Collapse: Timeline of the 2018 Redskins' demise

Brian Tinsman
December 31, 2018 - 12:25 am
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It wasn't supposed to be like this.

Once upon a time, the 2018 Washington Redskins were sitting pretty at 6-3, guided by Alex Smith's steady hand to four wins in five games, first place in the NFC East and a chance for a statement game vs. Houston.

At that time, they were a near-lock for a winning record and had between a 66 percent chance (FiveThirtyEight.com) and an 86 percent chance (PlayoffStatus.com) of making the playoffs.

Those fortunes flipped in an instant as Smith crumpled to the turf at FedExField, ripping off his helmet and writhing in pain as the medical staff gathered around.

This the timeline of how a team with so much potential turned a 6-3 start into a 7-9 quagmire:

Week 11 Aftermath: It took little time for people to figure out that Alex Smith's gruesome leg injury was suffered on the anniversary of Redskins great Joe Theismann's career-ending leg injury, which was eerily similar to Smith's. Theismann revealed later that he couldn't sleep after seeing Smith's injury.

The injury also uncorked some fan frustration with Smith, who had fallen into a rut as a passer. All of a sudden, people were enamored with Colt McCoy's willingness to throw the ball deep and take risks. Excitement built around McCoy's ability to provide a jolt, bring killer instincts, be more explosive, and play like a starter in the offense.

He would need to do so on a short week, on the road, in Dallas, as the Redskins traveled to face their archrival on Thanksgiving. With the team's travel schedule, McCoy got in zero practices with the starting offense as the team signed Mark Sanchez to back him up. That happened after a report surfaced that the Redskins would not consider free agent Colin Kaepernick for the position.

Week 12 vs. Dallas: In front of a national TV audience, McCoy threw for 268 yards, a mark that Smith had reached in only three games this season. McCoy also threw three interceptions, killing the Redskins' chances, something that Smith never did.

Even with the divisional loss, the Redskins maintained a cushion in the NFC East and confidence remained high as McCoy worked into the offense. The trouble was with the rest of the Redskins roster, which was starting to show signs of wear. Jordan Reed took a cheap shot during the game that didn't get called. Trent Williams left the game early with a rib injury. Combined with Smith's injury, and injuries elsewhere on the offensive line, the Redskins were suddenly short-handed.

Week 12 Aftermath: Frustration was starting to build on defense, where the once high-ranked unit had slipped a bit. Outspoken safety  D.J. Swearinger raised eyebrows by criticizing the team's preparation, specifically calling the Friday walk-through "a joke." When that comment got pinned to his coaches, Swearinger insisted that wasn't what he meant. Instead, he said, he was hoping to inspire his teammates to practice better.

Meanwhile, chatter around the league caught up with what many already suspected: Alex Smith was no lock to return to the gridiron. Recovering from what will at least be a career-altering injury, Smith might never return to finish out his contract, putting the team in a difficult situation with the salary cap.

At a time when many in the NFL community were feeling bad for the Redskins, the front office went way out on a limb and claimed the untouchable Reuben Foster off of waivers. Foster was less than 48 hours removed an alleged domestic violence incident at the San Francisco 49ers team hotel the night before a game in Tampa. The Redskins reportedly did not check for a police report, did not ask his former teammates about him, and were the only team to place a claim on him after the 49ers cut him.

The move cast the organization back down a road of chaos that would haunt them for the rest of the season. John Feinstein noted that team owner Dan Snyder has no conscience. The colossal failure of a media tour to smooth things over actually made the situation worse, causing cracks in the front office. And that was just the beginning of the end.

Week 13 vs. Eagles: After a mini-bye week following the Thanksgiving game, the Redskins didn't play again until Monday Night Football. McCoy wouldn't have long at the helm before suffering his own leg fracture, giving way to Mark Sanchez under center. In the first drive, Sanchez handed off to Adrian Peterson, who streaked 90 yards for a touchdown.

It would be the only memorable play of the night for the Redskins. AP wouldn't even reach 100 yards on the night, getting completely bottled up before and after that run. Sanchez, who had no reps with the starting offense and very little experience with the playbook, led a much-diminished offense to a third-straight loss.

Week 13 Aftermath: With McCoy out, the Redskins were back in the quarterback market, bringing back veteran free agent Josh Johnson, who tried out with the team weeks earlier alongside Sanchez. Once again, the conversation of Kaepernick came up, and head coach Jay Gruden spun some interesting excuses for why that won't happen. Bottom line: it won't happen.

The fallout from the Foster signing continued to create drama for the Redskins' front office, where Snyder was reportedly still furious with team president Bruce Allen. Could this finally lead to a shakeup at the top of the front office, where Allen had presided, unsuccessfully, for years? Many began to wonder. Allen has been in charge of the Redskins' personnel for several seasons, but also leads the teams effort to land a favorable stadium deal, which also took a step forward this week on a future site near RFK Stadium.

The Redskins' injury problems continued to swell, as Trey Quinn and Quinton Dunbar joined a small group of players placed on season-ending injured reserve. 106.7 The Fan also received reports that Smith's surgery to repair his broken leg was not progressing well, and that surgeons had performed multiple procedures just to deal with infection.

Week 14 vs. Giants: The Giants are the only NFC East team worse than the Redskins, but they weren't in Week 14. In fact, the Redskins gave the Giants their biggest win of the season, allowing New York to jump out to a 40-0 lead. It was at that point that Gruden benched Sanchez, turning to journeyman Johnson as the team's fourth quarterback of the year. Once again, Johnson had no reps with the starting offense and used video games to learn his teammates' abilities.

Johnson led the Redskins on two garbage-time scoring drives but finally got the offense to click again. Even so, calls began anew for the Redskins to sign Kaepernick, who said he would play for the team if offered.

Elsewhere on the field, Reed was knocked out of the game with an injury that would plague him for the rest of the season.

Week 14 Aftermath: Swearinger's criticisms got a little too hot for comfort after the game, as he told NBC Sports: "I can't tell you what needs to change. I'm not the coach." That was interpreted as another shot at Manusky, which he tried to clarify on Monday.

Those weren't the only shots fired, as private messages between Mason Foster and a fan became public, where Foster said, "F--- this team and this fanbase." Foster eventually took responsibility for the messages, while Foster's coaches and teammates largely shrugged their shoulders. Fellow linebacker Zach Brown grappled with his own future in Washington, telling the media that he expected to be gone after the season.

Fan attendance and apathy have been issues for years, but the inability to bring fans back when the team was competitive earlier in the season caused some to reassess the front office during the offseason. Santana Moss suggested that the organization might get an overhaul this year. One such move could be the internal growth of Kyle Smith, the son of former Chargers GM A.J. Smith. Gruden was also expected to survive the season, in part because of his success in the Redskins' circus.

Week 15 vs. Jaguars: It was Johnson's first start at quarterback since 2011, and the Redskins finally had a winning formula. In fact, this would be the only game that the Redskins would win without Smith under center all season, keeping their playoff hopes alive.

Week 15 Aftermath: There was little time to celebrate the big win, as the Redskins continue burping out bad publicity in a season gone off the rails.

First, a D.C. City Council member started a petition against granting the team land use for a stadium near the RFK Stadium site.

Next, Montae Nicholson got in a drunken brawl in Loudoun County, spending the night in police custody. It didn't take long for footage of the fight to make it onto TMZ. After his release, he was placed on the exempt list, thus ending his season.

Week 16 vs. Titans: The Redskins' withered postseason hopes were trampled underfoot by the Titans in Week 16, as the Redskins once again failed to spark much offense. The lone bright point was a 100-yard performance by Adrian Peterson that put him over 1,000 yards for the season and passed Eric Dickerson on the all-time rushing list.

Week 16 Aftermath: With the Redskins knocked out of the playoffs, the Redskins finally acknowledged that McCoy's season was over and he would not be returning. Swearinger also turned his pointed criticisms back on Manusky, causing Gruden to announce to the media that he would be meeting with the safety on Monday morning.

That meeting was short, as Gruden told Swearinger that he would be cut for continuing to criticize the coaches. According to Swearinger, it was Gruden who had blocked him from being a captain this season. According to Gruden, it was a group decision in the front office and best for all parties to move on. It didn't take long for the Arizona Cardinals, Swearinger's former team, to claim him off of waivers. The whole scenario upset Redskins celebrity fan Dale Earnhardt Jr., who tweeted about the ordeal. Maybe there was more to it. Maybe there wasn't.

Because Swearinger is a Pro Bowl alternate, there's a good chance that he will represent the Cardinals at the Pro Bowl this postseason. Here's a full list of Swearinger's controversial comments as a member of the Redskins.

That story hardly had time to breathe before the Redskins also chopped away top executives in the front office. Each of the four executives was brought in to work directly on initiatives that will reshape the team's image and bring back fans that have drifted in recent years. All four were given less than one season to turn things around and were either fired or resigned. This move even raised the eyebrows of former player Duke Ihenacho, who put the front office on blast.

Week 17 vs. Eagles: The Redskins had nothing to play for in Week 17 and they really looked like it. The incentive to spoil the Eagles' season wasn't enough to make them play well. The chance to put good play on tape wasn't enough either, as the Redskins just blanked for the first time in more than four years, and the first in decades by the Eagles.

Worse than that, Eagles fans completely overran the stadium, with some media members guessing that 80-90 percent of fans were supporting Philly.

If there was any doubt that Allen was fully in control again, the Redskins also canceled player introductions and the military flyover before the game, both favorites of the executives that got fired earlier in the week.

Week 17 Aftermath: Where do the Redskins go from here? What started as a promising 6-3 season ended with a 1-6 splat. 

It will likely be a quiet Monday at Redskins Park this week, as both Gruden and Allen are expected to be safe. It's possible that Manusky or other members of Gruden's coaching staff could be on the way out, but that remains to be seen.

Looking ahead to 2019, the Redskins need several quarterbacks, lots of help on the offensive line, and a few more weapons with the ball. It will be interesting to see how different this team looks when the dust settles.

 

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