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Zorn's Trickery Proved Rather Revealing

Coach Jim Zorn has a word with quarterback Jason Campbell during the Redskins' Week 1 loss to the Giants at the Meadowlands.
Coach Jim Zorn has a word with quarterback Jason Campbell during the Redskins' Week 1 loss to the Giants at the Meadowlands. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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Trickery certainly didn't work Sunday in this eyesore. I love the "Inspector Gadget" in Zorn, but until the very end of a miserable first half, he caught no one off guard, other than his own players.

His play-calling in the red zone didn't work, either.

With the ball at the 11-yard line at the end of the third quarter, not once was Campbell allowed to take a shot in the end zone -- in a physical scrum that almost demanded a touchdown instead of a field goal at that point.

And then there was the discipline issue, which Zorn was visibly upset about afterward.

Santana Moss trading blows with Giants defensive back Corey Webster, the best receiver on the team losing his helmet and his composure as he was body-slammed to the ground deep in his own territory.

LaRon Landry popping Brandon Jacobs after the Giants' running back galloped down the right sideline and had gone out of bounds. It was unclear whether Landry remembered that he was pancaked by Jacobs a year ago in the opener, but it was just one of those what-are-you-thinking moments that brings up a lot of questions about a team losing its wits about itself when it matters.

"We have to be the ones to maintain our composure," Zorn said. Earlier he said, "We didn't have our poise."

Did we mention a couple of unnecessary timeouts taken by a team that needed every one at the end of a game, when it couldn't stop the clock to get the ball back? One had something to do with offensive alignment, which isn't specifically Zorn's fault.

But he's the coach and he would agree that all of it is his fault in some way.

The hard truth for Zorn and his ability to keep the reins of this franchise in his hands: He's not only got to look good on the win-loss ledger, but he's also got to look competent and worth keeping on team owner Daniel Snyder's ledger. It begins with one question:

Is this my coach next season?

In order to succeed in that vein, Zorn doesn't have to be who he's not -- Bill Parcells or some other blowhard who says quotable gruff stuff like, "Don't show me the pain, show me the baby." (Although, just once, I would like to see a Zorn news conference where he's not explaining everything as thoughtfully and thoroughly as my pre-Algebra teacher, where he just said, "No," "Yes," "No," and walks out, angry as hell about a loss).

But he does have to come across as a leader of men, someone whose players aren't questioning his methods or his strategies because they firmly believe Zorn's ways have a means to an end -- and that end is making the Redskins a playoff team.

There were two players in the locker room Sunday, who, on condition of anonymity, under their breath when everyone else walked away, wondered whether an option was the right play to call from the second play from scrimmage, after Clinton Portis had ripped off a 34-yard run -- a play that resulted in Antwaan Randle El being tackled for an 11-yard loss.

Or whether a reverse pass near the goal line, which went for a two-yard loss to Moss, was really the right call in that instant.

"It was scripted," Portis said. "Unfortunately for us, we weren't in a rhythm to run them at that moment. Look, the only thing that happened [Sunday] was we found out we can't go undefeated."

For Zorn's sake, I'm glad that fake field goal Hunter Smith scored on worked. Because if it didn't, the Redskins go into the locker room down 17-0 in one of the most dreadful first halves imaginable.

Count me among the multitudes of people who wanted to see the re-emergence of the roll-the-dice character who fooled the Cowboys and the Eagles in the first month of the regular season a year ago.

When Zorn unearthed a fourth-down fake in his own territory during the preseason -- that amazingly went for a first down when the ball was hiked to the upback, Rock Cartwright -- a chorus of people worried aloud that the coach was showing his cards too soon, that coaches shouldn't give away tells like that in the exhibition season.

It seemed trite logic at the time, especially if Zorn wasn't going to break out the magic book until October or November. But that fake field goal before halftime did not look scripted -- not one bit.

It looked like the call of a man who knows it's got to happen for him and his team now.

The discipline. The improved play-calling. And especially the points on the scoreboard, the notion that this offense is appreciably better than the sorry lot that closed out last season.

Or Jim Zorn will be out there all right -- in a way that has nothing to do with the abstract.

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