There was a post over at Mr. Irrelevant on Monday that caught my attention after the Washington Redskins' 23-10 win over the New York Giants on Sunday. The argument made is that if Graham Gano simply made his field goals in the two losses to the Dallas Cowboys, the Redskins would be in first place in the NFC East, thanks to tiebreakers. As bad as the Redskins have seemed most of the year, they were really only a couple breaks away from being a playoff team.
That was a very specific hypothetical, but here's another one that is admittedly more abstract, but probably more meaningful. Given how well the Redskins have played recently offensively, would this be a playoff team if John Beck never replaced Rex Grossman?
Granted, the obvious mitigating factor is Grossman's pneumonia, which may have knocked him out of the starting lineup anyway. But when Mike Shanahan made the change midway through the Redskins' Week 6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, it was because Grossman was ineffective, not sick.
So let's roll with this hypothetical. What if Grossman started the whole season and didn't get sick?
Beck ultimately started three games in that stretch, all losses. In the first game, Beck's defense let him down and he couldn't rally his offense in a 33-20 loss to Cam Newton and Carolina. In his second game, the offense scored zero points in a loss to a Buffalo Bills team that's now reeling. In his third game, the Redskins lost at home to a very good San Francisco 49ers team, but the defense did its part in keeping the game close. A good offensive performance absolutely would have won the game.
In none of those games did Beck even come close to giving the Redskins a chance to win. In fact, they never actually led in any of those contests. That's the reason Redskins players like Santana Moss stand behind Grossman as much as they do. For all the interceptions he throws, for all the bad decisions he makes, he still figures out a way to give his team a chance.
Perhaps it's asking too much for Grossman to singlehandily change all three of those outcomes by himself, but couldn't he have changed one? Would the Redskins' offense really be as inept as it was against a horrible Bills' defense? Would the Redskins' offense have given up like it did against the Panthers? Would the game against the 49ers have been put more in Alex Smith's hands than it was? You could certainly make the argument that Grossman changes at least one of those games.
Supposing he does, the Redskins would still have a faint shot at the playoffs. Then, when you throw in Gano's missed field goals against Dallas and Moss' dropped pass against the Patriots, suddenly you're talking about being only a few plays away from the playoffs. It's a stretch, but is it really that much of a stretch.
At the end of the day, as erratic as Grossman has been, the Redskins are 5-6 with him as a starter and a couple plays away from being 8-3. They were at least something close to a playoff team. The real reason the Redskins are going to be picking high in the draft again is because of that dreadful three-game stretch with Beck at quarterback.
Of course, if the Redskins made the playoffs, the organization could have deluded itself into thinking Grossman's a viable long-term answer at quarterback. So maybe it's just as well that Beck played.
Nevertheless, the idea that simply playing Grossman all season could have resulted in a playoff berth should give the organization and its fans optimism for the future. There's still a ways to go, but with another strong offseason, the Redskins will put themselves back on the map.
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