By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 28, 2009
DETROIT, Sept. 27 -- As the small crowd of long-suffering Detroit Lions fans hugged and exchanged high-fives in the stands, the Washington Redskins trudged to the visitors' locker room Sunday afternoon at Ford Field to begin what figures to be another difficult week early in a season that finds them already at a crossroads.
Players and coaches acknowledged there would be much to reevaluate in the coming days after the Lions ended a 19-game losing streak with a 19-14 victory over the Redskins in front of an announced crowd of 40,896 at Ford Field. The job status of embattled Coach Jim Zorn -- whose two questionable calls in the first quarter helped shift momentum to the Lions -- is among the issues Redskins owner Daniel Snyder might consider in assessing the team's embarrassing performance for long stretches against the Lions. It appears, however, there also are pressing football matters the team must quickly address with 13 games remaining.
Even 340 yards passing from quarterback Jason Campbell and a breakout performance from wide receiver Santana Moss (10 receptions, a personal-best 178 yards receiving and a 57-yard touchdown reception) were not enough for an offense that has been among the main targets of frustrated fans since long before Zorn arrived at Redskins Park.
On Sunday, time ran out on the Redskins as they attempted two desperate laterals on the final play of the game, ending one difficult experience and probably beginning another.
"No question, yeah, we've got some problems," free safety LaRon Landry said. "They [the coaches] do what they're supposed to do. They're putting us in position that you think would work on the field. They're putting us in position to execute.
"Even though to the public eye, the fans or the audience it looks like we ain't in the right position or we ain't making plays, they're calling the plays we think will work. But we've got to do something. We've got to get it worked out and come out and ball. And we got to hurry up and do it."
The deficiencies in the running game and pass protection present during the first two games continued to slow the Redskins (1-2) against the Lions (1-2), and there were even bigger breakdowns in an area considered to be the team's strength -- defense. Washington repeatedly gave up big plays on third down in the first half as Detroit built a 13-0 halftime lead and never trailed.
After three games, the Redskins are trying to remain confident while searching for answers to problems they never fathomed could arise.
"Let me make one thing clear: It's definitely not on one person," said Campbell, who threw two second-half touchdown passes but also had an interception that ended a third-quarter drive at midfield. "And it shouldn't be directed on Coach Zorn at all.
"We all got to uphold our part. We all participate. We all go out there and play. Every time, it's something that's here or there, and people can't put this on one person. And if you're a guy that's finger-pointing, then you're wrong."
Rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford -- the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft -- shined in leading the Lions to their first victory since they defeated the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 23, 2007. Against the Redskins, Stafford never resembled the inexperienced player who struggled in his first two NFL games, directing scoring drives of 99, 74, 86 and 85 yards, respectively.
The Lions converted 9 of 12 third-down attempts in the first half and 10 of 18 in the game (56 percent). In its first two games, they went 8 for 27 on third downs (29.6 percent), ranking last in the NFL in that category. Running back Kevin Smith had 82 of his 101 yards rushing before halftime and finished with a 6.3-yard average.
"Stunning is too big a word" to describe the Redskins' poor outing on defense, defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. "It was execution. They executed, and we didn't. We talked early on about detail. Taking care of detail. In the run game, we weren't very detailed, particularly early on. We had guys with 'bad' eyes. We had guys with wandering eyes, watching more than they should be watching, which caused some issues.
"Then on the third downs, we had some issues . . . some of it was protection-wise. They went to a lot of max protection, so we went to zone. The only way you can beat the max protection is to go all-out blitz, and I didn't really want to leave anybody isolated on [star wide receiver Calvin] Johnson.
"And we didn't execute. It was one guy one time, and it was one guy one time, it was not one person all the time."
Detroit lost by 18 points to New Orleans in the opener and by 14 to Minnesota in Week 2. But against the Redskins, the Lions extended their lead to 19-7 on backup running back Maurice Morris's two-yard touchdown run with 5 minutes 31 seconds left in the game. And the Lions' confidence soared. "It's awesome," said Stafford, who passed for 241 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. "Great for not only the guys in the locker room, but the fans, the town, everybody."
After the Lions built a 12-point lead, the Redskins quickly scored on a four-yard touchdown pass from Campbell to backup running back Rock Cartwright. Place kicker Shaun Suisham's successful point-after attempt cut the lead to 19-14.
Washington, however, had done too much poorly to overcome at the end, and the speculation about Zorn's job status is expected to only intensify, especially after his handling of two key situations in the first quarter.
On the Redskins' first possession, Zorn decided to go for it on fourth and one at the Lions 1. The Redskins ran to the left side, the Lions got great penetration and running back Clinton Portis (42 yards and a 3.5-yard average) was stopped for no gain. "We drove all the way down there," Zorn said. "I didn't think we'd be denied getting in the end zone, and we were, but there was no way a team could drive 99 yards on us.
"They got it out and took it all the way down and scored. I didn't think that would happen. That's why I did what I did. I wanted to score a touchdown. It wasn't a flippant decision. We had the right plays. I thought we could get one yard."
Backed up to their own end zone, the Lions moved to the Redskins 33-yard line, where they faced third and four. Stafford threw an incomplete pass, but Lions backup tight end Casey FitzSimmons was called for pass interference. If Zorn had declined the penalty, the Lions would have faced a 51-yard field goal attempt. Last season, Detroit place kicker Jason Hanson converted all eight of his field goal attempts of at least 50 yards.
On third and 13, Stafford scrambled around the left end for a 21-yard gain. He teamed with wideout Bryant Johnson for a 21-yard touchdown pass on the next play. Johnson beat cornerback Carlos Rogers off the line of scrimmage without being touched and made a leaping catch over Rogers on the left side of the end zone. So the Lions went the length of the field to take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
"Jason Hanson was in field goal range," Zorn said. "I just tried to get off the field so they wouldn't get another three points. That was my thinking. And they got a first down. And then they scored."
Zorn came under fire last week after the Redskins' inept performance against the St. Louis Rams. The question now is, after an embarrassing performance, will Snyder permit Zorn to move forward as fan unrest increases?
"When you see your brother getting piled on, people are jumping on his back, you want to go over and pull 'em off his back. You want go do something to help him," Blache said of Zorn. "I don't think it's fair, but I've been around this business long enough to know they're going to do it. Everybody piles on."