A three-decade look at the Washington Football Team starts with Washington defeating the Buffalo Bills 37-24 in Super Bowl XXVI. Since Washington’s last Super Bowl win, the team has failed to reach the NFC Championship game in 30 consecutive seasons. Washington is tied with the Detroit Lions for the longest active streak of failing to reach a conference championship game. The team also has a similar streak of failing to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons. The last time Washington reached the playoffs in successive seasons was in 1990, 1991, and 1992.
On February 2, 2022, Washington will reveal its new team name. Nearly 30 years after Washington’s last Super Bowl victory. Before we move into a new chapter of Washington Football, let’s look back at how the franchise has performed since the 1991 season.
Washington Football Team: A Three Decade Look
Decade One: 1992-2001
Regular Season Record: 71-88-1
Playoff Appearances: 2 (2-2 record)
In 1992, following Washington’s Super Bowl victory the previous season, the team went 9-7 in the regular season. Washington made one of their two playoff appearances in this decade in 1992. After defeating the Minnesota Vikings 24-7 in the Wild Card game, the team advanced to the divisional round. Washington would eventually fall short to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round 20-13. After Washington’s 1992 playoff run, it would be seven seasons before the team returned to playoffs again.
In 1993, Joe Gibbs would step down as Washington’s head coach after 12 seasons. Under Gibbs, Washington reached the Super Bowl four times. Gibbs led Washington to three Super Bowl victories during his tenure. The team’s only Super Bowl loss came in Super Bowl XVIII against the Los Angeles Raiders. After Gibbs’ departure, Washington would have four different head coaches during this decade. Richie Petitbon, Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie, and Marty Schottenheimer led the Burgundy and Gold between 1993 and 2001.
Norv Turner was the longest-tenured coach of the group. Turner was in Washington for six full seasons and was fired 13 games into the 2000 season. Terry Robiskie became the interim coach for Washington’s final three games of 2000. During Turner’s tenure in Washington, the team went 49-59-1 and made one playoff appearance in 1999. 1999 was also when Daniel Snyder became the franchise’s new owner. Schottenheimer was the first coach of the Snyder-era in Washington, but his tenure only lasted one season. Washington finished 8-8 in Schottenheimer’s lone season.
Decade Two: 2002-2011
Regular Season Record: 65-95
Playoff Appearances: 2 (1-2 record)
Steve Spurrier would replace Schottenheimer in 2002. Spurrier was transitioning from being a successful collegiate coach to the NFL. Spurrier, who was known for his dynamic offenses at the University of Florida, was unable to ignite the Washington offense during his tenure. Their opponents outscored Washington in Spurrier’s two seasons as coach. Washington went 12-20 in Spurrier’s tenure.
Following Spurrier’s departure, Washington would look to Gibbs again to restore Washington to its former glory. Gibbs led Washington to the playoffs in 2005 and 2007. In the 2005 Wild Card game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington’s win was the team’s first playoff win since 1999. With Gibbs’ departure following the 2007 season, the Jim Zorn era in Washington was born. Washington finished last in the NFC East in Zorn’s two seasons as coach. The team finished 8-8 and 4-12 in 2008 and 2009. Zorn was ultimately replaced by another former Super Bowl-winning coach, Mike Shanahan.
Mike Shanahan led the Denver Broncos to Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII victories with John Elway at quarterback. However, Shanahan did not have Elway with him when he came to Washington. In Shanahan’s first two seasons in Washington, the leading passers were Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman. Both quarterbacks were near the end of their playing careers when they signed with Washington. Washington went 11-21 in Shanahan’s first two seasons.
Decade Three: 2012-2021
Regular Season Record: 65-94-1
Playoff Appearances: 3 (0-3 record)
In the 2012 draft, Washington traded up to select quarterback Robert Griffin III second overall. Washington also drafted quarterback Kirk Cousins in the third round of the same draft. Washington believed they had finally found their franchise quarterback by selecting Griffin III. A slow start to the 2012 season, left Washington with a 3-6 record through their first nine games. The team went on a seven-game winning streak to win the division and make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Griffin III sustained a knee injury in Week 14 against the Baltimore Ravens. He sat out Week 15 and returned for Washington’s final two regular-season games. Griffin III eventually would tear his ACL in Washington’s Wild Card round loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Griffin III would look to return from his injury at the start of the 2013 season. However, Griffin III would never return to his 2012 form. Griffin III would ultimately be replaced at quarterback by Cousins, and Shanahan would be replaced by Jay Gruden in 2014.
When he was named the coach, Gruden turned to Cousins as the starting quarterback. The team would release Griffin III following the 2014 season. Washington made one playoff appearance during Gruden’s tenure and had two winning seasons. Cousins would leave Washington via free agency to join the Vikings in 2018. Bill Callahan replaced Gruden on an interim basis after Gruden was fired five games into the 2019 season.
In 2020, Ron Rivera became Washington’s 11th head coach since 1992. Rivera led Washington to a division title and a playoff berth in his first season as coach. Washington would fall to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers. While Washington equaled their 2020 win total, a 7-10 record was not enough for Washington to repeat as NFC East Champions and return to the playoffs in 2021.
A Three Decade Look at Washington Football
Over the last three decades, Washington has, in many ways, underachieved. A team that was once among the dominant teams of the 1990s has struggled to find its identity and build a consistent winning culture. The task ahead of the current Washington coaching staff and the front office is great. However, the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals have shown that a turnaround after years of futility is possible. Fans of the franchise remain hopeful that better days are ahead.
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