This is what it's like being a Washington Redskins fan. You've spent the greater portion of the last two decades watching a procession of addled, overmatched, understaffed or unprepared head coaches cycle their way through the organization, from Richie Petitbon to Steve Spurrier to Norv Turner. You've seen the most intoxicating player in a generation brought low by the peculiar combination of incomprehensible coaching and and incompetent groundskeeping. You've watched as your owner digs in his heels harder and harder against public opinion, the same owner who's sued his own season ticket holders, among many other "quirks."
Against that backdrop, then, a referee screwup that torpedoes a game seems not just understandable but, well, expected. On Sunday night, the Redskins and the New York Giants played a messy, irrelevant game that somehow managed to end on an even uglier note than what we'd seen before, like a school lunch finished with a helping of dog food.
The Redskins had already seen a 14-0 lead vanish to Eli Manning, of all people. Down 24-17 with just over two minutes remaining, Robert Griffin III had the opportunity to engineer one of those game-saving drives that gives the fanbase hope, if not salvation.
But no, it wasn't to be. During the drive, the Redskins ran a short pass play on second down and thought they'd gotten enough for a fresh set of downs. Why? Because half the officiating crew brought the chains forward and changed the down box from "2" to "1," that's why. When the next pass fell incomplete, head coach Mike Shanahan was informed that, no, it wasn't second down, it was actually fourth, so, you know, good luck with that. Turns out that the other half of the officiating crew didn't think the Redskins had reached the first-down marker on that earlier down, and didn't quite think it was worth stopping the game to clarify everything. Makes sense.
Even so, Griffin completed a pass to Pierre Garcon ... who promptly got it ripped out of his hands by New York's Will Hill. Of course he did. And with that, the Redskins were mercifully eliminated from this year's playoff contention.
Referee Jeff Triplette tried his best to explain the catastrophic screwup. Oh, he tried. “We signaled third down on the field,” he said. “The stakes were moved incorrectly. After that play, we said it was still third down. We had signaled third down prior to the play starting. The stakes just got moved incorrectly.”
So why didn't the refs halt the clock to give everyone time to, shall we say, get their stakes together? “[T]here are no timeouts in this situation,” he said. “We just didn’t shut it down in that situation because that would have given an unfair advantage.” Instead, the refs decided to saddle Washington with a tremendous disadvantage, in effect removing two downs from their strategy. Makes perfect sense.
Here were Shanahan's comments after the game:
"I told (an official) I wanted a measurement because I knew it was close," Shanahan said. "It was inches, and he said, 'You don't have to (measure); it's a first down.' I saw it was a first down on the other side and he signaled to move the chains on our side. After I saw it was fourth down, I asked him, 'You already told me it was a first down.' It was quite disappointing."
“I can’t respond to that,” Triplette said of Shanahan's comments about being told he had the first down. “I don’t know what happened. I just know that we had signaled third down on the play at the sideline, made it third down.”
So if you're not a Redskins fan, spare a thought for those who are. Even Texans fans don't have it this bad these days. And if you are a Redskins fan? Our condolences. At least this nightmare season will be over soon.