder has shown a Steinbrenner-ian level of impatience in running off several good football people — Mike Shanahan, Scot McCloughan, and Marty Schottenheimer among them.
Which has made it tougher to hire top-caliber people, and has led, of course, to some horrible personnel decisions. The Redskins have drafted four quarterbacks in the first round including Haskins, and whiffed on the first three — Patrick Ramsey, Jason Campbell, and Robert Griffin III. They finally found a decent quarterback in Kirk Cousins, and promptly ran him out of town.
They also have had horrible luck and tragedy. RG3 blew out his knee and never was the same player. Alex Smith just suffered a horrific leg injury that threw the team into a tailspin at quarterback. And, of course, star safety Sean Taylor was murdered in 2007.
It’s hard for fans to have hope after having their hearts ripped out so many times.
“I think Redskins fans are just sort of saying, ‘I’m tired of pulling for something and I don’t see anything,’ ” Theismann said.
The team has embarrassed itself even worse off the field. Snyder has defiantly refused to acknowledge the racist history of the word “Redskins.” He has aggressively sued fans who wanted to break their season-ticket contracts. His team was accused of forcing cheerleaders to go topless for a calendar shoot and serve as escorts for sponsors. He once charged $25 parking on Fan Appreciation Day.
Add in a soulless stadium in the suburbs, and a lot of bad football — only three 10-win seasons out of 20, and never more than 10 wins — and Snyder has effectively killed the Redskins. The team has cut FedExField capacity from about 91,000 to 82,000, but still mostly gets visiting fans for games.
“I kind of feel sorry for the whole organization, because you wonder, what can they do?” Herzog said. “It’s not something a draft pick can fix. I don’t know if changing head coaches is going to do any good. Anything that they do has to be drastic, and is going to be long term. It’s a real problem.”
And Snyder is only 54 years old, so he’s not going anywhere.
“I get all these crazy calls about the league stripping him of his ownership because he’s not good, but I think most people are resigned to this fate,” Dukes said. “I’ve seen Robert Griffin breaking his leg, and all the controversy with Shanahan on his way out, Jim Zorn and all the horrible bingo card jokes — this is worse than all of that right now.”
Brady moving up the charts
A few more notes related to the Patriots and Redskins:
■ Tom Brady could be passing some big names in the history books on Sunday. Brady, with 71,575 career passing yards (regular season), is 263 from tying Brett Favre for third all time, and 365 from tying Peyton Manning for second. Brady is 3,270 yards behind Drew Brees for the record, and probably won’t catch him unless Brees retires before Brady.
■ Speaking of Brady, his signing bonus from the contract he signed on Aug. 9 was split into multiple payments, too. Brady got $7.5 million on Aug. 19, and will get $7.5 million on Oct. 31, and $5.25 million on March 31. The Patriots do this with all of their big signing bonuses. Antonio Brown was no different in this regard.
■ With the Patriots losing kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who was struggling on extra points before landing on injured reserve, and new kicker Mike Nugent having a shaky history with the extra point, I wanted to look up the Patriots’ 2-point conversion stats and how they compare with the rest of the league.
Interestingly, while 2-point conversion attempts have skyrocketed since the extra point was moved back in 2015, the Patriots have still opted for the PAT. The average team has attempted 13.8 2-pointers over the last four-plus seasons, but the Patriots are only 3 for 5 on such attempts (regular season only). They haven’t attempted one this year, and went just 0 for 1 all of last year. Conversely, the Eagles have attempted 25 2-point conversions in the same time frame, and converted 17.
The league-wide success rate on 2-pointers since the start of 2015 is 47.5 percent. Defensively, the Patriots have only allowed teams to convert 3 of 9.
■ The Patriots are spending a decent chunk of cap money on receivers not on the 53-man roster — almost $10.15 million between Brown ($5.75 million), N’Keal Harry ($1.836 million), Demaryius Thomas ($1.8 million), Dontrelle Inman ($401,175), Maurice Harris ($216,579), and Malcolm Mitchell ($144,498). The Patriots are tight against the cap and surely could use that space.
■ The Washington Post reported this past week that Redskins coach Jay Gruden didn’t want to draft Dwayne Haskins this year, but the pick was forced on him by ownership. It shouldn’t be surprising. Gruden is on the hot seat, and the last thing he wants is to tie his fate to a rookie quarterback.
And when I saw before the draft that Haskins played high school football for The Bullis School, a tony Maryland private school Daniel Snyder’s son also attended, it just smelled like the quarterback was hand-picked by the owner.
■ The father of Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, FedEx CEO and founder Fred Smith, has a 5 percent ownership stake in the Redskins. An owner’s son working for a different team, that has to be a first in the NFL.
Players are not in total control
Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown gave many NFL players hope that they can control their destinies and work their way out of undesirable situations. But Jalen Ramsey and Stefon Diggs are finding out that they still have a lot less control than they want.
Ramsey, who has two years left on his contract, has made no secret of his desire to get out of Jacksonville, and he has tried his best to make himself a nuisance. He arrived to training camp with a Brinks truck and a hype man demanding Ramsey be paid a major free agent contract. And he will be inactive Sunday for the second straight week with a back injury that some in the NFL don’t believe is too serious.
Diggs, meanwhile, is just in the second year of a six-year deal he signed in 2018, but is frustrated with the state of the Vikings’ offense under quarterback Kirk Cousins and coordinator Kevin Stefanski and wants out. Diggs skipped practice on Wednesday, reportedly drawing a fine from the team. Then on Thursday, he gave a bit of a rambling news conference in which Diggs wouldn’t definitively say he wants to be traded, but said, “There’s truth to all rumors.”
But while Bell and Brown were able to finagle their way out of Pittsburgh, the Jaguars and Vikings haven’t been so accommodating. Sure, Ramsey and Diggs want out. But why would the Jaguars give up on a super-talented, 24-year-old cornerback who could be the cornerstone of the defense for some time? Same with the Vikings and their 25-year-old superstar receiver?
“We have to do the right thing for the team,” Jaguars owner Shad Khan told the Associated Press. “I think we value him highly. I have no issue [with him], obviously. I’d love for him to be part of the Jaguars. Obviously, we’re turning the season around, and I think he can help the team.”
Vikings voicing disappointment
The frustration in Minnesota is palpable, however, and extends beyond Diggs. Receiver Adam Thielen also has had enough of Cousins’s poor play, and he called out Cousins after last Sunday’s loss to the Bears, saying he “has to hit the deep balls.”
But instead of Thielen apologizing for taking private business public, Cousins was the one apologizing on the radio.
“I really want to apologize to [Thielen] because there’s too many opportunities where we could have hit him on Sunday,” Cousins said on KFAN.
Thielen is the one who should be apologizing, but the Cousins experiment in Minnesota is looking like an expensive bust. The Vikings are 2-2, and everyone’s stats are down: Cousins is averaging just 183.8 passing yards, while Diggs has only 13 catches for 209 yards and a touchdown, and Thielen has 13 catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’ve played a lot of football in this league, and I think you take confidence from the fact that I’ve been through this before,” Cousins said. “It’s not my first rodeo being in a tough game, a tough loss. You just move forward with confidence.”
Quinn starting to feel the heat
The heat is already getting turned up on Atlanta coach Dan Quinn, whose Falcons are 1-3 after last week’s loss at home to the Titans. That’s not exactly where owner Arthur Blank had hoped to be after giving Matt Ryan and Julio Jones $166 million in guarantees this offseason.
Quinn replaced all three of his coordinators this offseason, and it isn’t working. The Falcons are 26th in points and 22nd in points allowed after four games, and Quinn is already facing questions about his job security during his news conferences. A second straight season without playoffs could lead to a housecleaning in the coaching staff and potentially the front office.
Quinn better start racking up the wins soon, because following games at Houston and Arizona, the Falcons face the Rams, Seahawks, and Saints.
The MVP race is starting to take shape, and reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes is the early front-runner again. He leads the league with 1,510 passing yards, has thrown for 10 touchdowns against no interceptions, his 9.68 yards per attempt lead the league, and he unofficially leads the NFL in “wow” throws. But Russell Wilson is also a contender. Following Thursday night’s win over the Rams, Wilson has a league-high 126.3 passer rating, is completing a ridiculous 73.1 percent of his passes, and has an even-more-ridiculous 12:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also has 120 rushing yards, and may be the most complete quarterback in the NFL. Lamar Jackson is still in the conversation but fading quickly after two losses. Tom Brady lost a lot of ground with his performance last Sunday in Buffalo. Dak Prescott and Philip Rivers are lurking in the periphery. And for non-quarterbacks, Christian McCaffrey should be in the mix with his league-high 629 scrimmage yards . . . Weird story involving Drew Brees, who has been a high-profile endorser of a health and wellness company called AdvoCare. This past week, AdvoCare agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission $150 million to settle charges that it “operated an illegal pyramid scheme that deceived consumers,” per ESPN. Brees didn’t comment this past week, but in 2016 he vigorously defended AdvoCare. “Why are all these people involved in AdvoCare?” he said then. “Because it’s a viable business, and they believe in the products, what they are selling, and in AdvoCare. And so do I.” . . . The first of four London games kicks off on Sunday when the Raiders and Bears play at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The NFL helped pay for the facility, and unlike Wembley Stadium, Tottenham was designed with NFL games in mind. This will be the 187th venue to host a regular-season or postseason game in NFL history . . . Tough year for first-time head coaches. The Dolphins’ Brian Flores, Bengals’ Zac Taylor, Broncos’ Vic Fangio, and Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury are a combined 0-15-1, with Kingsbury’s tie against the Lions in Week 1 the only non-loss. The Cardinals play the Bengals on Sunday, and the Dolphins have a bye, so Week 5 won’t be a total bust for them.
Rookie receivers D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown must have a mind-meld thing going on. Through four games, the former Ole Miss teammates each had 10 catches for 223 yards. But Brown had two touchdowns, compared with one for Metcalf.