City Paper is not for tourists
We are two weeks into football season and normalcy has been restored, which is to say that everything is awful again. The confusing feelings of confidence and optimism, engendered by a late-season playoff run and a drama-free offseason, are already gone, replaced by old friends—disappointment and frustration.
And, cruelest of all, boredom.
Boredom is the one thing we weren’t supposed to deal with this season. Even at the height of hopefulness, you had to know failure was an option: This is sports, and failure is always an option. But the team was surely going to be competitive. Quarterback Kirk Cousins might not immediately resume his scorching-hot streak from the end of the season, but obviously he’d still be good enough to put points on the board.
The offseason was supposed to have been the boring time this year. That’s what most of the July chatter was about, in fact: just how dull things were. No drama, nothing much to worry about—just a team that had a few holes and took small steps to patch them.
The rest of the talk was about weapons. The team drafted a receiver in the first round, and made a reclamation project of an all-time great from the University of Maryland at tight end. These two were added to an already-stacked team of receiving guerillas. The minimum net result, you had to figure, was a high-flying, high-scoring offense that would make the season fun to watch.
But this hasn’t been the case. The team has been outplayed by Pittsburgh (reasonable, as the Steelers are among the league’s elite teams this season), and then by a visiting Dallas team led by a rookie quarterback.
What’s most frustrating, though, is how familiar all of the miscues have seemed, and how much this lousy start feels like so many previous opening blunders.
The desire—as both a columnist and as a fan—is to be prescriptivist: The team should do X, or fire Y, or find a way to trade for Z, and then things will be better. But the relentless sameness of this start, the way this mediocrity feels exactly like the mediocrity of so many other recent years, precludes that.
To their credit, the team has actually made many of the changes that were recommended to solve these issues when they occurred before. It just hasn’t mattered.
Even with a respected general manager making personnel decisions and a coaching staff that has been allowed to stay in place and establish themselves; even with a quarterback who was drafted here and groomed here and seemed to have worked through his shortcomings here; even without any drama heading into the season, it takes two games to feel like 2009 all over again.
The quarterback is a tentative, indecisive mess who can’t seem to lead the team. Substantial contingents of opposing fans take up seats at the stadium. Anonymous locker room sources are sniping at the QB, and the team’s media voices are scoffing at the anonymous sources. Non-anonymous team sources are implicitly criticizing coaching decisions (complaining about lack of “adjustments” is about the firmest way to pin blame on coaching, not player execution). League observers have made the defensive coordinator—one week away from officially being a “beleaguered” defensive coordinator—a punchline.
Oh, and the team is 0-2, in last place in their division, with two home losses already on the ledger and another division game looming. The ending of the season already feels written: the struggles over the next two to three weeks, the “unexpected” hot streak that turns into a frantic charge for the playoffs down the stretch, the middling (8-8? 9-7?) finish that maybe sneaks in as a wild card, depending on how other teams choke, and the offseason belief that, again, just a couple of key moves will make the difference.
This, more than anything else, is the frustration at the heart of the D.C. sports malaise: the unshakeable feeling that things repeat. It’s why, when the Capitals start the regular season on fire, everyone will still be wary about buying in. It’s why all but the most cheerful fans are cautious about the Nats this year, and why pitcher Stephen Strasburg’s injury had an air of grim inevitability to it. It’s why the ceiling for the Wizards feels like a .500 finish and locker room strife.
So the football team’s games are tedious to watch, as the coaches are overcautious and the team is struggling. The narrative arc of their season feels painfully dull as well, and this depressing sameness is leeching a lot of the fun out of the games. Which is a problem, because I can handle sports disappointing me or breaking my heart, but becoming boring might be unforgivable.