“The heat is on” goes the song, and the same could be said of the situation Mike Shanahan appears to find himself it at present.
Not that you’d know it by the air of confidence exuded in the aftermath of Washington’s defeat to New York, a defeat that mathematically extinguishes any post - season aspirations.
The Skins head coach was most emphatic in delivering his 3-9 team the dreaded vote of confidence when facing up to the assembled media “You’re very disappointed when you’re out of the playoffs. “But after it’s over, you go out there and prepare and play just as though you’re in the playoffs “You want to spoil somebody else’s year”, said Shanahan, now 24-36.
When pressed further on the unshakable belief in his team and their capacity to seek strength in the face of adversity, his response was equally stoic “Oh, big. Big”, I have a lot of confidence in this football team that they’ll keep fighting” but dealt a stark warning for those with designs on letting up “if not [keep fighting], then they won’t be with us next year”.
Shanahan also remains confident he’ll be around to see out the fifth and final year of his $7 million a year contract. The question is - does owner Daniel Snyder?
Whilst Snyder may have much to ponder, former charge Terrell Davis, told NFL ‘Around the League’ reporter Kevin Patra that Shanahan should be given the chance to see out his tenure “Right now, Mike is not coaching like he should be coaching, in terms of the production on the field," the NFL Media analyst said "I will say this, give Mike another year, at least, to see if his quarterback, in RGIII, when he's healthy - because they went 10-6 last year and we saw RGIII maturing a little bit - give him one more year, see if they have any more progress from RGIII and then make a decision."
However, LaVar Arrington, who played six years for the Redskins before Shanahan's arrival told "NFL AM" [on Monday] that though the 61-year-old coach should retain his position, he should only be allowed to do so on the condition he accepts a pay cut and earn an extension on the field. "I don't think getting rid of a coach is going to correct the problem. ... Make Mike Shanahan take a pay cut, if you are really committed to making this team better," Arrington said. "There are a lot of guys that will not have jobs after this season due to their lack of production as a player. There will be a lot of guys that will have to take pay cuts to remain on this team due to their lack of production. And the head coach and all these other coaches have had a lack of production. So why shouldn't they take a pay cut?"
One thing’s for certain the debate over Shanahan’s future in the capital has overshadowed questions over the quarterbacking situation - Who should start? Robert Griffin 111 or his understudy Kirk Cousins? (Who proved a more than able deputy when asked to step in for the final drive of regulation time in a game in which Washington trailed Baltimore by eight. Cousins immediately hit Pierre Garcon for an 11-yard touchdown pass with 29 seconds remaining, and then levelled the score with a 2-point conversion on a quarterback draw)
Griffin’s development as a pure pocket threat is sighted as the main reason why Shanahan will persist with the man who did so much to reinvigorate a struggling franchise.
After Griffin went an impressive 24 of 32 for 207-yards and a touchdown in Washington’s defeat to division rivals New York, it represented a welcome return to form in a season that painted a stark contrast to the highs of 2012. All the more impressive when you consider his team mates conspired to do everything in their power to undermine Griffin’s efforts - four second half dropped passes, five sacks, penalties, said as much.
“The bottom line is we were hoping to be more effective than we were” lamented Shanahan. “We needed to score more points. We had a chance for a lot more yards out there”. Most notably on their last possession, when the Redskins had three dropped passes after taking over with just 2:32 left in the game, and down by seven. The biggest drop however came on a play more synonymous with one of the most calamitous examples of officiating witnessed this season.
Pierre Garcon hauled in a catch on the Washington 45-yard line, nearly enough for a first down. Not so in the eyes of the head linesman, who, momentarily confused by the frenetic nature of Washington’s high tempo hurry-up offense, judged Garson to have made the required distance for a first down, and thus awarded it.
Believing it was first-and-10, when thanks to erroneous officiating, it was actually third-and-1, Griffin threw to his tight end Fred Davis, who appeared for all money to have secured the catch, only for it to be knocked away by a defender at the last second.
Then on fourth-and-one, Griffin connected soundly with Pierre Garcon for a 6-yard gain, but Giants safety Will Hill literally ripped defeat from the jaws of victory by stripping the ball and recovering it.
One wonders if Shanahan can.
image: © Keith Allison