2000 Washington Redskins: The Snyder Era Foretold

The Washington Redskins had entered a new era just one year earlier—that of Daniel Synder’s ownership. And that era had gotten off to a splendid start. In 1999, the Redskins had won their first division title since the great Super Bowl year of 1991, and reached the playoffs for the first time since 1992. It was a big step forward in the sixth year under head coach Norv Turner and seemed to promise better days ahead. Instead, the 2000 Washington Redskins collapsed down the stretch, and proved to be an ominous foreshadowing of what lie ahead.

With optimism brewing in the nation’s capital, Snyder moved aggressively in the offseason and showed himself ready to spend on big-ticket free agents. The Redskins added future Hall of Famers in defensive end Bruce Smith, cornerback Deion Sanders and wide receiver Andre Reed. They signed a veteran safety in Mark Carrier who had Pro Bowls in his past. All four players were 32-years-old or older. But Snyder was going for it. This was going to be the year.

Defensively, the moves worked out. Smith recorded ten sacks and joined forces with Marco Coleman, who had a Pro Bowl year with 12 sacks on the other end. Sanders was joined by another all-time great, franchise icon Darrell Green in the secondary. And an infusion of youth came from second-year man Champ Bailey. The linebacking corps was strengthened by incoming rookie LaVar Arrington. By the time the 2000 season was over, the Washington defense ranked seventh in the NFL for points allowed.

It was the offense that sputtered. Brad Johnson was the veteran starter, and his 62.5% completion rate was good. But the 6.9 yards-per-attempt was mediocre. That combination was manageable, but Johnson was also mistake-prone, throwing interceptions on 3 percent of his passes. That was way too high for someone whose other numbers were that of a game manager. Johnson would make 11 starts, limited by both a late-season injury and a subsequent benching. Jeff George, another name veteran, was in as the backup, but he was no better.

Larry Centers was a fine fullback, versatile in catching the football. But the fact the fullback caught more passes than anyone else on the team—by a lot—underscored the problem. Centers caught 81 passes. Stephen Alexander was a Pro Bowl tight end, who caught 47 balls. But Reed didn’t come through at the wide receiver spot and no one else really stepped up. The other targets were James Thrash, the 38-year-old Irving Fryar, and Albert Connell. They had their moments, but no one was consistent.

What the Redskins could do was run the football. Stephen Davis had a big year, going for over 1,300 yards and making the Pro Bowl. But the offensive line, even with the addition of rookie left tackle Chris Samuels and veteran guard Jay Leeuwenberg, failed to produce a Pro Bowler. The running game disappeared in the season’s biggest moments. And the Redskin offense finished 24th in the NFL for points scored.

Washington was a hefty 10 ½ point favorite when they hosted a mediocre Carolina Panthers team to open the season. Everything went reasonably smoothly. Johnson went 25/36 for 234 yards and made no mistakes. Davis ran for 133 yards. The ‘Skins led 20-10 late in the game, before a Panther touchdown made the final look closer, at 20-17. But Washington was out to a 1-0 start.

The Detroit Lions, coached by Bobby Ross, would compete for a playoff spot to the final week of the season and a trip to Motown didn’t go well. Johnson threw four interceptions, and the Redskins lost a game they otherwise played reasonably well in, 15-10. Washington was 1-1 going into big prime-time dates—Monday Night at home with the Dallas Cowboys, followed by a Sunday Night trip to the Meadowlands to face the New York Giants.

Redskin fans were more than familiar with Randall Cunningham, who quarterbacked the Philadelphia Eagles during some great battles the two divisional rivals had in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Cunningham, nearing the end of his career, was now with Dallas. Even thou the Cowboys were a bad team in 2000, the ‘Skins did not play well. They lost 27-21 in a game where they were a double-digit favorite.

Now there was some urgency in the Giant game. The defense came up big and shut down a New York team that would eventually make it to the Super Bowl. Johnson found Fryar on a 23-yard TD pass in the second quarter and threw a 21-yard scoring strike to Reed in the third quarter. Connell caught four balls for 122 yards and the Redskins chiseled out a 16-6 win.

Tony Dungy’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers were coming to town next. The Bucs had knocked the Redskins out of the previous year’s divisional round and would go back to the postseason this year. Washington controlled the line of scrimmage, shutting down the Tampa run and getting 141 yards from Davis. They held a 17-7 lead with four minutes to go. They managed to blow that lead but recovered to win in overtime.

A road trip to Philadelphia, another team bound for the playoffs, was up. The defense forced four turnovers, but Washington trailed 14-7 in the fourth quarter. Kicking game problems were a part of that. Michael Husted had missed a couple field goals. This would be an issue that would bedevil the ‘Skins all year—when all was said and done, five kickers passed through the revolving door. For today anyway, it worked out. Johnson was playing well, going 25/36 for 289 yards. He led a game-tying drive, and then set up Husted to win it with a 24-yard field goal.

The Baltimore Ravens had one of the great defenses of all-time and would close this season with a surge that took them to a Super Bowl title. At the midway point, the Ravens hadn’t really rounded into form. They could still play some defense though, and the game was tied 3-3 early in the fourth quarter. Davis took off on a 33-yard touchdown gallop that made the difference in the 10-3 win .

Jacksonville had been one of the NFL’s best teams for the past few years. When this October 22 game appeared on the schedule, it looked like it might be a Super Bowl preview. But the Jaguars were already failing to live up to expectations, off to a 2-5 start. Washington went down there for a late afternoon kickoff and won easily. Connell caught seven passes for 211 yards, including touchdowns from 11, 49, and 77 yards. The final was 35-16.

Things were looking good in Washington. The Redskins were 6-2. They had beaten good teams. It was reasonable to think that the Super Bowl hopes of this year might be fulfilled and that this Synder Era might produce a return to the greatness of the Joe Gibbs Era. It’s now when everything came undone.

It started with a Monday Night home game against a good Tennessee Titans team. The Redskins trailed 13-7 late in the first half but were driving. Johnson threw an interception that went back the other way on the final play before halftime. On a night when both Davis and the excellent Titan running back Eddie George were both shut down, that was the difference in a 27-21 final. Moreover, Johnson had injured a ligament and would be temporarily sidelined.

Even so, losing to the team that would end up with the best regular season record in the league, was no reason to set off the alarm bells. And hadn’t Jeff George been acquired for this very purpose? Then came a trip to Arizona.

The Cardinals were one of the league’s worst teams, and an NFC East rival prior to the realignment of 2002. The tone for the game was set when Arizona recovered a fumble in their own end zone and brought it back 103 yards. For the second week in a row, Washington had suffered a dramatic reversal of fortune in the red zone. For the second week in a row, Washington did not run the football. And for the second week in a row, Washington lost. The final was 16-15—with a missed extra point in there for good measure that would trigger one of the many changes at this position.

A bye week allowed the Redskins to collect their bearings before taking on Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, and the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams. On a Monday Night in St. Louis, the Redskins hung with the Rams and trailed 20-19 late in the third quarter. But at 6-4, and suddenly in a tight playoff race, there was no room for moral victories. George threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Fryar. Veteran kicker Eddie Murray, the latest to be brought in, booted a couple field goals. The ‘Skins got a clutch 33-20 win.

That set up a monster two-week sequence against the Eagles and Giants, both in FedEx Field. Washington could seize control of both the NFC East and the race for the #1 seed in the playoffs. Or they could be pushed towards oblivion.

The running game collapsed. Even though George threw a couple touchdown passes against the Eagles, the Redskins were outrushed 171-44 and lost a tough 23-20 game. A week later, Johnson was back and got the start. Both he and George ended up splitting time and the offense didn’t produce. But it wasn’t on them—the running game was again absent, as the ‘Skins lost the rush yardage battle 141-29. In a tough defensive game, Murray missed two field goals. This loss was 9-7.

At 7-6, Washington was in an almost impossibly difficult position to make the playoffs. Even if they won their final three, they would need help. The losses to the Titans, Cardinals, Eagles, and Giants, had all been agonizing—by a combined total of 12 points.

Even so, Snyder had seen enough. He fired Turner after the loss to New York.

Terry Robiskie was the interim coach who finished out the season. For the next two weeks, the Redskins played like you would expect of a team whose owner has all but waved the white flag. They were outrushed 242-79 in an embarrassing 32-13 loss at Dallas in the late Sunday afternoon TV window. On a Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh, they were outrushed 200-64 and lost 24-3.

The Christmas Eve home finale with Arizona provided modest solace. Davis ran for 120 yards, the defense forced five turnovers and the 20-3 win at least allowed Washington to get to a .500 finish. But there was no denying this season was a disaster.

And from the perspective of history, there’s no denying that this season remains a microcosm of what the Snyder Era became in Washington D.C. There were a lot of flashy moves and a lot of winning the battle for headlines in the offseason. But there was very little in the way of delivering on the field. Snyder would own the team for over 20 years. The nicest thing we can say is that in a partisan, political town, where hatred runs rampant, Daniel Snyder was a unifying figure—everyone loathed him. The 2000 Washington Redskins were a sign of things to come.