Jack Pardee put it as bluntly as anyone. "We look like a little League team that hasn't quite learned how to play the game yet," the coach said about his Redskins, who are on the verge of having what once seemed such a promising year collapse in a maze of injuries, confusion and ineptitude.
Washington's self-destruction, which began in the season opener against Dallas, hit bottom yesterday when the Redskins were shut out by defensive-poor Seattle, 14-0, before a stunned RFK Stadium crowd that sent their once-beloved team into the locker room with a raucous chorus of boos.
Although Pardee vowed to conduct a minitraining camp this week at Redskin Park to Salvage something out of the chaos before his team takes on the Eagles in Philadelphia Sunday, the Redskins showed little sign yesterday of doing anything but struggling this season, especially offense. The oddsmakers already have made them eight-point underdogs to the Eagles.
The players knew they had to beat Seattle to keep alive any realistic playoff hopes, yet the offensive unit once again was flat and listless. Now the Redskins are 1-3 -- their worst start since 1965 -- in a season that they thought could end with a trip to the Super Bowl.
They knew they had to get a running game going, yet they gained just 78 yards on the ground against a defense ranked last in the AFC.
They knew they had to protect quarterback Joe Theismann to give him time to pass, yet he was harassed all afternoon by a so-so Seattle line and was hurt so badly in the fourth quarter that he had to briefly leave the game before returning to toss the most devastating of his four interceptions.
They knew they had to eliminate the costly penalties that had plagued them in previous games, yet they were called for 12 penalties, many in crucial spots. Tackle Terry Hermeling alone picked up four holding penalties and one illegal motion call.
They knew they had to stop Seattle's running backs, yet the Seahawks surprised even themselves by grinding out 235 yards averaging just 101 yards the first three games.
"Everyone else is looking for someone else to do the job," one Redskin said. "We aren't playing with any confidence. Why are we so flat? No one seems to know. All I know is that we better find the answer quick before things fall apart completely."
Defensive end Coy Bacon said "the offense needs to pick up the defense. I know one thing: If we don't put ourselves together, we'll be going home real soon. Everyone knows what is going on here. But we can't start pointing fingers at one another. That won't help."
Pardee had hoped to take advantage of Seattle's defensive deficiencies -- this was an opponent that had surrendered 87 points in three games -- to gain some much-needed confidence for his players.
Instead, he said, his Redskins "have problems, that are going to get solved. What do you do when you have problems? Do you self-destruct or do you work harder to overcome them? we have work to do. But we have to believe in each other and in ourselves.
"We can't be worried about the Super Bowl or even about our next opponent. We are a team that can get better, but we have to mind our day to day business. This is going to be a test of our character. We will start from the beginning this week just like at training camp."
Most of that work will be geared toward the offense. Despite Seattle's running success, the Washington defensive unit forced quarterback Jim Zorn into one of his poorest days as a pro (seven of 19 86 yards) and held the high-powered Seahawks to just one touchdown -- a 21-yard quarterback draw by Zorn in the second quarter -- before all but giving up in the final two minutes.
But Washington's attack never could get untracked. Whether it was penalties, Mark Moseley's three missed field goals, Theismann's ill-timed interceptions or the lack of a ground threat the Redskins consistently stopped themselves. They now have scored only 47 points this season.
Their worst moment yesterday came midway through the fourth quarter. Three times previously in the second half they had driven into Seattle territory only to be foiled by an interception and two errant field-goal attempts. But the Seahawks' inability to add more points to that second-quarter score still kept the game well within reach. And now the Redskins were clawing close to the end zone once again, this time seemingly with some teeth.
An interception by Lemar Parrish, his second of the day, had started the threat on the 19 and a personal foul on middle linebacker Michael Jackson gave it life. Then a marvelous 45-yard pass-run play by rookie Art Monk, who caught Theismann's pass at midfield and raced past four defenders down the sideline before being stopped at the Seahawk 20, ignited what had become a hostile crowd. Tack on a face mask call on that play and the Redskins were just 15 yards from the tying touchdown.
But just as quickly the heart almost was ripped out of the Washington thrust. A clipping penalty on guard Ron Saul, which took preference over a minor offside penalty on Seattle, shoved the club back 15 yards. Hermeling's fourth holding call -- "I'll just have to live with it," he said -- cost them another 10 yards.
Then Theismann was tackled hard by rookie end Jacob Green just after releasing a misdirected pass. Theismann landed on his elbow and the last two fingers on his throwing hand went numb. He laid on the ground for a couple of minutes before leaving for backup Mike Kruczek. While Theismann tried to revive his arm on the sideline, Hermeling was tagged for illegal motion to bring up second and 40 at the 45.
That's when the Seattle almost blew the game. Kruczek's five-yard pass, his first completion as a Redskin, to Buddy Hardeman turned into a first down when Green, in his anxiety to help out, was hit with a face mask penalty and an automatic first down at the 35.
Theismann trotted back onto the field. "Everyone in the huddle said we can do it," he said. But a third-down pass to wide-open Wilbur Jackson was batted away at the line by Green. Pardee was faced with a fourth-and-one decision at the 26.
"We should have gone for the field goal," Pardee said, "because we still needed two scores to win. But I wanted the offense to believe it could get the first down, not just for this game but for the other games, too. We had to build confidence."
So the Redskins went for it, and Jackson leaped over right guard for two yards to the 24. But no sooner had Pardee relaxed than two incompletions and a nine-yard flip to Ricky Thompson brought up fourth and one again, this time at the 15. And once again, Pardee wanted to send in Moseley -- "His misses didn't figure into it all," said the coach -- but chose instead to go with the confidence builder: a nine-yard pass from Thiesmann to Bobby Hammond that had the Redskins at the four.
As the fans cheered lustfully, Jackson tried right end. Nothing. So Theismann rolled out to his left on second down. Last week against Oakland, he ran the ball in on the same play. This time, he spotted Monk open deep in the corner of the end zone.
"Dave Brown (Seattle cornerback) wasn't looking when I threw the ball," Theismann said. "But after I let it go, he saw it. I tried to put the ball through a small hole. It didn't work. It was a bad decision on my part. If it worked, I'm a genius, but instead. I'm a goat. I take the blame."
Brown, the only Seahawk to start every game in the five years of the franchise, said he had Monk man to man. "He went inside the free safety and made-like he was going to block.I went underneath him and the ball was there."
Brown's interception staggered the Redskins. Seattle then knocked them out by marching 80 yards on 13 straight running plays that consumed 7:42. Dan Doornink went the final eight yards for the touchdown, although the No. 1 ground gainer for the Seahawks on the day was Jim Jodat, the ex-Ram who picked up a career-high 117 yards in his first pro start. And Seattle was missing its best ball carrier, Sherman Smith, who is with a knee injury.
Theismann earlier had been intercepted at the Seattle 22 on a badly thrown pass at the end of the first half and again by Brown on the first series of third quarter. And the usually dependenable Moseley, who along with Theismann forms the nucleus of the Redskin attack failed from 33, 50 and 52 yards making jim just two of nine for the season.
Only Zorn's own inability to get his club into the end zone more frequently kept alive the Redskins hopes. Still, he pulled off the prettiest play of the day. On third and four from the Washington 21 early in the second period, he caught the Redskins with six defensive backs and just one linebacker. He faked a pass, then sprinted up the middle behind the escort of two blockers. No opponent laid a hand on him en route to the end zone.
"They just caught us in the right defense," linebacker Monte Coleman said.
"We were protecting outside and the tackles stunted inside. There was no one there to stop him once he got beyond the line."
Otherwise, Seattle had be content to control the clock keeping the ball on the ground, foiling Washington's desire to make Zorn go to the air against its veteran secondary.
The Redskins didn't want to try 36 passes in this game, but were forced to when Seattle shut down the running game. "And you can see why you can't just throw the ball all the time," Pardee said. "Look at all the holding calls and mistakes and pressure on Joe. You've got to be able to run and throw. We just have to put the pieces together."
Theismann said he wasn't sure why those pieces still were missing.
"I don't know why we were flat," he said. "I don't know why we aren't scoring. I thought we were prepared well going in and we were very positive. I made some decisions that cost us the game. We had momentum, we had everything we needed going for us at the end, but I messed it up."
Now, said one Redskin, the true test comes for the club. "The heat is really going to be on us from the fans and the press," he said. "It's ugly, let's face it. We're nailed to the cross. We just can't turn on each other."
The Redskins had a lengthy injury report.
The most serious might be Clarence Harmon, who has a sprained ankle and left the locker room on crutches.Others include Theismann (bruised right elbow, left groin pull), Ken Houston (hyperextended elbow), Parrish (sprained foot,) Saul (right calf strain), Rich Milot (bruised knee) and Karl Lorch (sprained neck).