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In Big Picture for Washington Redskins Organization, Focus Disappeared Long Ago

It was a rough day for Redskins fans as the Lions ended their 19-game losing streak.
It was a rough day for Redskins fans as the Lions ended their 19-game losing streak. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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"Football is a long story. We are on chapter three. There are 16 chapters. Lets see how this book ends."

That's the right attitude, without a doubt. Will the Redskins adopt it? To do so, they may have to fight through an incredible amount of self-delusion about the talent level on their team. This week, Clinton Portis said he thought the Redskins had the most talent in the NFL. Comments like that have been common in the Redskins' locker room for the past 10 years -- regardless of all available evidence. Not only is the view tolerated at Redskins Park, it is encouraged and marketed. Where does this fallacy arise? In the owner's suite, where the price of players is equated with their performance?

They refuse to define themselves by the final scoreboard but, instead, cling to their own private view of themselves and their far higher value -- sometimes based on their performances in other years or even on other teams.

After a wonderful 10-catch, 178-yard game, wide receiver Santana Moss fell into the deepest and worst snare -- and one that constantly catches the Redskins. Moss said many reasonable things after this defeat. But he also said the magic words that always make my skin crawl in a locker room. "We are the better team," he said.

Anyone who has ever seen "The Hustler," perhaps the best of all sports movies, remembers Paul Newman's character saying to Minnesota Fats, "Even if you beat me, I'm still the best." George C. Scott's character says to Fats: "Stay with this kid. He's a loser."

The Redskins aren't losers. But they will never be elite winners, especially in a team sport, until they defeat the idea that their potential, their fame or their wealth matters at all. Only their performance -- which is kept on the scoreboard for a reason -- counts. That's why teams beat individuals. And that's how the Lions, who have also had seasons of 2-14, 3-13, 5-11, 5-11 and 3-13 since '01, can beat Washington despite that $100 million free agent defensive tackle.

When the Redskins stop treating outcomes like this, or their losses last year to the Rams and Bengals, as flukes, they will have taken the first step toward minimizing them.

Perhaps most perplexed of all at day's end was Coach Jim Zorn, who didn't seem to grasp, entirely, that his two dubious burn-the-book decisions in the first quarter had cost the Redskins at least seven points -- more than the ultimate margin of defeat.

Zorn decided against a short field goal, then was stopped on fourth and one at the Lions goal line. Then, just minutes later, he accepted a penalty, allowing the Lions to replay third down -- a classic tempt-fate tactic. Detroit, instead of being forced to try a 50-yard field goal, converted the third and 13 and eventually completed a 99-yard touchdown drive.

Instead of a 3-3 score, at worst, the Lions led 7-0. A coach could hardly do a better job of handing away momentum. All else being equal -- a big supposition, but far from huge -- the Redskins would have led this game 17-16 in the closing minutes if Zorn had simply made the two conventional calls.

"I didn't think we'd be denied" at the 1, Zorn said. "I thought, 'No way they can drive 99 yards on us.' I didn't believe that would happen."

In the first quarter, most coaches go by percentages, not prophecy.

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