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A Debacle From Top To Bottom

By Mike Wise
Monday, September 28, 2009

DETROIT

If you lose to the worst team in pro football, does that make you the worst team in pro football?

When you lose to the team that has the worst owner in football, does that make your owner the worst owner in football, your general manager the worst assembler of talent in football?

Just asking.

Because if Jim Zorn has to answer one more question about his job security, it's time to also hold the coach's players and his superiors accountable for this dumpster fire -- this abomination of a loss.

Just three games into a season, a meltdown is remarkably complete. After William Clay Ford, Detroit's owner -- a man whose team had become a punch line after 19 straight losses over two seasons -- said, "We not only got the monkey off our back, we got King Kong off our back," the Washington Redskins' nadir can't be far behind.

Since it's fashionable to offer up Zorn to the NFL termination gods, I combed the locker room late Sunday afternoon to see if players believed this abysmal start and embarrassing loss to the Lions was about the coach, asking key veterans whether they supported the Z-man or had lost confidence in him.

Captains Chris Samuels and Rock Cartwright. Chris Cooley. London Fletcher. Santana Moss. Mike Sellers. Albert Haynesworth.

No player gave an impassioned plea to spare Zorn blame, though Cooley came close ("It's nothing about the coach and whether we believe in him. That's media [expletive]. It's about us."). But every player publicly endorsed the man after just his 19th NFL game.

"It doesn't matter if Joe Gibbs is here or whoever else -- any all-star coach wouldn't necessarily have fingers not pointed at them," Haynesworth said.

Asked if players support Zorn, he added: "I hope so. It's our head coach. You only have one head coach, so I hope we're behind him. I can't speak for everyone else, but I am."

One player, speaking on condition his name not be used, said about 80 percent of the locker room is on Zorn's side, including himself. The other 20 percent, he added, have their doubts whether Zorn can stem the tide.

Look, Zorn is going to take ultimate responsibility and lose his job if this slide continues.

He doesn't get off the hook for running Clinton Portis left on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line -- a play the Redskins run because without proficient run-blockers on the right side (with second-year guard Chad Rinehart taking his first regular season NFL snaps), they are a one-dimensional ground team.

And without a timeout and precious few seconds left, he certainly doesn't get a pass for not having Jason Campbell throw two Hail Marys into or near the end zone on Washington's final two plays from scrimmage from the 36-yard line.

If you have a quarterback who can drop back and rifle the ball downfield, why act like you're at your own 20 and try a Boise State-like hook and lateral to win -- especially after misguided gadget plays the first two weeks make every defensive coordinator in America extra-prepared?

But if Zorn lost this game, Greg Blache lost this game, too. His full-of-holes defense was scored upon on inexplicably long drives of 99, 74, 86, and 85 yards.

Vinny Cerrato also lost this game. His second-year, second-round receiving draftees -- Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas and Fred Thomas -- caught one measly pass each in a game in which the Redskins sorely needed to go to someone else other than Moss seemingly every pass play, after his offensive line looked more in need of help than another running back activated this past week.

Most of all, Zorn's players lost this game. Veteran receivers came up a few yards short of a first down. Campbell threw an interception and lost his grip on the ball and fumbled, a gaffe that resulted in an impossible third-and-long play in the third quarter just as the team was trying to parlay momentum into points.

There were missed tackles galore -- to the point that rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford suddenly resembled Randall Cunningham, Steve Young and Michael Vick rolled into one -- by a defense that somehow gave up 381 total yards of offense.

"Jim Zorn can't play," deadpanned Sam Huff, the Hall of Fame linebacker and now a radio analyst for the team.

Based on the developments from last week, I didn't think there was any way the offensively challenged Redskins could lose this game. Beyond the Lions having one genuine playmaker in Calvin Johnson, they became a chic pick by national observers. Zorn's players predictably became defensive -- players blaming local-media jackals for negativity and their own fans for disloyalty. Portis, in one of his stream-of-consciousness gems, played Old Faithful again. He threw out, among other pearls, that owner Daniel Snyder is on the verge of losing his fans.

Whether your name is Gary Williams, Pat Riley or Bill Parcells -- or some anonymous high school football coach who's fielding angry calls from concerned parents who want to know why "your boys" are not playing up to their caliber -- as a cornered coach you find a strange solace in a week like last week.

The next game no longer becomes about stuck-in-neutral Washington against historically dreadful Detroit; in the linear, small-picture world of big-time sports the next game becomes about you and your team against humanity, a chance to bond in the bunker you've mentally created -- to fight not just the enemy but also to display your pride to the people you believed were on your side.

It smacks of distorted reality, but it works. Ask Gary or Riles or, heck, Charlie Weis: taking on the identity of Adversity's Kids beats being Prosperity's Adults every day in coaching because it's easier to get your players to unite against a common enemy instead of actually holding themselves accountable for their own failings.

In this environment, a team with pride should shine, not fold.

Maybe that's the key word, pride. Whatever fire and urgency should have emerged this week instead barely flickered, its embers burning out.

The myth about this team stacking up, talent-wise, against the Eagles or the Giants or the Cowboys has got to die here in Detroit. The Redskins are inferior in the NFC East. It's that simple. Their bluster about having near the personnel of their divisional opponents on paper is just that -- wind. They're wanting in almost every category, except a handful of skill positions.

They're paper lions, beaten by a team that managed to score 19 points after losing 19 straight games and upend a neophyte coach in just his 19th game.

"I always heard that growing up, you know, 'You got a bunch of potential,' " Haynesworth said. "Potential isn't nothin' until you turn it into something. This team, we got potential but that means nothing. We got talent but that means nothing. It's a team game. If we don't play as a team together -- as a good team -- we won't be anywhere."

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