“Frustration, disappointment, sadness — I was about to cry on the sideline, man,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said as he stood near his locker. “I just don’t understand where we’re falling apart at, you know?”
But the fact is, the Redskins are crumbling. They’re 3-7, the worst team in the NFL’s weakest division, and losing’s corrosive effect is no longer invisible. Quarterback Robert Griffin III removed his pads slowly, pausing at times to whisper to reserve quarterback Rex Grossman. Left tackle Trent Williams accused a game official of issuing a profanity-laced verbal attack on him. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon shouted and cursed as other players were interviewed, some of whom suggested the season is salvageable.
And, yes, there were a few whose optimism remains. Safety Brandon Meriweather smiled and said his family and friends bring him joy, even on days of professional disappointment. Tight end Niles Paul and running back Roy Helu Jr. joked, trying to ease the tension. Fullback Darrel Young, who scored Washington’s first touchdown and ended Philadelphia’s hopes of a shutout, said practices and weekday meetings don’t show a team in turmoil, though so many Sundays have.
“You make a mistake, and guys are [mad] at each other, man,” Young said. “You know, like, ‘We’ve got to do better than this; repeat the play,’ you know, stuff like that. You don’t see that from a team [at] 3-6. Well, now 3-7.”
This was supposed to be a season of growth and celebration. The Redskins won the NFC East last year following an improbable seven-game win streak, and even with an incomplete offseason as Griffin healed from knee surgery, 2013 marked a season of hope — years of past disappointment finally ready to pay dividends.
“Everybody in this locker room wants it so bad,” Hall said. “And for some reason we just can’t — just haven’t been able to get it going.”
But the resolute veterans such as Young have, if Sunday’s postgame locker room was any indication, begun to lose their grip on the team’s overall attitude. Wide receiver Joshua Morgan sat on a stool, his headphones on and his eyes forward, as teammates filed past. When he finally stood and headed toward the exit, he told a reporter that he was instructed not to answer questions.
“Coach said I can’t play football,” said the Washington native, who was deactivated for Sunday’s game, “and I can’t talk.”
On the other side, Williams sat and described how an official’s insult affected his team’s psychology, even after the Eagles jumped to a 17-0 first-half lead. Williams said the official, who he identified by uniform No. 81, worn Sunday by umpire Roy Ellison, called him a “garbage-[expletive], disrespectful [expletive]” during Washington’s final possession of the first half. Williams said he did nothing to elicit such an attack.
Two teammates, guard Kory Lichtensteiger and Griffin, said they heard the exchange, and according to a pool report, referee Walt Coleman wouldn’t address the incident following the game. An NFL spokesman wouldn’t comment on the matter.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Williams said. “You never expect that, as a player, going into the game to have to beef with the refs also.”
While he described the incident, teammates yelled for Williams to stop discussing it.
“They’re going to fine you,” Garcon said.
“It don’t matter,” Williams said. “I said it. I ain’t going back on my word, either.”
Garcon headed for the shower, and when he returned, he shouted as wide receiver Santana Moss spoke with a group of reporters that had gathered near Garcon’s locker. Garcon remained defiant as media approached him for interviews, saying angrily at times that he couldn’t talk because he had injured an ankle. Then, without a limp, he entered the training room and shouted that he needed to be added to the list of injured players.
Garcon later agreed to meet with reporters, though the meeting seemed to conflict with his wishes. “If he starts going off, interject, okay?” a team official said into a cellphone shortly before Garcon answered questions with terse responses for about a minute.
“There is no way to explain it,” Garcon said. “It’s out there. You guys see it. You just have to do better.”
Back in the locker room, Young insisted that he wouldn’t lose faith in his teammates. Six games remain, the next three of which will be played at FedEx Field, where the Redskins are 2-2. The team’s home stadium, though, hasn’t masked Washington’s disappointments this season. Griffin is the team’s face, and he’s hardly the same exciting, game-changing player he was as a rookie in 2012, and his play has been memorable for only bad reasons. He missed or overthrew open receivers on Sunday, passes he made with ease last season, and continued to show an inability to run away from quicker defenders — those he sped away from frequently a season ago.
After Washington mounted a second-half comeback Sunday, driving into Eagles territory for a potential tying touchdown, Griffin threw a desperation pass toward the end zone on third down. Philadelphia’s Brandon Boykin intercepted the pass, and that was the end of that.
Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said he didn’t speak with Griffin after the game, but as has often been the case this season, Washington’s mistakes overshadowed its problems — which aren’t contained; they’re widespread and lingering.
“Each week it’s something different,” Hall said. “Each week it’s something we’re trying to overcome or trying to get out of the hole. It’s just a different problem we’re dealing with, week in and week out.”
The locker room gradually emptied, its floor covered in tape and debris, another mess left by the Redskins. And the last of the players made their way toward the door for the trip home. Six games remain, along with the slow march toward what seems an inevitably disappointing end.
“There’s really one way to go: up,” Meriweather said before leaving. “I don’t think you can go no farther down.”