By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 16, 2006
As the last desperate pass of another lost afternoon wobbled into the hands of Tennessee Titans safety Lamont Thompson for an interception, some 88,000 people rushed for the FedEx Field exits at once. Loyalty was a casualty of the Washington Redskins' ineptitude in the second half, and as a sellout crowd made its way to the parking lots, the home team in last place in the NFC East, the sound of protest came in the form of loud and prolonged boos.
How had things gone so wrong? After marching to within two games of the Super Bowl last January, this was supposed to be the season Washington's NFL team finished the charge. With a new offensive coordinator, two new wide receivers and two defensive stars, the Redskins were supposed to walk through games like yesterday's with the Tennessee Titans.
Instead they are 2-4 after being overrun by one of the worst teams in the league, 25-22 losers to a club that until yesterday hadn't won a game this year.
"Obviously this was a huge, bitter disappointment for me," a grim Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said after the game. "It's all of us together and certainly that starts with me."
This was a theme he would revisit several times in a 10-minute postgame news conference. In fact, he said some variation of "all of us together" three times in his opening statement alone.
But in trying to assess how a season of so much promise could fall apart, Gibbs might be right. The Redskins have not done anything particularly well this year. Yesterday, their floundering offense produced only three strong, sustained drives. Their defense -- considered a strength -- allowed a running back, Travis Henry, whose career has been in decline, to run for 178 yards. They even had a punt blocked into the end zone for a safety.
Sometimes, the worst place to find perspective on a struggling football team is in its locker room after a loss. Yesterday, the Redskins' was no exception as players grasped at reasons for a seemingly inexplicable defeat and their poor start.
"The biggest thing is we need to find guys who want to go out and whup somebody," said cornerback Shawn Springs, who played in his first game after missing the first five weeks of the regular season with groin and abdominal injuries.
When asked if this meant he thought the team was too soft, he shook his head. "Softness isn't the word," Springs said. "You have to be able to do something good, you've got to explode and go make plays."
Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd was asked by a television reporter what he thought was the most frustrating aspect of the offense.
"Losing," he snapped.
Perhaps no one took the defeat as hard as defensive end Phillip Daniels, who was the last player to undress and shower. He stalked around the room, clad in towels and wearing a scowl on his face.
"This was a team we should have beaten," he said, echoing a theme many of the Redskins players expressed. "We have a bunch of guys who are working hard. This should not be happening."
He shook his head with disgust.
"We're not playing like we did the last couple of years," he said. "We pride ourselves on stopping the run. The last two weeks we have let people run over us."
Starts as bad as this year's 2-4 have not been good to the Redskins in recent seasons. Two years ago, in Gibbs's return to Washington, they began 2-4 and finished 6-10. In 2002, a 2-4 start led to a 7-9 record.
Things are not going to get any easier for Washington, either. On Sunday, the Redskins play at Indianapolis, which is 5-0.
While there is blame to go around, much of the fans' ire is directed at the team's quarterback Mark Brunell, who has appeared to struggle with the complex offense of Al Saunders, who was hired from the Kansas City Chiefs last offseason to be the Redskins' associate head coach. Yesterday, Saunders called several short passes for Brunell, hoping to develop a rhythm for his quarterback -- this despite the fact that Tennessee came into the game with the worst rushing defense in the NFL. Brunell was effective in the first half, leading the Redskins to two touchdowns, but he came unraveled in the second half.
And as Brunell became more erratic, chants of "Jas-on Camp-bell" rose from the stands in a plea for the second-year player who is considered the team's quarterback of the future.
The fans would probably be heartened to know that shouts of "thank you Mark Brunell" could be heard though the cinder block walls of the Titans' locker room before it was opened to the media yesterday.
Gibbs did not give Brunell a vote of confidence after the game when asked if he would make a change at quarterback this week. Instead of a curt "no," as coaches do when they want to dispel talk of a quarterback controversy, Gibbs spoke in generalities.
"I'm not focused on the quarterback or any one person," he said. "I'm focused on all of us together. I don't look at one person or area, I look at the overall picture for us."
Which may mean nothing. Or everything.
If he does, it won't be too soon for the fans. As they shuffled out of the stadium before the final whistle, many passed Chris Jones of Beltsville, who held a white Campbell jersey aloft near the exit at Gate A. He shouted "Campbell! Jason Campbell!"
"I don't think Mark Brunell has the arm," he said. "Listen, if you're playing and you're not winning you have to make the change."
For the discouraged faithful, it's the only explanation they have.
Staff writer Adam Kilgore contributed to this report.