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By Mark Gaughan

NEWS NFL COLUMNIST

There will be a lot of drama in watching the scores of the Washington Redskins over the last five weeks of the NFL season, even though the team is limping to an irrelevant finish.

Washington (3-8) enters tonight’s prime-time game against the New York Giants on a three-game losing streak. Washington is coming off a listless, 27-6 loss to San Francisco on Monday.

The drama involves the future of 61-year-old coach Mike Shanahan. He’s 24-35 through almost four full seasons. He’s one of the highest paid coaches in the league, with a salary of about $7 million a year. He’s entering the final year of his contract. NFL coaches usually are not allowed to become lame ducks. They’re often either fired or given a contract extension before the final year of their deal.

Not only have the Redskins slumped from their 10-6 playoff season of last year, but there has been increased tension between quarterback Robert Griffin III and the head coach. Shanahan took heat for playing RG3 on a shaky knee in the playoffs last year, only to see the QB get hurt worse and require major surgery. RG3, struggling in Year Two, called his own offense predictable after the ugly loss to Philadelphia two weeks ago.

Now consider the history of team owner Daniel Snyder. This is the ninth time in his 15 years as owner that Washington is essentially out of the playoffs entering the final month.

Shanahan is Snyder’s seventh coach since 1999 and none of the previous six finished out their original contract.

So this will be another big test of Snyder’s leadership, especially if it gets even uglier this month.

Snyder needs to think long term, stay the course and give Shanahan a contract extension of at least a couple years.

It’s all about the quarterback. Shanahan suffered through the quarterbacking of a washed-up Donovan McNabb and journeymen Rex Grossman and John Beck his first two seasons.

Washington made the decision in 2012 to mortgage the future for RG3, giving up two No. 1 picks and a No. 2 for the right to move up four spots in the first round. The last payment in that move comes due next spring. St. Louis owns Washington’s 2014 No. 1, which could be in the top five.

Once Washington pulled the trigger on that deal, the Shanahan regime was not about immediate results, regardless of the fact it pulled off immediate results by making the playoffs last season.

RG3’s sophomore slump was predictable. Last year he had 65.6 percent completions with 20 TDs and five interceptions. This year he’s at 59.8 percent completions with 14 TDs and 11 INTs. He’s constantly throwing off his back foot. Through three quarters of the ugly Eagles loss two weeks ago, RG3 had completed seven passes for 57 yards. Nobody comes back from such a major injury so quickly and plays at the same high level.

RG3 is feeling the heat. After the Eagles loss, he said: “They kind of knew what was coming before it was coming and that was disheartening. But like I told the guys, regardless of what’s going on out there, we’re the players and we have to make the plays work, and we just weren’t doing that in the first half.”

Said Shanahan after the 49ers loss: “It doesn’t happen overnight, but he’s got all the ability in the world to make that big jump and you just have to be patient. … It’s a constant growth in the drop-back game because it’s not only reading coverages, it’s looking at personnel, it’s stepping up into the pocket, getting rid of the football against blitzes, different coverages, all the things that go with the maturation of being a quarterback. That’s something he’s going through right now.”

Still, Washington was fifth in yards last year and is seventh this year.

“I think when you take a look at the offensive numbers … that just doesn’t happen naturally with a lot of new players,” Shanahan said. “We talked about it last year. We had six new players on our team, and putting up the numbers that we’re putting up are pretty impressive, especially with losing the $36 million salary cap over those two years’ time frame.”

Washington’s salary cap budget was decreased by a combined $36 million over two years in a penalty levied by the NFL because of the way Washington structured contracts during the uncapped season in 2010.

That’s a legitimate excuse, even though Shanahan is partly to blame since he pulls the strings in D.C.

After today the Redskins play host to Kansas City, visit Atlanta, host Dallas and visit the Giants.

Shanahan is a good coach. Snyder is not going to do better if he looks elsewhere. It will be fascinating to see if the owner succumbs to the pressure to make a move, especially if the results in December get worse.

Peyton’s Pace

Denver’s Peyton Manning has passed for 3,722 yards, the most ever through 11 games of a season. However, he has fallen off the pace he needs to break Drew Brees’ single-season record.

Brees’ mark is 5,476, set in 2011. Manning is on pace for 5,413 yards.

Brees is on pace for 5,304 this year, which would be second best all-time. Detroit’s Matthew Stafford is on pace for 5,100 yards, which would be fourth-best all-time (not counting this year’s other finishers).

Manning has 112 TD passes in the month of December. He needs only five more to surpass Brett Favre for most ever in the month.

Player spotlight

Chris Jones, NT, New England. The Patriots lost star run-stuffer Vince Wilfork for the season to injury in Week Four. They miss him. They’re 31st vs. the run. Jones, his replacement, has been poor against the run but good against the pass. He has five sacks in eight games. Jones has a homecoming of sorts today in Houston. He was drafted in the sixth round by the Texans out of Bowling Green but was cut at the end of preseason. Jones is a 6-foot-2, 306-pounder. He faces a tough matchup today against arguably the best center in the AFC, Houston’s Chris Myers.

It’s not uncommon for Pats coach Bill Belichick to be complimentary toward a lesser-talented player producing to the best of his ability. Such was the case this week when he talked about Jones. “Chris has come in and done a good job for us,” Belichick said. “That was even before Vince went out. He’s a real hard working kid, smart, picks up things quickly. He’s got good skills. He’s quick. He’s got good playing strength. He runs well. He’s smart and he’s an instinctive player.”

Test for Foles

Two hot teams collide in Philadelphia today when the Eagles, winners of three straight, face the Cardinals, winners of four straight. Arizona is looking like the more legitimate club.

In the last three games, Eagles QB Nick Foles has completed 70.8 percent of his passes with 10 TDs and no interceptions. However, the competition was Oakland, Green Bay and Washington, defenses that rank 23rd, 21st and 32nd in yards per attempt allowed. Arizona’s defense ranks fourth in yards per attempt allowed and eighth overall. Don’t expect Foles to light up the Cardinals.

Arizona, meanwhile, has feasted on Atlanta, Houston, Jacksonville and a slumping Indianapolis. Cards QB Carson Palmer has an easier task today. The Eagles’ defense ranks 31st.

On-side kicks

• Since 1990, three teams have made the playoffs after starting 4-7. The last to do it was San Diego in 2008. The Chargers finished 8-8 and won a weak AFC West.

• Monday night’s game between Seattle (10-1) and New Orleans (9-2) is the second-highest winning percentage for opposing teams in a MNF game in Week 10 or later. The top percentage was a memorable meeting of the 49ers (10-1) and Giants (10-1) in 1990. The Niners won that one, 7-3, but the Giants got revenge in the NFC title game, winning, 15-13.

• San Diego failed to sell out for today’s game against Cincinnati and will have the first local television blackout of the year in the NFL, despite the fact they’re coming off a big win at Kansas City. 


• Detroit should win the NFC North. The Lions have allowed foes only 62 rushing yards a game over the last six games.

• Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has been fined $139,375 by the NFL so far this season for various hits and offenses. He was docked $100,000 for a low block in Week One. His latest fine was $7,875 for making a throat-slashing gesture against Tampa Bay last week.

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com