Angst on the Rise At Redskins Park

Frustration Takes Root After Latest Loss

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

With their latest disastrous performance immediately behind them, the Washington Redskins on Monday began yet another week of brutal evaluation. Coach Jim Zorn, whose employment status is the subject of daily discussion around both Washington and the NFL, described himself as "really disappointed" and "hurting" at a news conference during which moving on from Sunday's 20-17 loss at Carolina seemed especially difficult. Special teams captain Rock Cartwright promised a turnaround and made an emotional plea, one he punctuated by saying, "It's us against the world."

And in a locker room that is vowing to stay together -- even though the Redskins haven't beaten a team that has beaten anyone else, even though problems on the offensive line continue to compound -- there was a broad-based acknowledgement that, regardless of Zorn's future with the organization, the team must overhaul how it performs if it is to have any hope of saving its season.

"Things ain't working," cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "When things don't work, there comes about change. Maybe it's good. Maybe it's bad. They say players panic. Coaches panic, too, when things happen. It's the beginning of the season. We got a long way to go. We've got a lot of things we need to iron out. It's a lot of problems. It's from personnel to coaches to whatever it is.

"Until we address those issues and turn them around, we're going to be the same, going up and down. It starts not only with the players and the coaches. It starts with the ownership. They bring everybody in, and they've got last say-so of everything, so that's where it starts, I guess."

Five weeks into the season, the Redskins find themselves with deep-rooted, complex problems entering Sunday's home game against winless Kansas City. It is up to Zorn to find the solutions. Several players have publicly endorsed the second-year head coach -- "We're behind Coach Zorn 110 percent," Cartwright said Monday -- even as reports surface that team owner Daniel Snyder is planning for Zorn's replacement.

The Redskins have denied such activity. But with a slew of Super Bowl-winning coaches -- Mike Shanahan, Mike Holmgren, Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher among them -- currently unemployed and willing to coach again, Zorn must deal with speculation that increases after each loss.

"I'm dealing with that by, I ask myself questions," Zorn said. "What are we doing? Are we doing it right? Do we have the elements we need to be a successful offense? Has the scheme taken advantage of our opponent? Are we using our players? I'm asking all those questions, and I ask them every week. . . .

"The answers to those questions are sometimes 'yes' and sometimes, 'I'm changing.' But the overall picture is: We've got to just keep pushing. You're right. I don't have a lot of time devoted to worrying about my job status. I'm trying to do a good job."

After the Redskins (2-3) suffered a Week 3 loss at Detroit, which had lost 19 straight, Zorn stressed that his team must pay attention to detail, and the players largely blamed themselves. After Sunday's loss at Carolina, which entered the game 0-3 and trailed 17-2 in the third quarter, some of those same themes emerged, with a new edge. Several players openly acknowledged the uncertainty about Zorn's future. A few reiterated their support. And almost all said the players must execute better.

"Coach Zorn is not all to blame for what's going on," Cartwright said. "He's the head coach, but everything doesn't go on him. It goes on the players because we're the ones that's out there playing. We're the ones that's getting false start penalties. We're the ones that's jumping offside. We're the ones that's giving up big returns, as far as the special teams unit.

"Those guys aren't the ones that's doing it. We're doing that. So don't make it seem like, 'Well, it's all Coach Zorn; it's all this; it's the coaches.' No, it's not the coaches. It's everybody. We're in this thing together."

The frustration level, though, appears to be the highest it has been in Zorn's 21-game tenure. Though Cartwright emphasized that the Redskins were far from done -- "Don't make us seem like the worst team in America," he said -- the comparative results are staggering. One of the Redskins' wins came by two points over St. Louis. In their other four games, the 0-5 Rams have been outscored by an average of 27.5 points. The Redskins' other victory came over Tampa Bay, by three points. In their other four games, the 0-5 Buccaneers have been outscored by an average of 17.3 points.

"Every [expletive] week, it's something different," one veteran said.

There comes, then, the discussion of how to manage those dynamics -- frustration, anger, exasperation -- within the locker room.

"Yelling ain't going to do nothing," wide receiver Santana Moss said. "Everybody [is ticked] off, like I said before. Everybody [is] upset, but what the hell is that going to do? At the end of the day, we have to do our job. We have to play -- play better than we're playing. That's the only way you're gonna get something out of what we got going. We ain't got [expletive] going right now. For us to change this around, we have to go out there and play better. That's amongst us. Upset is one thing, but what does that got to do with anything? We [are] all [ticked] off."

Zorn took clear steps to point the finger squarely at himself Monday, even though left tackle Chris Samuels was forced to the sidelines Sunday because of an injury on the first drive and the game completely changed on a fluke, fourth-quarter punt play on which the Redskins lost possession. Still, Zorn acknowledged the difficult task he has of keeping his players with him.

"It is so hard to do this with these kinds of losses," he said. "They're just heartbreaking. They really are. It's my responsibility. It's nobody else's, and I know that. I have resolve. I have commitment. And I'm going to get right back in line, and we're going to go do it again."

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