By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2009
The Washington Redskins returned to the practice field Wednesday under the watchful eyes of team owner Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, the executive vice president of football operations, who observed -- as they frequently do -- from cushioned chairs on the sidelines.
Though only in Week 3, the team is facing the kind of pressure usually reserved for later in the season as it prepares for Sunday's game at the Detroit Lions. The Lions have lost 19 straight, but Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell still called the matchup "dangerous," which could have as much to do with the Redskins and their psyche as it does the Lions.
"I just feel like people are putting too much pressure on themselves, instead of playing relaxed," Campbell said of his teammates.
In the wake of the team's first win of the season, a lackluster 9-7 victory over St. Louis on Sunday, Washington fans booed the home team, Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen questioned Coach Jim Zorn's play-calling in a live postgame interview and a rookie linebacker drew unwanted attention for lashing out at fans via Twitter. Given the disappointing play the first two weeks of the season, fans and critics alike are starting to wonder how much pressure this team can take.
Running back Clinton Portis said that it's not simply the head coach or starting quarterback who might be in the line of fire.
"I think everybody in this organization on the hot seat," Portis said during his weekly session with reporters. "You know, I think you look at the owner, he on the verge of losing fans. You know, how long before people just give up and stop coming?
"You look at the players, and people want you out of here. You look at the coach, people want you out of here. So who's not on the hot seat? Until we come out and play to our potential, I think everybody on the hot seat."
In the Lions, the Redskins face a team that some might have penciled in as an easy victory prior to the season. Last year Detroit became the first team in NFL history to go winless over the course of a 16-game season. The Redskins, meanwhile, paid mightily for a couple of key roster upgrades and entered the season expecting to contend in the NFC East.
Zorn was asked Wednesday whether he's concerned about facing a Detroit team that might be desperate for a win.
"We're all desperate for a win," he said, prompting chuckles before he mouthed the words again, "We're all desperate for a win."
Zorn's play-calling, in particular, has been a major focus of fan fodder this week after the Redskins' 0-for-5 performance inside the 20-yard line against the Rams.
As for Campbell's contention that players might be putting added pressure on themselves this week, as the team hit the practice field and began installing its Week 3 game plan, Zorn didn't think that was the case.
"I think they came to work today. To get back at it after our win, I think is important," Zorn said. "It was a frustration to not get the ball in the end zone, yet we won the game, so there's sort of mixed reviews. But our guys came to work hard. I haven't felt that issue."
Players say the criticism seems to come from two directions: fans and media. On paper, Portis is certain the Redskins are the best team in the league, so he understands the frustration from Redskins fans who don't feel like they're watching the best team each Sunday.
"It's just people growing tired," Portis said. "You come out, you bring a family of four or five to come to a game, that's $500, and then you've got to eat and park. You're spending $700 a week to come out and see some entertainment, and you get there and it's really not a lot of entertainment. I think people just growing weary of that.
"We would love to make it exciting," he continued. "You know, myself included. Nobody want to go out and score nine points. Everybody wants touchdowns. Everybody wants to go to the Pro Bowl. Everybody wants to win."
Not unlike previous years, the team operates under a strong media microscope. On the first day of training camp in July, newly acquired defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth met with reporters and talked about the difference between Nashville and Washington. "You didn't have as much media," he said. "I think you had three cameras in Nashville. It's a little different here." Now Haynesworth is in the midst of a D.C.-media blackout. He hasn't granted an interview to local reporters since the team's loss at the New York Giants in Week 1.
Speaking with Detroit reporters on a conference call Wednesday, Haynesworth explained his continued D.C. silence by saying, "I'm just kind of over that right now. I'm just gonna let my play do the talking."
And despite winning against the Rams, critiques have become only more pointed. Only one team in the league has scored fewer points per game -- St. Louis, which was just one late drive away from staging a stunning upset on Sunday.
"Where's the criticism coming from?" asked wide receiver Antwaan Randle El. "Most of it is you guys want to see us explode. And we will. It takes time. Bear with us. Just like I tell the fans, bear with us, we're going to get going. We're not stressing about it. We hope you guys aren't stressing about it."
Randle El is familiar with heightened expectations. He's been around a Redskins team that finished 5-11 in 2006 and a Steelers team that won the Super Bowl the previous season.
"We are close. We're very close," he said. "We just have to keep going. It's never as good as it seems, never as bad as it seems."
Many players repeated some variation of that sentiment. And for the most part, it was reporters on Wednesday who asked about the pressure the team faces, not players volunteering their Week 3 worries.
"I think it gets rough just for everybody," Portis said. "But at the same time, this is what we ask for, this is the position we're in. We're in one of the best media places in the world, so we're going to take fire, and hopefully we can prevail. If we go out and prove the naysayers wrong, then there's not a problem. It's only a matter of time before you've got to jump on the bandwagon and congratulate us and stop throwing us under the bus."
Given the Redskins' struggles and the Lions' improved play, Detroit could be a popular pick this week among national prognosticators. Reporters hopped from locker to locker on Wednesday asking Washington players how they feel about the possibility of being the team that snaps the Lions' losing streak, but most players weren't biting.
"We just need to win. That's point blank," defensive end Andre Carter said. "This is not about being the team that gives them the victory. The most important thing is for us to be 2-1."