By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 28, 2009
DETROIT, Sept. 27 -- When the final tackle was completed and the numbers on the scoreboard were irreversible, part of history, Jim Zorn stood still on the sideline. The Washington Redskins players he coaches slowly began moving toward their opponents, to shake hands, to head to the locker room and the flight home. Zorn remained static, staring.
Finally, he dropped his head. Disbelief, disappointment, frustration -- all of them were evident on his face.
"There's not too many words to say yet," he said later.
Yet in Washington, results such as the one Zorn oversaw Sunday -- a dreadful 19-14 loss to the Detroit Lions, who used the Redskins to end a 19-game losing streak -- lead to fountains of words, few of them good. The Redskins have lost two of their first three games of the season, and they have looked porous on defense and unpolished on offense.
Now, a week after star running back Clinton Portis declared that "everybody in this organization [is] on the hot seat," the heat is turned up, and the team is trying to make sure any fissures don't become full-blown fractures before the season is even a month old.
"We got a lot of people in here who think they're better than they are," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "You can look at that [game] and tell. It's not practice. This isn't the preseason. This is the real deal, and . . . there's a lot of guys running around in here who think they've arrived -- and [they] haven't made a play in this league."
Zorn, 56, in his second year as a head coach after an itinerant career as a college and pro assistant, is the man who must manage the tenor of his team and oversee it going forward. He was questioned after the loss about his decision-making -- trying to go for a touchdown in the first quarter when he could have kicked a short field goal, giving the Lions another chance to keep a drive alive when he accepted a penalty -- and he carefully broke down the reasons for his thinking, though both choices backfired.
Still, he said he gives no thought to any of the overarching issues that will be widely discussed this week, namely his fitness for his position and the seemingly precarious nature of his job.
"None," he said.
In a mostly quiet visitors' locker room at Ford Field, most players tried to close ranks, casting aside the unmistakable pall over the team by emphasizing that there are 13 games remaining. Quarterback Jason Campbell defended Zorn. "Let me make one thing clear: It's definitely not on one person," he said.
"I definitely think that he's a good coach," said tackle Chris Samuels, the team's longest-tenured player. "I think that we can all do some things better, players and coaches. We're on the same page. We believe in our coach. And I think at the end of the season we'll come up out of this."
There is, though, a sense that this had better be the nadir. Detroit was supposed to be a sure win, even as Zorn talked about how improved the Lions were. "We did not treat this team lightly," Zorn said. But the result will be talked about around the National Football League: The Redskins, who had hoped to return to the playoffs, are the team that finally lost to the Lions. Detroit had not won a game since Dec. 23, 2007.
"You don't ever want to be in this position, but we really got to push each other now," Campbell said. "We really got to find a way to get it turned around and get it turned around quickly. It's not going to get any easier. It's just going to continue to get harder and harder."
But this is supposed to be the cushy part of the Redskins' schedule. The next three opponents -- Tampa Bay, Carolina and Kansas City -- are a combined 0-8 so far this season. Yet players acknowledged that if they can lose to the Lions -- who in 2008 became the first team to lose all 16 games in an NFL season -- they can lose to anyone.
"We just didn't play at all," Hall said.
That, players said, is inexplicable. Given the scrutiny the Redskins endured after last week's lackluster 9-7 win over St. Louis -- "The media and everybody is kind of riding us the whole time," Samuels said -- how could they perform so poorly against the Lions, falling behind, 13-0, at halftime?
"You're asking me questions I have no answer for," fullback Mike Sellers said.
"Yeah, we lost," wide receiver Santana Moss said. "If you look at it, they played better than us. You look at it, they played hungrier than us. True and all, but I don't feel like they were the better team. . . . I hope this strikes a match on us, on our behalf, that we can realize that you can't wait around for someone to make us mad or make us angry and then try to do it. We got to do it from the start. We got to put teams away from the start."
When it ended, and Zorn stopped staring at the turf, he made his way back to the locker room alone, weaving through a phalanx of photographers and the Lions, who were celebrating with a crowd of 40,896 folks who showed up to watch them end their run of futility. When Zorn reached his team, he reminded them of how he breaks the season into four four-game quarters. The Redskins, for now, are only in the first quarter of their season with a record of 1-2, and there is time to recover.
"The only thing I said to them at the end of the game, again: It's about us taking care of details of the work we put on the field," Zorn said. "I believe that will be the difference once we look at it. . . . The things that we look at will be the small issues that we cannot overlook, and we won't."