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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

More than five years ago, I wrote that the Washington Redskins, as a franchise, are haunted by a seemingy inescapable “aura of self-destruction.”

If you needed any more proof — and who knows why you would, given the chaos that has ruled Redskins Park since then — look no further than Sunday’s 34-31 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints.


It was a game that Washington, decimated by injuries, coming off a loss at FedEx Field to Minnesota, going into to New Orleans to face the favored Saints, were leading by 15 points with three minutes left to play.


AUDIO: Former NFL player Jean Fugett with Thom Loverro


They lost, and they lost by the very definition of “self-destruction.”

The defense appeared lost. Coach Jay Gruden appeared confused. Quarterback Kirk Cousins appeared befuddled.

Not for a whole game, mind you — just when it counted.

“We beat ourselves, for sure,” Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger told reporters after the game.

That is self-destruction.

It is the tone set from the top of the organization — the tone that has defined this organization since Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999.

More proof? Kirk Cousins went on 106.7 The Fan Monday and said he is playing “the best football of his career.” Yet Redskins fans are divided — polarized might be a better description — about their quarterback.

How can a quarterback who completed 22 of 32 passes against the Saints for 322 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions — playing the best football of his career — be so hated?

How can a quarterback who over his career in Washington, playing with dysfunction all around him, has thrown for 89 touchdowns, 15,000 yards and a 66 percent completion rate in 56 games be so despised?

The aura of self-destruction.

Redskins fans are so damaged, so fatigued that those who bother to care — those who perhaps still show up for games at Fed Ex Field — are in a blood feud about the best quarterback this team has had in 25 years.

Why would this quarterback spend the rest of his NFL career surrounded by this aura of self-destruction? You don’t think he wonders what life would be like without carrying the burden of every sin Dan Snyder has committed against this fan base?

This aura of self-destruction puts the Redskins in position regularly for failure — from years of questionable drafting and free agent decisions to the mother of all self-destructive decisions, failing to sign Cousins to a long-term contract when the chance was there several years ago.

When they had a general manager — Scot McCloughan — who wanted to sign Cousins long term before he started rewriting the Redskins passing records and making $24 million a year.

Remember Scot McCloughan? For those cheerleaders who will claim that this franchise has reached a level of stability, please consider that next month is McCloughan’s arbitration hearing to get the money he is owed that the Redskins refuse to pay. That hearing will mean the Redskins will have to present a case that McCloughan was fired for cause because of alcohol abuse — a pretext that I suspect will not hold up.

Remember Scot McCloughan? Mason Foster certainly did last month after he had played with a shoulder injury and then was put on injured reserve. The linebacker went on a Twitter rant that the team was basically setting him up to be cut without having to pay him. Foster later said he met with team president Bruce Allen and cleared everything up. But it is important to note that Foster’s first move was to be convinced that this front office was backstabbing him and he tweeted, “All I know is Scot wouldn’t have done me like this.”

McCloughan hasn’t been with the team since February, yet his presence is still so strong in that locker room that Foster is convinced that the former general manager was more trustworthy than those in charge now at Redskins Park. He is likely not alone.

The aura of self-destruction.

It’s what makes people just as angry and divided about Gruden.

There are fans who want Gruden fired — a lot of them, growing in numbers after Sunday’s loss put them at 4-6 this season. Yet the reality is that you can’t make any kind of judgement on Gruden this year — certainly not a negative one — based on how he has gotten this team to perform in a season defined by who isn’t playing because of a long list of injuries.

This is a season in which Gruden should get a pass.

That may be self-destructive as well, because while a Gruden evaluation is nearly impossible right now because of the injuries, an evaluation is certainly needed. There remain questions about Gruden that should have been asked a year ago after his team’s pathetic season-ending losses at FedEx Field (can’t call it home field) to Carolina and the Giants.

The final game came against a Giants team that had clinched a playoff spot and had nothing to play for, while the Redskins needed the victory to get into the postseason.

Is Gruden Norv Turner? A great play caller who can’t get his full team prepared for a 16-game season?

That is still a legitimate, unanswered question, and will likely remain so as Gruden goes into his fifth season as Washington’s head coach next year.

The aura of self-destruction. It devoured Mike Shanahan. It brought Jim Zorn to Washington. It tarnished Joe Gibbs’ second tenure. It led Steve Spurrier to resign on the golf course. It fired Marty Schottenheimer. And it will do in Jay Gruden as well, whether he deserves it or not.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.


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