By Thomas Boswell
Monday, October 19, 2009
With less than four minutes to play at FedEx Field, the sparse remains of the Redskins crowd stood as one. And they did nothing.
They did not cheer. They did not exhort their team to block a long field goal by a Kansas City rookie named Ryan Succop, the final player picked in the last NFL draft, which would put the awful Chiefs, losers of 28 of their previous 30 games, ahead 9-6.
The crowd did not boo, either. Instead, in a sight I can never remember at a sporting event, the fans spontaneously shared a moment of silence, a communal mortification, as they stood witness to the bleakest moment -- all factors considered -- in the history of the Redskins franchise.
Then, after the 46-yard kick sailed through the goal posts, a boot by Mr. Irrelevant defeating the NFL's new Team Irrelevant, most of the crowd quietly marched out.
"This is the two-minute warning," eventually came the words over the public address system. For what? Word that Jim Zorn is no longer coach? Or, in a just world, that Vinny Cerrato, the man who hired him, would be fired first? Or in our fantasies that owner Daniel Snyder would say, "This is more my fault than anybody's," and take responsibility for the whole micro-mismanaging Redskins mess of the last 10 years?
By leaving, those thousands of fans were spared a final Kansas City field goal and a last ludicrous safety. When the final score of 14-6 was posted, less than a tenth of the original crowd remained. One group stood above the Redskins tunnel where they could hoot, boo and catcall the players off the field.
As if to underline the bitter potency of this loss, and the Redskins' internal need to find a scapegoat, the team announced four hours after the game that Cerrato and Zorn had met -- with the coach stripped of his play-calling duties, the job he cherishes most and which largely defines his contribution to the team.
You have too much on your plate, Cerrato informed Zorn. Now he has almost nothing. Will the Redskins have difficulty firing their coach now? Hardly. By the bye week, they'll have more trouble remembering if he's gone.
Earlier this week, several Redskins players said they thought management should give Zorn a vote of confidence. So, after they went out and lost, Cerrato gave the players their answer: a resounding vote of no confidence in their coach. Anybody else want to rattle their cups on the prison bars? Welcome to Redskins world. That's how they got to their nadir.
Once, 50 years ago, the Redskins were much worse (2-26-3). And once, after Joe Gibbs first retired, they had an ugly 7-25 rebuilding period. But never, adjusted for their incredible patsy schedule, their mammoth payroll and their core of proven skill players, have the Redskins been so embarrassing to watch.
This is a team, already disappointed at an 8-8 2008, spent $100 million to sign one of the NFL's top defensive players. And what did Albert Haynesworth do, as the Chiefs ran out the clock? He jogged to the locker room, alone, before the game ended. That $41 million guaranteed doesn't include public embarrassment.
This is the bottom, unless something still worse arrives. In their fifth consecutive atrocious performance, all against the dregs of the NFL, the Redskins firmly established where they now stand. Are they, as they have been for much of the last 17 years, a mediocre team in a bad slump? Or are they now in the pits of the sport? The answer is in. There are still eight teams with fewer wins than the Redskins' two. But, until they prove otherwise, of which they show no inclination, there are no significantly worse teams.
"I feel awful for the fans. The fans sacrifice a lot, too. I am not naive about that. I am upset, too," said Zorn, who was unprepared to be an NFL head coach but who has kept his dignity and personal appeal intact. If Zorn has to settle for 117 NFL touchdown passes and many years as a good quarterbacks coach, many have done worse. And few have ever handled such losses so well.
"The fans . . . put their hearts and souls into supporting this football team," Zorn said. "They have to just be beside themselves. They will look at me and they should."
To make matters just a bit more frustrating, the Redskins also exhausted the last hope of the despondent fan: bring in the noble backup quarterback and he'll save us. Zorn switched to Todd Collins when trailing, 3-0, at halftime. He tried. But the line in front of him, which was not restocked by the front office the past two offseasons, has now been reduced to a patchwork of journeymen.
So, the rug of confidence has been pulled out from under Jason Campbell, who had a 46.1 passer rating in a nervous first half. Collins completed a 42-yard bomb on his first pass. But thereafter he was 5 for 13 for only 33 yards and got caught for a safety. The immediate problem is not Campbell, though he's no answer for the future. And the solution is not Collins, 37, though, if avoiding a 3-13 season is your goal, he may be a better choice.
As has been pointed out here before, fans should look at Snyder and Cerrato far more than Zorn for a reckoning. But that pair is seldom if ever accountable in public and even more rarely wrong in their own eyes in private. It's somebody else's fault. This time, it didn't take long for them to finger the guy in the crew cut.
Once again, this game was a complete waste of a superior defensive performance. For the 28th straight game, the Redskins allowed 28 or fewer points, the longest such streak in the NFL, twice as long as the Colts' string of 14. However, with guard Randy Thomas out for the year, tackle Chris Samuels out indefinitely and Zorn calling plays, there simply is no Washington attack.
If the Redskins' fans stood silent in disbelief in the fourth quarter, looking at a team oddsmakers will now probably post as underdogs in nine of their last 10 games, then the players themselves seemed almost as stunned and at a loss afterwards.
"I have no clue," Rock Cartwright said. "I know we are not the worst team in the NFL."
"Other teams are looking at us like we are a 'win,' " defensive end Philip Daniels said. "I don't think everybody has been putting in their best effort to get the job done."
There will be time to analyze what has gone wrong and what, probably over a painfully long time, must be done to correct it. This, however, was the day when the hard truth about the Redskins was delivered.
The afternoon began with what actually seemed to be tens of thousands of empty seats. It ended with a 90,000-seat bowl almost empty by the final play. On the game-winning field goal, the crowd stood silent as its team, which could barely edge the winless Rams and Bucs and had already lost to the 1-22 Lions, proved that it could flop to the Chiefs, too.
Washington, city of bailouts: arrive 2-28, leave 3-28.
Now, as their opponents go from cupcakes to contenders, who will give the Redskins a hand up? They've never needed one more.