BENGALS 20, REDSKINS 13
Suddenly a Not-So-Fun Bunch
Monday, December 15, 2008
CINCINNATI, Dec. 14 -- Things could not have developed much worse for Jim Zorn in his first season as the Washington Redskins' head coach. Once the Redskins were 6-2, destined for a sure spot in the National Football League playoffs and perhaps a shot at the Super Bowl. Zorn's plays worked, his players rolled over some of the top teams in the league and his postgame news conferences were punctuated with silly stories and cries of mock anguish.
On Sunday, after a 20-13 loss to the dreary Cincinnati Bengals left Washington 7-7 and all but knocked it from the postseason, the coach didn't tell his usual stories. He still bounded to the lectern in Paul Brown Stadium, but the zeal seemed to have been stripped from his answers. Words came more slowly, his explanations -- once given in professorial detail -- were shorter. He looked worn.
Standing just to the lectern's side, next to the interview room door was Karl Swanson, a publicity official for owner Daniel Snyder. And while the room was smaller than most in the NFL, he had never taken such a prominent position at a Zorn news conference. The tone was more stern, the mood more ominous.
"So many little things occurred throughout the course of the game that we must look at," Zorn said. "We must play better if we want to earn the right to win. You have to earn a win in this league. We must play better if we are going to earn the right to win. We certainly didn't earn the right to win today."
After a handful of questions, another Redskins official cut the news conference short, the first time such a thing has happened this season.
Looming over everything was the odd tiff that developed this week when star running back Clinton Portis criticized Zorn in a radio interview. Even though Portis later seemed to back away from the comments after a long meeting with Zorn on Wednesday and said nothing critical about the coach on Sunday, the controversy has taken a life of its own. The fact Portis is a favorite of Snyder's led to speculation that Zorn might be in danger of losing his job and might already have lost respect among the players he is coaching.
Such notion brought scoffs from two of the team's top defensive players, who praised his ability to coach and found the notion of his team turning on him to be ridiculous.
"That was just one player who was frustrated," linebacker London Fletcher said.
But on the day the playoffs became almost impossible to reach, it appeared as if Redskins employees were working to ensure that something like Portis's outburst didn't happen again. Much like with Zorn's news conference, group interviews with Portis and quarterback Jason Campbell were cut off after a few questions. The tone of the afternoon was very different than at any other time this season.
Then again, the Redskins lost to a team at the bottom of the league for the second time this autumn (perhaps eclipsing a defeat to the St. Louis Rams as the worst loss of the season). At 2-11-1 the Bengals are considered a disaster and excitement about them has dwindled to barely-existent levels in this city by the Ohio River. While the attendance for Sunday's game was officially listed as 63,996 -- just below capacity -- it seemed as if a good 25 percent of the seats were not filled. The crowd was not loud. Paul Brown Stadium was far from an intimidating place to play.
Still, for whatever reason the Redskins did not play well in a game they had to win to keep any realistic hope for the playoffs alive. From the start they were sluggish, allowing Cincinnati to take a 17-0 lead. And while Washington was able to cut into the Bengals' lead, closing to within 17-10 at halftime, it always seemed like the Redskins were chasing something they just couldn't reach.
Little disasters kept happening. For instance when wide receiver Santana Moss jumped high to catch a pass for a touchdown that cut the Bengals lead to 17-7, hepulled a towel from the belt of his uniform and pretended to shine his cleats as an official stood nearby, throwing a penalty flag for excessive celebration. In the second half, Washington moved to within a few feet of the Cincinnati end zone and appeared to score the game-tying touchdown -- only to have the Bengals challenge the score, saying Redskins fullback Mike Sellers was tackled inches short of the goal line. A replay confirmed the contention and on the next play, as Sellers tried to score again, Cincinnati's Corey Mays knocked the ball from his hands -- a fumble the Bengals recovered.
Even an 87-yard kickoff return from Rock Cartwright that put the Redskins on the Cincinnati 13-yard line near game's end could not be converted into a touchdown.
"Every week we've got something different to say about why we lost," Moss said. "I really don't know at this point. It doesn't feel good. A loss is a loss. I don't have any good answers."
None of the Redskins do. And while there were no overt indications that Zorn's job is in jeopardy because of it, he did not appear to wear the last week well.
"I am frustrated," he said. "Believe me, it is heartfelt. I can sense all these emotions beginning to well up within me because things have not gone our way as of late. I am also objective enough to see that we do have a long way to go. I am confident enough in my abilities to stand strong and firm. That's what I am going to do. The speculation and criticisms are there, but I don't let them guide me."