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Redskins have their hands full with distractions after loss to Cowboys

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 28, 2009;

The superlatives about the winless season against the NFC East, about failing to score a single point at home, about perhaps their most lackluster effort of the season -- again on primetime television -- it all fell on deaf ears. By this point, the penultimate game of a season that spoiled long before its official expiration date, every piece of bad news is greeted the same way: business as usual.

"This whole year has always been something," said quarterback Jason Campbell. "You know, it's always been something."

Even as the Redskins plod their way to Week 17 and prepare for an offseason that promises change in every corner of the organization, the team can't escape negative attention and locker room distraction.

Sunday night's 17-0 loss to the Dallas Cowboys -- the first time since 2003 the Redskins were shutout at home -- managed to sum up all of the team's myriad issues in four succinct, painful quarters of football, said cornerback Carlos Rogers.

"We're having so many problems: offense, defense, stuff happens off the field, players, the coach," Rogers said. "There's just been so much stuff going on this season."

The two most recent issues, rolled out like a black carpet leading to Sunday's kickoff against Dallas, were not easy to dismiss. Confirming previous reports, NBC reported during its game broadcast that secondary coach Jerry Gray interviewed for the team's head coaching position, even though his boss, Jim Zorn, still holds the post.

Citing unnamed sources, NBC reported the Redskins sought out NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to make sure interviewing Gray would comply with the league's Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching vacancies. According to the report, Goodell checked with the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the group that oversees the rule, which then verified with Gray that he had a legitimate interview for Zorn's job.

Gray said following Sunday's game that he was aware of the report but declined to comment. He said he would break from his weekly routine, though, and planned to address reporters on the matter Monday at Redskins Park.

The team would not comment on the NBC report Sunday night, but the matter raises questions about the Rooney Rule, the effectiveness and precision of the rule's language and whether a team can comply with the rule before a team has a vacancy to fill.

If Zorn's tenure as head coach ends with next week's season finale at San Diego, much of the speculation will focus on former Denver coach Mike Shanahan as his replacement.

As for the players, they've been trying to understand the words and actions of Albert Haynesworth, who was late for practice on Christmas Day, criticized coaches and still lined up with the rest of the starters Sunday night against Dallas.

Campbell said the team talked about the matter on Saturday, and linebacker London Fletcher, one of the team's defensive captains, had his own private conversation with Haynesworth.

"Obviously, I'm not real happy with it," Fletcher said. "I think everything doesn't need to be voiced in the media. There's a way to handle everything. It's a team game. Coaches, they're put in a position to coach and players play. Obviously, a lot of that was out of frustration, what he said. You don't want that to take place like that because it doesn't serve anybody any good. It creates a situation that doesn't need to be created."

After he was dismissed from practice Friday, Haynesworth told The Washington Post he wasn't happy with how he was being used in the defensive scheme and criticized defensive coordinator Greg Blache.

"I talked to Blache, and we're all great," Haynesworth said following Sunday's loss. "Everything's fine. We're grown men. You can disagree, and that's fine. We don't hate each other. . . . Like I said [last] Monday night, it's frustration. I'm sick of losing. I'm not a loser. This team's not losers. We're a good team. We got a lot of talent. We just need to put it together."

That's something they've rarely done this season and failed to do again on Sunday night. The Cowboys offense nearly doubled the Redskins offensive output -- 393 yards to Washington's 218. The Redskins had only 43 yards rushing -- Campbell and Quinton Ganther shared the team-lead with 13 yards apiece -- and the defense failed to contain Tony Romo's favorite targets. Campbell was sacked three times but was planted into the ground several more, playing behind an offensive line that continues to struggle mightily in pass protection.

"I'm very worried about the situation I've been put in," Campbell told Comcast SportsNet after the game. "I've been hit so much, it's not even fair."

As for the distractions surrounding the team, players were mixed about the effects they have on the team's performance. But no one dared to deny their existence.

"We've had our share of them," Zorn said, "and we seem to work through them, just like we did this one. So if it started to be a distraction, I think by gametime, we got it handled and pushed forward."

Even before Gray emerged as a head coaching candidate and Haynesworth voiced his frustrations, players have already endured a season that saw a change of play-callers, a slew of injuries to key players and a front-office change earlier this month, not to mention uncertainty that's surrounded Zorn's future since preseason. The carousel of off-field issues has required to players to answer non-football questions more often than they'd prefer.

"When Sunday comes, all that stuff you hear on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday has got to go," Moss said. "Sunday's Sunday."

And thankfully, for the Redskins, they have only one more Sunday left.

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