By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
One day after one of the most embarrassing losses in recent memory, Redskins Coach Jim Zorn declared that his struggling team is "getting better," even as several players said the team lacks identity, momentum and answers.
"We're not a great football team," linebacker London Fletcher said. "Never have been since I've been here. . . . It's been a long time since the Redskins have had a great football team."
Still, less than 24 hours after the Redskins became the first team since December 2007 to lose to the Detroit Lions, Zorn's assessment of his 1-2 team did not involve any blaring alarms, flashing lights or crisis counselors. "In the big picture, I think things are progressing," he said. "We're getting better."
As the Redskins returned home from Detroit and began preparing for Sunday's game against another winless franchise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Zorn and his team resumed its normal weekly routine: film study, position meetings, sprints. There were no outward signs that Zorn's job was in immediate jeopardy, nor were there many hints that players knew what to expect out of the coming days and weeks.
Zorn told a roomful of reporters that he spoke briefly with team owner Daniel Snyder following Sunday's loss. "I'll be spending a lot of time with him as we go along this week," Zorn said. "No question."
While many players said the locker room still supports its head coach, Zorn's descriptions of the team that emerged from Sunday's loss to the Lions didn't always match the impressions of players.
"We don't have an identity," cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "I don't know what we want to be on offense. I don't know what we want to be on defense."
Zorn disagreed, saying that "losing creates thoughts" and "I don't have that thought."
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall said the team doesn't have "the same fight that we had last year."
"I don't know what the story is," he said, "but you just don't see the same fight, the same determination, the same attitude."
Again, Zorn disagreed, saying that "those are comments that are a real frustration."
While the offense continues to struggle inside the opponent's 20-yard line and the defense inexplicably allowed the Lions to roll up 381 yards of offense and convert 10 of 18 third-down attempts, Zorn said he still has confidence that the collection of players assembled by Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations, can evolve into a winning football team.
"We have tremendous talent on this football team," Zorn said. "What we have to do is make sure we're putting our guys, as coaches, in the right spots, giving them an opportunity, and when they have the opportunity, they have to go out and make the play. I think we're doing it at times and I think we've been less than that at times. I don't know if it has to do with just overall talent."
If it's not talent, then what? It's a question that inspired little more than shoulder shrugs and wrinkled brows in the Redskins' locker room Monday. "It puzzles me, too," Hall said. "I'm mind-boggled as well."
To get an idea of how topsy-turvy life is at Redskins Park: Washington enters the fourth week of the season with an offense (No. 13 in the NFL) ranked higher than its defense (No. 16). That highly touted defensive unit was No. 4 in the league a year ago, and boosted with up to $155 million in offseason contracts for Hall and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Yet, the defense allowed a rookie quarterback to dictate the pace and tempo of Sunday's game.
"If it was a lack of talent, then you'd be like, 'Okay.' That's one of the most frustrating things about the way we've performed thus far this season," Fletcher said. "It's because we have a lot of talent. We just haven't put it all together collectively play in and play out, week in and week out."
The Redskins offense will enter this weekend's game against the Bucs ranked last in the NFL in third-down conversions (14 of 37). The Redskins are struggling to involve running back Clinton Portis in the offense, the young receivers have made little impact, and all but three teams in the NFL are finding more success inside the 20-yard line. The Redskins have made 10 trips into the red zone in three games and scored just three touchdowns. On Sunday in Detroit, they were 1 of 2, failing on fourth and one from the Lions 1-yard line on their opening possession.
"It's hard to say who we are or what we are," wide receiver Santana Moss said.
Haynesworth, who was carted off the field Sunday in the second quarter but returned in the third, was the only player who was not at Redskins Park on Monday. Zorn allowed him to travel to Nashville to tend to a personal matter. Haynesworth played for the Titans from 2002 to 2008 before signing with the Redskins. Haynesworth also was given an MRI exam there, which revealed a strained gluteus muscle. "I think he's going to be fine," Zorn said.
While several defensive players received treatment for aches and pains, the team's most serious injuries do not appear to be physical. While the previous week's 9-7 win over the St. Louis Rams was a demoralizing one for the Redskins' locker room -- and prompted boos and catcalls from fans at FedEx Field -- players thought they'd be re-energized for the Lions. They'll return to the practice field Wednesday, hoping that teammates aren't giving up just three games into the season.
"This is our big test now," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "Our big test wasn't on the field [Sunday]. Our big test is now -- How we're going to bounce back and what are we going to become now?
Following the team's season-opening loss to the New York Giants, Zorn began playing music at practice as the team stretched. It wasn't immediately clear if he had anything new up his sleeve to make sure the team that takes the field this weekend does not resemble the one that helped the Lions make national headlines.
"I think I'll be real to them," Zorn said. "I don't need to yell at a bunch of men, to say, 'Come on, guys, let's really go now.' Or I don't need to try to play a psychological game with them either. The thing I like to do is to show them what actually happened, regroup and then make changes, if necessary."
Players say it's not necessarily the coach's responsibility to get more out of the locker room. Pressure might be mounting for the second-year coach, but many players said they have lacked execution and consistency.
"We have complete faith in what he's doing, the scheme that we're running and the way that we do things here," tight end Chris Cooley said. "There's nothing for me to say, anything about his job or his job security. I think he's an outstanding coach. I think he's a great guy, and I enjoy playing football for him."
Players know it'd be more fun if the team was winning, the most common theme to thread its way through the locker room Monday was one of individual responsibility.
"We can't point the finger at one another," running back Ladell Betts said. "Coach can't point the finger at the players. Players can't point the finger at the coaches. It's going to take all of us. We still have 13 ballgames left. If people are ready to jump off the ship now, they're in the wrong game."