In the struggling organization, Fletcher’s contributions are unmatched. He’s one of few guys (the only one?) on the team with universal credibility. He continues to show that Washington needs more people like him — especially now.
The Redskins have lost four straight and five of their past six games. Coach Mike Shanahan and his offensive coordinator son, Kyle, are under fire for Washington’s ineptitude on offense. Essentially, Washington’s improved defense must pitch shutouts for the team to win. Defensive players are feeling the pressure, and cracks have already shown.
The imbalance could threaten to tear apart the locker room if not, in part, for the presence of a 14-year veteran who wouldn’t let things get to that point.
“When you have a guy like Fletch, who guys respect for what he says [in the locker room] and the way he backs it up [on the field], you don’t worry about that kind of stuff,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who shares defensive captain duties with Fletcher, said recently.
“You know when times are rough, you can count on Fletch to do the right thing. He’s gonna think about what’s best for the team. The whole team.”
It’s a familiar role and one Fletcher performs well.
The offense derailed the team after its promising 3-1 start. The injuries on offense are part of the problem. But Mike Shanahan’s major mistakes account for the majority of the mess. Some Redskins employees are still scratching their heads about Shanahan’s decision to stake his reputation on two incapable quarterbacks — Rex Grossman and John Beck — and wondering how long it will take to improve at the game’s most important position. Also, during two cycles of the draft and free agency, Shanahan picked most of the players on the 53-man roster.
There’s only one person to question about supposed personnel deficiencies.
On sports-talk radio and Internet message boards, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is taking heat because the Redskins have given up a lot of yardage during the losing streak, but “defensively, we’ve done a lot of good things, so I am frustrated,” Fletcher said Monday while we spoke privately at Redskins Park. “It does upset me that we’re not perceived to be as good a defense as we are.
“It bothers me, from the standpoint of the record, that the perception is out there. Sometimes the record doesn’t show what you’ve done.”
At first glance, the statistics indicate the Redskins’ defense, 13th overall in the NFL in yardage allowed, is only an above-average group. Dig deeper, however, and you learn the Redskins are among the best at disrupting quarterbacks, ranking third in the league with 25 sacks, three behind the top-ranked New York Giants. Washington is tied for fourth with 10 forced fumbles. It’s seventh in points allowed at 19.8 per game.
Clearly, if blame must be assessed, the offense has more explaining to do, “but as a defense, we can’t look at it like that,” Fletcher said. “Whatever we’ve done, whatever we’re gonna do, to try to help the offense, we just have to do more.
“Our mind-set always has to be that. Whether that means giving the offense short fields, creating more turnovers, not giving up the big plays . . . or even field goals. Let’s not even give those up. No field goals. If that’s what we have to do, then that’s what we have to do.”
Keeping cool while shouldering so much isn’t easy. Fletcher briefly lost it during the embarrassing loss to Buffalo on Oct. 30, blasting strong safety LaRon Landry on the sideline after his blown coverage resulted in a touchdown pass.
Fletcher and Landry overcame the incident, which served to remind Fletcher about “remaining together in the locker room regardless of what everyone else says about you out there. Regardless of the opinions out there, you can’t have that divide. You have to stay tight.”
Against Buffalo, Fletcher had one of his finest performances in five seasons with the Redskins: a game-high 19 tackles and an interception in the end zone. He played despite being slowed because of a hamstring injury, extending his consecutive games streak, now at 216.
Although Fletcher could become a free agent after the season, he would prefer to finish what he started here. He came to help restore the Redskins to prominence, and they’re getting closer on defense.
Despite this season’s problems, Fletcher remains upbeat about the Redskins’ future. He sees some encouraging signs. But someone has to keep them united. Fletcher has already raised his hand.