Four weeks ago, I painted a dire picture for the Washington Redskins. Their performance in Weeks one and two brought me back to their worst seasons, where success one year was followed by abject failure the next. The team had repeatedly shot itself in the foot with horrendous starts, and it looked like it was happening again with losses to the Steelers and Cowboys at home to start the season, bringing the team to the precipice of a wasted season.
Now we know, at least, that early-season failure will not be the lasting narrative of this team. Washington has strung together four wins to bring their record to 4-2. That’s good enough for second in the division, behind only the surprising Dallas Cowboys. And if there’s one thing we can be sure of, it is that the NFC East will be a nail-biter. With the exception of —three seasons seasons, no division winner has won more than 10 games since 2005 and the division has not produced a bonus wild-card playoff team since 2009.
While success is spread around — all four teams have won the division at least once in the past five years — the division has recently never amounted to more than a gross trench fight. The NFC East, for whatever reason, seems to only occasionally snap out of a relative malaise, mostly thanks to a couple of Super Bowl runs by the Giants (following nine and 10-win seasons).
So when Stephen A. Smith’s comments came out about the Redskins over the past couple days, I was a little confused. For the uninitiated, Smith — a master of trash talk — has decided to criticize the Redskins for a little bit of celebration following last week’s defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles. Defensive lineman Chris Baker was singled out for his comments on the team “running the NFC East” as players filed through the tunnel to the locker room. The spat would later spread to Twitter, where a wider array of players would get involved.
Smith took exception to what he perceived as unmerited gloating, and, to be fair, he made a couple of points. The Cowboys are still in first place, and count among their wins a defeat of the Redskins at FedEx. And while Washington is the defending champion franchise of the NFC East, that does not always mean much. The NFL offers a variety of opportunities to get into the playoffs, and division championships are nice, but nothing to rest your laurels on.
Stephen A. founded his argument in two areas: that the Redskins are not in first place in the division, and that they have not sustained success as a franchise in the past 25 years. From there, he surmises that Washington suffers from a “loser’s mentality” that allows them to celebrate menial wins and division championships.
This argument misses the short-term and long-term contexts of the Washington franchise. In the long-term, sure, the Redskins have had an unfortunate record in the past 25 years, but to equate that with a culture of losing is to rely on the past. I can’t argue with the past, but I can see that the Redskins over the past two seasons have demonstrated the type of success that this franchise has not been able to sustain in the past.
Further, winning divisions is how you get to the Super Bowl, regardless of the cultural context in the NFL. Smith’s broadcast partner, Max Kellerman, called Washington “the worst franchise in the NFC East,” clearly ignoring 25 years without a Dallas championship and an Eagles franchise without a single Lombardi Trophy. I’ll accept that the NFC East has been bad, even terrible, in my lifetime, but the Redskins are no worse a perpetrator of that than any other club, and right now they seem to be trending in the right direction.
Smith and Kellerman’s comments boil down to a hot take based around the tired punchline that the Washington Redskins are a joke. Soon enough, the attention will be back on Eli and Odell, or the raw talent of the Eagles, or Tony Romo’s skeleton. The cycle will spin on. Baker and the Redskins have every right to celebrate a critical win—the fact that they are chasing the Cowboys after a slow start makes it even more notable.
Baker’s defensive unit hasn’t been great, but they played easily their best game of the year against the potent Eagles offense. Zoom in on the dynamics, instead of out towards the easy stereotypes, and you will see a club that is ready to compete. Let’s stop generalizing, and focus on the football.
Stephen A. Smith’s comments on the Redskins rely on tired stereotypes and ignore the football the team is playing now.
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